Top GOP Lawmaker: Some Administration Officials Are Too Close to Tehran

Top GOP Lawmaker: Some Administration Officials Are Too Close to Tehran

Senate Republicans launched a new attack on the White House’s nuclear deal with Iran on Tuesday and pledged to pass legislation authorizing fresh sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But the Obama administration punched back hard, saying the landmark agreement forged nine months ago “is working” and is the best method for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

The standoff was triggered by the testimony of Tom Shannon, a senior State Department official, before the GOP-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. The panel’s chairman, Bob Corker of Tennessee, vowed to pass new legislation to block Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system and its ability to engage in dollar-based transactions. Corker cited new reports that the Obama administration may ease financial sanctions against the country.

Corker said that different individuals in the Obama administration “are not on the same page,” and that certain officials want to bend the rules of the Iran deal because they have warm “relationships” with Iranian officials.

“My sense is there are other parts of the administration countering that,” Corker said.

Shannon, the under secretary of state for political affairs, categorically denied that Washington was planning to allow Iran access to the U.S. financial system or to make dollar-based transactions. “The rumors and news that have appeared in the press … are not true,” he said.

Shannon also defended the deal from some Republican presidential candidates, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who have vowed to rip up the deal on their first day in office.  “The JCPOA is working,” he said, referring to the agreement. “It has effectively cut off all of Iran’s pathways to building a nuclear weapon. This has made the United States, Israel, the Middle East, and the world safer and more secure.”

Corker said that he had concerns about Secretary of State John Kerry’s close working relationship with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but that he was comforted by a phone call he had on Monday night with senior Treasury official Adam Szubin. Corker said Szubin reassured him that the U.S. was not planning to ease sanctions on Iran.

Despite the clear disagreements about the Iran deal, Shannon remained open to renewing the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires at the end of 2016. Before the law expires, some GOP and Democratic lawmakers want to renew it so that sanctions are in place in the event that Iran violates parts of the deal. Shannon said administration approval would depend on the details of the bill.

“We would be happy to engage with this committee and the Congress on a renewed Iran Sanctions Act, assuming that it does not complicate or prevent us from meeting JCPOA commitments,” he said.

Lawmakers also raised concerns about the sale of Russian Su-30 fighter aircraft to Iran. Shannon pledged that the U.S. would use its veto authority at the U.N. Security Council to nix the sale of the aircraft.

Anticipating a bruising fight, Kerry went on TV before the hearing to defend the deal, noting the sharp divide over the deal in Iran itself. “I think what you’re seeing there is tension” between moderates and hardliners in Iran over the country’s future actions, Kerry said.

Lawmakers, such as Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, also voiced concerns about Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles, which are not banned under the Iran nuclear deal.