(September 15, 2022 / JNS) The State Department’s embattled Iran nuclear-deal negotiator went behind closed doors Wednesday morning to update Congress on the progress of the talks. However, one member present said that the briefing had left her with more questions than answers.
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley was consistently vague in his briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, leaving the bipartisan group flustered.
“We didn’t really get strong answers on what’s going on with a deal. The whole premise is supposed to be that Iran is never going to have a nuclear weapon. But the premise I walked out of that meeting with was, well, we’re just going to eventually let them have one,” Tenney told JNS.
While she couldn’t reveal specific answers that Malley gave in the classified setting, Tenney said the tone of the meeting was one of frustration.
“I just felt like it was very vague. And I think the administration is getting pushed back in a bipartisan way, I got that sense in the room. It was a bipartisan group of members and the Democrats were just as exasperated as the Republicans in that meeting,” she said.
Tenney added she is especially concerned by the administration’s faith that Iran will abide by the terms of a revived nuclear accord.
“My biggest takeaway is the naivete of the negotiators in assuming that we’re getting [into] a deal with people in good faith, that they’re telling us the truth and they’re going to comply with the agreement,” she said.
“Even though [Malley] did acknowledge that [the Iranians] have not lived up to their agreements in the past, and that the JCPOA [the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran nuclear accord] was flawed, they couldn’t really clarify what is exactly in this new deal. How is it different? How is it better for the United States?” she added.
She pointed to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s discovery of man-made uranium particles at three undeclared sites in Iran, and Tehran’s years-long stonewalling of an IAEA investigation into the matter, as further cause for concern, along with the lack of clarity regarding how sanctions relief would be used by Islamic Republic.
“Traditionally, they’ve used an awful lot of [funds from sanctions relief] for sponsoring terror around the region and the world, particularly against allies like Israel and others in the Middle East. [U.S. negotiators] told us that [the Iranians are] going to use [sanctions relief resulting from a revived agreement] for providing economic stability and resources for the people of Iran,” said Tenney. “We asked about what about all the protesters and the people on the ground that are asking for democracy and fairness, and they really didn’t have any good answers for any of that.”
Tenney said she did come away from the briefing with the sense that a potential deal is stalled out for now, as Tehran continues to drag its feet and add new demands unrelated to the original nuclear deal, including a freezing of the IAEA investigation.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House Foreign Affairs Committee began markup of a Republican-introduced resolution calling on the White House to immediately provide Congress with the text of the draft Iran deal and any related side agreements, even if negotiations are still in progress when the bill is passed. Tenney said the committee has received vague answers about whether the Biden administration will honor the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which gave Congress the right to review any agreement reached with Iran aiming to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. A vote on the House resolution is expected in committee this week.
“It seems that [a yes vote on the resolution] is going to end up being bipartisan, but we’ll see. I don’t know what happens with the negotiations right up to the moment when we have the markup, but it looks like that’s a possibility,” said Tenney, stressing the need for Congress to be privy to the details of any potential deal before it is signed.
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