The Biden administration’s ability to waive sanctions on Iran and permit a Russian energy company to make billions helping the Islamic Republic develop its nuclear program could be coming to an end.
Senate Republicans think they may have the votes to pass legislation that would make it virtually impossible for the Biden administration to keep renewing these sanctions waivers, congressional sources told the Washington Free Beacon. The bill, spearheaded by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), is being circulated among Senate colleagues and is expected to draw widespread Republican support. Though a previous version of the legislation failed to pass the legislative body last Congress, the latest version of the bill could attract bipartisan support due to a growing appetite in Congress to penalize Russia for its use of Iranian-made weapons in Ukraine.
“There is absolutely no reason to continue issuing these waivers, which allow Iran and Russia to cooperate on building up Iran’s nuclear program,” Cruz told the Free Beacon. “These waivers were nevertheless renewed in August, because the Biden administration remains obsessed with reentering a nuclear deal with the Iranian regime.”
Iran’s alliance with Russia is shaping up to be a fight between congressional Republicans and the Biden administration, which has consistently renewed a series of sanctions waivers that permit Russian work at Iranian nuclear sites, including those suspected of housing the regime’s illicit nuclear weapons program. The sanctions waivers—which were last renewed in August—have been a source of consternation on Capitol Hill among Republicans who want to crack down on Tehran’s growing alliance with Moscow.
While there is not yet companion legislation in the House, a similar bill would likely pass with Republicans in control. It would then land on President Biden’s desk, where he would have to decide whether to use his veto power to keep hopes alive for his administration to revive the 2015 nuclear accord. A failure to waive the sanctions would anger the Iranian regime at a time when the administration believes diplomacy is still on the table.
“The administration says it is committed to countering cooperation between Iran and Russia,” Cruz said. “They should embrace this legislation.”
The sanctions waivers are again up for renewal this month, but the State Department will not say if it is moving forward with this decision.
The bill targets Russia’s billion-dollar work on several Iranian nuclear sites, including an ongoing redesign and modernization of Tehran’s Arak nuclear reactor. Russian work on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon, would similarly be barred under the bill.
The legislation also takes aim at Russian operations and training services at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Moscow’s role in transferring and storing Iranian heavy water—a nuclear byproduct that could also power a nuclear bomb—would also be barred, according to the bill.
The sanctions waivers predate the Biden administration. They are a vestige of the 2015 nuclear deal, which legalized a large portion of Iran’s nuclear work with Russia, and were repeatedly issued by the Trump administration before eventually being terminated following a congressional pressure campaign.
The Iran-Russia military nexus is suspected to have played a role in a recent military strike on an Iranian weapons factory. Israel is believed to have conducted a drone strike last week on the site as part of its efforts to disrupt Iran’s production of advanced military hardware.
Gabriel Noronha, a State Department official during the Trump administration who worked on the Iran portfolio, said the Biden administration “cannot honestly claim to be supporting Ukraine if they are going to keep giving a green light to support the Russian-Iranian alliance at the very same time.”
“Renewing these waivers would provide Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, a get-out-of-sanctions pass to build two new nuclear reactors in Iran—a contract worth $10 billion—while they have been helping take over Ukraine’s two largest nuclear power plants,” Noronha said. “If Biden is serious about moving on from the failed [nuclear deal] and actually pushing back against Iran’s terror plots and nuclear extortion, the administration needs to act like it and put real pressure on Iran for once. The same goes for punishing Russia.”
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