Biden 'on both sides' of Russia-Ukraine war: ex-intel chief

The Biden administration has been pursuing a nuclear deal that would provide a cash windfall to Iran, which has been supplying so-called "suicide drones" to Russia to use in Ukraine.

Published: October 18, 2022 6:57pm

Updated: October 18, 2022 11:08pm

The Biden administration has been backing both sides of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia by supplying aid to the former and indirectly funding the latter through Iran, according to former acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell.

"This White House [is] negotiating with Iran, promising them all sorts of gifts to control their nuclear issue … while at the same time funding Ukraine," Grenell told the John Solomon Reports podcast on Monday. "And now we see that Iran has sent their drones to Ukraine. So, we, the United States, the Biden administration is literally on both sides of the war now in Ukraine. We're working with the Iranians, who are supplying the Russians, and we're giving money to the Ukrainians. It's outrageous."

Grenell was echoing an earlier tweet he sent noting the U.S. is providing significant aid to Ukraine while negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. Meanwhile, Iran has been supplying Russia with drones — formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — to attack Ukraine.

The U.S. has committed more than $16 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded its European neighbor earlier this year, according to the Defense Department.

Amid this flow of aid, the U.S., Ukraine, Canada, and Europe have also said publicly that Iran has been sending Iranian-made so-called "kamikaze drones," officially called the Shahed-131 and the Shahed-136, to Russia, which in turn has used them as part of their war effort in Ukraine.

While these UAVs aren't advanced by Western standards, they can still cause significant damage, experts explained to Just the News.

"The Iranian Shahed-131/-136 are very dangerous, even if not very sophisticated," said Farzin Nadimi, associate fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "[Their] method of guidance offers a decent amount of accuracy, which makes its relatively small (at around 30 kg) warhead potentially very lethal if it manages to reach its target."

Analysts added that the drones can be deployed in large numbers to overrun Ukrainian defenses.

"They are cheap and relatively easy to produce, which allows countries like Iran to make them in large quantities, potentially enabling them to overwhelm air defenses," said John Hardie, deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They're hard to see on radar and hard to shoot down."

Iran has denied providing Russia with UAVs to attack Ukraine, and Russia has similary denied using any Iranian drones in Ukraine.

However, Ukrainian and Western authorities have dismissed their denials.

"Iran is producing military equipment for the Russians and directly selling the drones to them," Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae said Monday. "I don't know how the Iranians can say that isn't true. We know it's true."

U.S. officials warned this week of coming sanctions against Iran for sending drones to Russia. Iran has also reportedly sent dozens of support personnel from its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an Iranian military force and U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to Ukraine to train Russian troops how to operate the UAVs.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran.

Since the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden and his top advisers have repeatedly said one of their top priorities is reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which placed temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for removing sanctions on Iran.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2018.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday "we don't see a deal coming together anytime soon," although Biden administration officials have consistently described a nuclear deal as the best way to address the various threats posed by Iran.

According to a Foundation for Defense of Democracies analysis, the new deal being negotiated would give Iran access to $274 billion in its first year and at least $1 trillion by 2030 through sanctions relief.

Iran would spend that money on its military and terrorism rather than the Iranian people and an ailing economy, according to analysts who spoke to Just the News.

"That's what Iran did after the deal was finalized in 2015," said Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior National Security Council official.

This time around, "it's hard to see how Tehran's financial windfall from sanctions relief would not lead to an influx of cash to its military and defense industry," said Hardie. "I am also worried about what Moscow may supply to Iran in return, for example fighter aircraft or more advanced air defense systems, which will not be cheap."

However, Iran's current military partnership with Russia may be threatening the already moribund nuclear deal.

U.S. officials said this week Iran's shipment of drones to Russia has violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the original 2015 nuclear deal.

"Because of Iran's active involvement in the Ukrainian war by providing those weapons to Russia, the international community needs to actively consider invoking resolution 2231 and threaten Iran with its snapback mechanism followed by its activation if Iran did not change course," said Nadimi.

The resolution, which effectively ended a host of U.N. sanctions on Iran, contains a "snapback" process, which enables the U.S. or any of the small handful of official participants in the nuclear deal to reimpose on Iran all the international sanctions that were lifted.

Prominent voices on Capitol Hill are embracing this approach.

"As Iran ramps up support for Russia's unjustified war against Ukraine with suicide drones and maybe missiles, [President Biden] must prioritize extending missile restrictions under UNSCR 2231," tweeted Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "Failing to do so ... will merely legitimize Iran's global terrorism."

Even without a secure nuclear deal in place, the Biden administration has granted sanctions relief to Iran since coming into office.

The former Trump administration imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 Iranian individuals, companies, and organizations, noted Fleitz.

"That is American leadership," he added. "Most are still in place, but Biden has lifted some and would like to lift almost all of them" to secure a nuclear deal.

Fleitz also explained the Russians are buying drones from Iran because they can't buy them from the Chinese.

"China has sort of drawn a line of how far it will go to support Russia's war," said Fleitz. "The Russians have become so isolated they need to buy weapons from Iran and North Korea. This shows you how dire the situation is and how isolated they are."

In response to Russia using Iranian drones in Ukraine, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for legislative action.

"[The Senate Foreign Relations Committee] passed legislation to impose serious costs on supporters of Iran's drone program," he tweeted. "Unfortunately, Congress has failed to pass this legislation. We must have a unified front against Iranian drones in Ukraine, and the Stop Iranian Drones Act is the answer."

The Stop Iranian Drones Act would ban the supply, sale, or transfer of military drones to or from Iran.

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