Senate Republicans blast administration over latest Iran sanctions waiver

‘The United States should be restricting Iran’s access to currency abroad. Instead, your administration is expanding it,’ GOP members of the Banking Committee said

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Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) speaks during a Fox News town hall with Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Greenville Convention Center on February 20, 2024 in Greenville, S.C.

A group of 13 Senate Republicans raised concerns on Thursday about the Biden administration’s decision last month to renew a sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to purchase electricity from Iran, which could allow Iran to access up to $10 billion in funds.

Writing to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, the lawmakers said that the waiver “makes restricted Iranian funds more accessible” to potentially support malign activities and that “the administration appears to be disregarding congressional intent that any payments made to Iran remain severely restricted.”

They called it “unfathomable” for the administration to waive the sanctions on Iran in light of its proxies’ activities throughout the region.

“The United States should be restricting Iran’s access to currency abroad,” the lawmakers’ letter reads. “Instead, your administration is expanding it, all while continuing to share limited information on a strategy to restore deterrence in the Middle East with Congress or the American people.”

They also said that the waivers, which allow the funds to be transferred into bank accounts in Oman and converted into other currencies, violate the intent of existing law.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, led the letter, joined by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Katie Britt (R-AL), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Todd Young, (R-IN), Rick Scott (R-FL), Ted Budd (R-NC), Pete Ricketts (R-NE) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

“While we understand that such waivers have been consistently issued for several years, the timing of these actions accrue even greater financial benefit to the regime and appear to be in direct conflict with the statutory requirement,” the lawmakers wrote.

The practice of waiving sanctions to allow for the energy trade between Iraq and Iran is long-standing, and persisted even through the Trump administration, with defenders arguing that cutting off this energy source would potentially destabilize Iraq.

But some analysts have raised concerns that the recent waivers issued by the Biden administration are broader than necessary, highlighting that waivers beginning last year have allowed the funds to leave Iraq as well as permitted the Iranian regime to convert the Iraqi payments into euros, providing it with more flexibility globally, neither of which were previously allowed.

The administration has insisted that the funds released under these waivers are restricted to humanitarian purchases, that the funds never enter Iran, that strict oversight and monitoring procedures are in place and that the new format of the waivers grants greater leverage and supervision. Officials have also said that far less than $10 billion had actually been transferred.

Critics have said that these funds will allow Iran to offset humanitarian expenditures and thereby provide greater funding to malign activities, as well as pay government debts.

The Senate lawmakers asked the administration to lay out in writing how and why it determined that the sanctions should be waived, why the waivers will allow Iran to potentially convert the Iraqi payments into euros and details of Iraqi French, Italian and Omani transactions with Iran.

These sanctions waivers, renewed twice since Oct. 7, have come under increased scrutiny since the Hamas attack and amid ongoing attacks by Iran’s proxies throughout the Middle East. 
The House passed legislation last year that would freeze the funds released under the previous sanctions waivers and would eliminate the president’s ability to approve any further waivers, but the Senate has so far made no moves to take up the bill.

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