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Any US-Iran 'arrangement' needs lawmaker oversight, top congressman says

Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee warns White House even an informal agreement with Iran is subject to congressional oversight
Congressman Michael McCaul arrives at a caucus meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on 10 May 2023 (AFP)

The Biden administration must submit “any arrangement or understanding” with Iran to Congress for review or risk breaching US law, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a letter to the White House.

In a letter dated 15 June, Congressman Michael McCaul said he was “disturbed” by reports that the US was in “proximity talks” with Iran which involved the “greenlighting of sizable payments” to the Islamic Republic. 

“This calls into question your Administration’s intent to follow the law and submit any agreement with Iran to Congress, as required by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” he wrote.

Middle East Eye first reported that Iran and the US were nearing a temporary deal to swap some sanctions relief for reducing Iranian uranium enrichment activities.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the talks told MEE that talks had made significant headway and the two sides' negotiators had reached an agreement on a temporary deal to take to their respective superiors.

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Under the terms of the deal, Iran would commit to ceasing its 60 percent-and-beyond uranium enrichment activities and would continue its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency for the monitoring and verification of its nuclear programme.

In exchange, the sources said, Tehran would be allowed to export up to a million barrels of oil per day and gain access to its income and other frozen funds abroad.

Those funds would have to be exclusively used to purchase a range of essential items, including food and medication.

MEE's report was denied by the White House, which at the time said: "Any reports of an interim deal are false."

However, several days later, a number of American news outlets began reporting on progress being made in the nuclear talks, including a report on Wednesday from the Wall Street Journal which stated that discussions between Washington and Tehran have resumed. A report by Reuters on Friday also stated waivers for Iran to export oil were part of the talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself claimed that Washington and Tehran were closing in on what he called a “mini-agreement". 

The US has avoided using the term "agreement" or "deal".  The terminology matters because it would prompt additional congressional oversight of the talks at a time when lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have expressed scepticism about engaging with Iran. 

Last year, Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned the US against "clinging" to the framework of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also pushed legislation to scupper a nuclear agreement. Those efforts could accelerate as the US prepares for the 2024 election season.

McCaul argued in his letter that the language of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 was “deliberately expansive in scope” so that “any arrangement or understanding with Iran, even informal, requires submission to Congress”.

He also accused the administration of attempting to sidestep congressional oversight of the talks.

He claimed that the State Department has had a request pending, since early April, for special envoy for Iran Rob Malley to testify before the committee, which the State Department has not fulfilled. He said that the administration demonstrated a “lack of transparency” that is “deeply disturbing”.

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