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US Republican senators say they will not back new Iran nuclear deal

Nearly every Republican senator said they would do everything in their power to 'reverse' an agreement that does not 'block' Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon
A picture taken on 10 November 2019 shows an Iranian flag at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (AFP)

Forty-nine out of 50 Republican US senators told President Joe Biden on Monday that they would not back a new nuclear agreement with Iran due to some of the reported provisions of the deal.

"By every indication, the Biden administration appears to have given away the store," the lawmakers said, citing press reports that the White House was considering a draft agreement to relax sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country temporarily halting its nuclear programme.

"The administration appears to have agreed to lift sanctions that were not even placed on Iran for its nuclear activities in the first place, but instead because of its ongoing support for terrorism and its gross abuses of human rights," the lawmakers said.

All Republican senators except one - Rand Paul of Kentucky - vowed to do everything in their power to "reverse" an agreement that does not "completely block" Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon, constrain its ballistic missile programme and "confront Iran's support for terrorism".

The senators added that the White House had broken its promise to consult with Congress on a potential deal and had not submitted a draft for review either as a treaty or under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed in 2015.

The lawmakers also opposed any efforts to remove terrorism-related sanctions on Iran and pledged to "force the Senate to vote" on any efforts to remove non-nuclear related sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump nixed the multilateral pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May 2018 and started piling sanctions on the Iranian economy as part of his "maximum pressure" campaign.

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In response, Iran began loosening its commitments to the pact.

The US has been negotiating indirectly with the Islamic Republic via other World powers in Vienna for 11 months to try and revive the accord.

The painstaking negotiations were thrown into uncertainty last week when Russia demanded written guarantees from Washington that any Ukraine-related sanctions would not restrict its ability to trade with Tehran after a future nuclear deal is reached.

In Monday's letter, the lawmakers took aim at an earlier pledge by Biden to secure a longer and stronger deal with Iran, claiming that the current form of an agreement being discussed in Vienna was "significantly less restrictive" than that reached in 2015.

"What is more, the deal appears likely to deepen Iran's financial and security relationship with Moscow and Beijing, including through arms sales," they added. 

No congressional Republicans supported the 2015 nuclear deal that former Democratic President Barack Obama reached with Tehran. A handful of Democrats also objected. 

At a press conference later on Monday, Senator Ted Cruz, a leading critic of the Iran deal, said the Biden administration's handling of the negotiations revealed "the utter incoherence and absurdity of their foreign policy".

"This Iran deal, if and when announced, is a massive win for Vladimir Putin," he added. 

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers including 12 Democrats and nine Republicans, also told Biden that they would likely oppose a new agreement with Iran. 

While some Democrats have pushed back on a revived deal, it's unlikely Republicans would gain enough support to scuttle the agreement. They failed to block the deal in 2015 when they controlled Congress and the accord was never put forward as a treaty, allowing the White House to bypass the need for Congressional approval. 

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