Moderate Dems warn emerging Iran nuke deal is 'unacceptable and deeply troubling' and 'insanity'

As secretary of state lowers expections for imminent accord, some Democrats are increasingly critical, citing Iran sanctions relief and possible delisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Updated: April 7, 2022 - 11:17pm

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An increasingly vocal group of dissenting Democrats are expressing serious concerns about the Biden administration's handling of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. 

Democratic Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, said the negotiations have taken a troubling turn in recent days, based on reports she has read.

"We feel that we can't stay quiet about the unacceptable and deeply troubling turn that these talks have reportedly taken," Luria said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I've had the opportunity to speak recently to the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador [Michael] Herzog, and his direct quote was that this agreement places Iran and Israel on a collision course. So we find that a very concerning assessment of the situation."

Luria described her "serious concerns" about reports that negotiators in Vienna are discussing the "lifting of sanctions designed not just to address Iran's illegal nuclear activities, but even those addressing its state sponsorship of terrorism."

It is "completely unacceptable to eliminate sanctions on the leadership of the Iranian regime, which has perpetuated terrorist attacks around the world," she said.

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer argued that the Iranian regime has proven they "can't be trusted."

"They continue to enrich uranium from three and a half percent levels for civilian energy use to 60% on their way to 90%, the level needed for weapons grade uranium to produce a nuclear weapon," he said.

An agreement to lift the formal designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) — reportedly under consideration as part of a broader deal — "will allow billions of dollars to flow through Iran, the IRGC and their terrorist proxies," Gottheimer added.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley were asked for their personal opinions on removing the IRGC fromn the FTO list. While Austin ducked the question, Milley openly distanced himself from the proposal.

"I believe the IRGC Quds Force to be a terrorist organization, and I do not support them being delisted from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list," Milley declared.

Gottheimer warned that an Iran strengthened with billions of dollars in sanctions relief "would be an enormous danger to Americans at home and abroad, and to our allies," adding that it "would weaken our fight against terror."

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Donald Norcross said he opposed the original deal under former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, saying that the U.S. shouldn't separate negotiations over Iran's nuclear program from its regime's terrorist activity. 

"I feel like it's back to the future," he said. "Somehow to separate the idea of nuclear weapons from all the terrorist activities that are going on is the definition of insanity to me. We cannot separate those. They are together." 

Norcross said reports of implementing timelines on the sunset of provisions in a potential deal is the wrong approach.

"All we're doing in my opinion is delaying," he said. "I am incredibly suspicious and have reservations on this potential deal."

Amid increasingly vocal Democratic criticism of the reported outlines of an agreement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken lowered expectations Wednesday for an imminent breakthrough in talks.

Admitting he was not "overly optimistic" about immediate prospects for closing a deal in an interview with MSNBC, Blinken said, “Despite all the efforts we put into it, we’re not there and time is getting extremely short."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul shared concerns similar to those of the moderate Democrats opposing the Biden administration's handling of the Iran talks.

"This is worse than the 2015 deal," McCaul said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Lifting the terrorist designation on the IRGC would be "one of the most dangerous messages that we could be sending" Iran, he warned.

"You don't have to cut a deal just for the sake of getting a deal," McCaul said. "You can always walk away from the table, and I would urge them to walk away."

GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York said countries like Iran are looking to "take advantage" of the U.S. due to the "weak" leadership of President Biden.

"Iran has also been very clear that they're looking to conduct attacks, even on our own soil against Americans," she said. "Okay? And I represent Brooklyn. Last year, we had an Iranian-American journalist in Brooklyn, that there was a plan to attempt to kidnap her by the Iranian government in 2011. Iran was planning an assassination attempt against Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States while he was dining in Georgetown. And we need to take these threats seriously."

She said the U.S. shouldn't "negotiate with people who are threatening to conduct attacks on American soil or against Americans."

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