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Source: Politico

May 16, 2023

Senators to get secret Iran briefing


Senior officials will brief Tuesday at the Biden administration’s first Iran-focused classified session for all senators, seven congressional staffers and U.S. officials said, coming at a time when relations with Tehran are spiraling and nuclear constraints are weakening.

Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State WENDY SHERMAN, Undersecretary of Defense COLIN KAHL, Deputy Director of National Intelligence MORGAN MUIR, Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence BRIAN NELSON and Vice Adm. STEPHEN KOEHLER, the Joint Staff’s chief of strategy, policy and plans, will be on Capitol Hill at 4 p.m. for the classified briefing.

One person who won’t be there is ROB MALLEY, the special envoy for Iran deal talks, who we’re told is on leave by two people (they, like others, were granted anonymity to freely discuss details of a classified session). His deputy, ABRAM PALEY, will accompany Sherman in his stead.

Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL, who asked for the Iran briefing several months ago, has been arguing on the Senate floor that the threat from Iran has worsened under President JOE BIDEN. A Senate GOP aide said the briefing is “overdue.”

McConnell has railed at the administration after an Iranian proxy killed an American contractor in Syria two months ago. The United States responded with air strikes on facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Republicans were also upset that, around the same time, the repeal of the 2002 Iraq authorization for the use of military force didn’t include a carve out to keep pressure on Iran.

Sherman will use the opportunity to update senators on the state of Iran deal negotiations, a Senate Democratic aide told NatSec Daily.

“There’s been progress on nuclear talks,” the staffer said without expanding further. Other topics that will surely come up include Iran’s general threats to the United States and its regional partners, namely Israel, and Tehran’s support for terrorism.

Put together, there’s a good chance the private session will get a little rowdy as the administration, some Democrats, and Republicans are at odds over how to handle Iran.

Sen. JONI ERNST (R.-Iowa) led a dozen senators in a bipartisan appeal last month to Biden to reinvigorate U.S. efforts to enforce sanctions on Iranian oil and gas shipments.

“It is incredibly disappointing that my bipartisan call for Iranian oil sanction enforcement, which includes a dozen Republicans and Democratic senators, has yet to receive an answer from the administration, despite a requested deadline of today,” she said in a statement.

National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters Monday that, since August, Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 drones, most of them Shaheds.

In exchange, Moscow is assisting Tehran with its missile and air defense programs and selling it fighter jets, among other things. “This is a full-scale defense partnership,” he said, adding that additional sanctions will be placed on the individuals who are helping it flourish.

Since the U.S. withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018, Tehran has been enriching nuclear fuel closer and closer to the weapons-grade level of 90 percent.

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