Committee Competition

Republicans slam Meeks over blocked NDAA amendment on Iran sanctions

The amendment, which had bipartisan backing, would have repealed a 2012 exemption to Iranian shipping, energy and shipbuilding industry sanctions

Bebeto Matthews/AP

Congressman Gregory Meeks, D-NY, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, at LaGuardia Community College in New York.

Following Wednesday’s marathon National Defense Authorization Act markup in the House Armed Services Committee, some Republicans on the committee expressed frustration that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Greg Meeks (D-NY) blocked the Armed Services Committee from proceeding with an amendment eliminating a waiver on Iran sanctions.

The bipartisan amendment, proposed Wednesday night by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) and supported by Committee Vice Chair Elaine Luria (D-VA), would have repealed an exemption to sanctions imposed by the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 on the country’s shipping, energy and shipbuilding industries provided to Afghanistan in the 2013 NDAA. That legislation gave the president the latitude to provide a waiver to “for reconstruction assistance or economic development for Afghanistan.”

Fallon’s amendment was also supported by AIPAC and the Republican Study Committee, the largest ideological caucus in Congress.

Since the issue fell into the jurisdiction of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Meeks needed to provide a waiver to allow the amendment to move forward in Armed Services, but he declined to do so. Without the waiver, Fallon withdrew the amendment after introducing it.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the waiver in 2018, under the Trump administration, to allow for Afghanistan to import Iranian oil. The waiver also allowed supplies to be shipped to land-locked Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port, which is close to the Afghan border, and an associated railway. India invested heavily in the port to develop a trade route to Afghanistan that avoids India’s rival Pakistan.

With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan and Iranian oil sales to Afghanistan resuming, some of the amendment’s supporters argued that it’s critical the waiver be eliminated.

“It baffles me that a bipartisan amendment striking language from a previous NDAA was not granted a waiver by Chairman Meeks,” Fallon told Jewish Insider. “We’re removing an exception from Iranian sanctions meant to benefit the previous allied Afghan government — an exception that now benefits the Taliban and Iran. This shouldn’t be controversial. Additionally, where better to repeal outdated provisions of old NDAAs… than the NDAA.”

Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks (R-IN) echoed Fallon, calling it “outrageous that Chairman Meeks blocked consideration of this common-sense, bipartisan proposal to repeal outdated laws allowing the Taliban to buy oil from Iran.”

“Leaving this law on the books will give the Taliban and al-Qaeda a seaport in Iran which they will all use to get rich off each other,” Banks added.

A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide told JI that Meeks’s decision not to grant the waiver is a routine procedural matter, and that the New York congressman wanted to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to flow into Afghanistan when needed.

“Waiving or not waiving jurisdiction is part of the regular negotiations between committees for any bill,” the aide said. “When it comes to Rep. Fallon’s proposed amendment, the committee wants to preserve this or any future administration’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Afghans who may be in need of assistance.”

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued to JI that current conditions make it critical that the waiver be eliminated.

“While the Trump administration did extend waivers for Chabahar in the past, the strategic context was drastically different, and Afghanistan was not led by the Taliban regime,” he said. 

“Retaining the waiver for Chabahar makes zero strategic sense with the Taliban at the helm. This is not to mention, of course, the fears that have persisted all along, which pertain to Iran using the port to circumvent sanctions, as well as to garner more construction work and port management opportunities by the IRGC and its conglomerates,” Ben Taleblu said, referring to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Taleblu added that crippling Chabahar is also a step in pushing India to readjust its policy toward Afghanistan to impede the new Taliban government. 

“The low-hanging fruit here is the Chabahar waiver,” he explained.