House Republicans urge administration to nix Iran nuke talks

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More than 100 House Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to withdraw from ongoing negotiations in Vienna to return to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

In a letter dated Tuesday, roughly 110 lawmakers are asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken to instead enforce existing sanctions against Tehran that were imposed after the U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Trump.

"Administration officials' recent statements about the Vienna talks have made it clear that there is no productive diplomatic path forward at this time," lawmakers wrote. "Meanwhile, Iran is charging forward with its nuclear program, using advanced centrifuges and producing equipment for such centrifuges while stockpiling increasing quantities of uranium enriched at 20 percent and 60 percent purity."

Asked about the letter, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the administration "believes that diplomacy, in coordination with our allies and regional partners, is the best path" to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

"The status quo without mutual compliance with the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is untenable. That is why the State Department is pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," the spokesperson continued.

An eighth round of talks is currently underway in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The U.S. is not directly participating in talks, which began last week, because it is no longer formally a party to the deal.

President Biden is looking to reenter the deal, which provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for drawing down most of its nuclear program.

Trump had argued that the accord wouldn't have prevented Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. After the U.S. pulled out, Iran largely stopped complying with the agreement.

The Trump administration imposed on Iran an estimated 1,500 sanctions, which Tehran wants lifted before it reenters the deal. Tehran also wants the U.S. to guarantee that future presidents won't withdraw from the deal.

But last month, some administration officials warned that talks weren't going as well as anticipated, as the lawmakers' letter pointed out.

The letter pointed to comments from Rob Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, who said last month, "It seems very clear [Iran] is trying to build leverage by expanding their nuclear program and hoping to use that leverage to get a better deal."

"The United States and our partners must increase pressure on Iran to stop its dangerous nuclear advancements. The most effective way to do so is to strongly enforce our existing sanctions and urge our partners to take similar steps," the lawmakers wrote.

"If Iran is not prepared to negotiate as things stand, we need to build our leverage to compel them to negotiate a better, stricter deal with no sunsets," they continued.

Updated at 6:50 p.m.

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