Members of the Republican Study Committee Caucus on Wednesday, joined by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced the introduction of a bill to push back against the Biden administration with regards to Iran, especially sanctions.
“In the first 100 days, President [Joe] Biden has exhibited a troubling pattern. He’s talked a big game while returning to the same Obama-era weakness that emboldened our adversaries and made American families less safe,” said Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, the group’s chair, at the RSC press conference unveiling the Maximum Pressure Act in front of the U.S. Capitol. “His foreign policy seems to be defined by the approach of ‘speak loudly and carry a twig,’ which is in stark contrast to the tree limb that [Pompeo] and President [Donald] Trump carried on a daily basis.”
“And we are seeing Biden’s weak approach take root with regards to Iran,” the Indiana Republican added. The reason, he said, for why the RSC was gathered for the noontime conference on Wednesday, is “to communicate to the Biden administration that we will fight to maintain sanctions on Iran and show our adversaries that if Joe Biden temporarily lifts sanctions, we will reimpose them later.”
The Maximum Pressure Act, in the words of Banks, does three things. Firstly, it shows that Congress “is not bound to agreements by the president that purports to speak on our behalf”. Secondly, it “modifies the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy until Iran meets the 12 demands laid out by [Pompeo] in May of 2018,” which Banks said “Biden’s State Department refused to say that they support.” And thirdly, it “expands the existing bipartisan Iran sanctions mandated by Congress.”
The legislation—which has 83 cosponsors for the bill as of Wednesday, according to the Indiana congressman—is “the toughest sanctions bill ever introduced in Congress on Iran,” he said.
Saying he’s “proud” of the bill, Pompeo, who was consulted on it, said “it talks about things that need to be done for Iran to rejoin the community of nations and says ‘If you don’t do that, sanctions are going to […] remain in place.’ This is what Congress quintessentially has the responsibility to do.”
Former President Trump’s secretary of state, hoping for the bill to become a bipartisan one in the Democrat-controlled House, went on to say that “this isn’t about Republicans, or conservatives, or Democrats; this is about the security of America.”
Behnam Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who focuses on Iranian security and political issues, told SaraACarter.com on Wednesday that the “legislation signals that many members of Congress do not think the talks in Vienna, as well as the more conciliatory and pale green light approach taken by the Biden administration towards Iran will bear fruit,” referencing the ongoing talks between the U.S., Iran, and a host of other countries in Vienna over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—that Trump withdrew the U.S. from, to much scrutiny from Western allies.
“The Trump administration’s 12 points was not a departure from long-standing U.S. goals or national strategy towards the Islamic Republic,” he said, then arguing that the Obama administration turned “a blind eye to Iran’s regional threat networks and permitting domestic enrichment, which enabled and sustained the fatally flawed JCPOA, represented the departure in U.S. policy.”
“Any attempt to restore the importance of those 12 points, as well as integrate human rights for a critical ’13th point’ should therefore be seen as a restoration of long-standing U.S. policy aims towards Tehran.”
Also saying “it is unclear if this bill will become law,” Taleblu added that “the message it sends, coupled with a flurry of other bills, bipartisan letters, and statements is clear. The U.S. Congress believes in a more comprehensive pressure policy to impede Iran’s revenues, call out its human rights abuses, and change its behavior. Attempts to resurrect the JCPOA will do none of that.”
“I would consider this legislation to be the beginnings of a more cohesive Congressional ‘ground-game’ on Iran led by the RSC,” the FDD senior fellow continued. “The range of diverse sanctions options discussed in the bill should serve as a reminder that the U.S. has more room to grow its peaceful pressure policy, rather than trade it away for limited concessions at the negotiating table.”
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.
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U.S. House Votes to Permanently Freeze $6 Billion Iranian Funds Amid Hostage Exchange Controversy
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to permanently freeze $6 billion in Iranian funds that were initially slated for release by the Biden administration as part of a hostage exchange with Tehran earlier this year. The measure passed in a 307-119 vote, with the majority of Republicans supporting it, according to The Hill. Notably, Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie was the sole Republican dissenting voice, aligning with 118 Democrats.
The frozen funds, originally held in South Korea, were part of a deal where Seoul committed to paying Iran for oil before the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic in 2019. Subsequently, these funds were transferred to Qatar as part of the exchange. However, in the aftermath of an Oct. 7 Hamas raid on Israel, where more than 200 hostages were seized and around 1,200 civilians were killed, both Qatar and the U.S. agreed to refreeze the funds.
The decision to permanently freeze the funds reflects the growing controversy surrounding the hostage exchange and the broader implications of releasing substantial financial resources to Iran. Tehran’s support for Hamas and its proxies’ heightened hostilities in the Middle East have contributed to the contentious nature of this issue.
As the legislation progresses, it further underscores the complex dynamics in the region and the United States’ response to Iran’s involvement in activities that destabilize the Middle East. The vote outcome signals a bipartisan stance on this matter, with implications for U.S.-Iran relations and the ongoing challenges of navigating geopolitical complexities.
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