June 22, 2021

Toomey to Treasury Nominees: We Need Strong Leaders Willing to Push Back on Biden Policies That Undermine U.S. National Security

Washington, D.C. – During today’s U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing with U.S. Department of Treasury nominees Brian Nelson and Elizabeth Rosenberg, Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) emphasized the need for strong leaders who will stand up to the White House or State Department when they advance policies that undermine America’s national security. Brian Nelson has been nominated for U.S. Department of Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes and Elizabeth Rosenberg has been nominated for Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing.

Pointing to the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Senator Toomey criticized efforts to offer billions in sanctions relief to the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, Iran.

Ranking Member Toomey’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Chairman, thank you.

Mr. Nelson and Ms. Rosenberg, welcome to you both. You have been nominated for senior national security roles at Treasury. If confirmed, you will directly influence the Biden administration’s policies towards China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and dangerous non-state actors.

I want to stress we need strong leadership at Treasury that’s willing to push back on the White House or the State Department if they try to advance policies that actually undermine America's national security. For instance, the administration’s Iran policy is extremely concerning. Let me be clear: There are Republicans, including myself, that would work with the administration on a nuclear deal with Iran—but not the JCPOA. We have reached out to the Administration on this—only to be met with silence.

The most enduring U.S. policy towards Iran would be one that is bipartisan. The JCPOA’s history demonstrates that. The Obama administration entered the JCPOA, with no Republican support. As a result, when President Trump came into office he left the deal. If the Biden administration enters the JCPOA with no Republican support, for a second time, how is that likely to end under the next Republican administration? And how will it look to the world when we leave the JCPOA for a second time?

Instead of taking a bipartisan approach, the Biden administration is blindly racing to offer sanctions relief to an Iranian regime that, in the words of its own chief diplomat, is dominated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—a terrorist organization that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans.

What does the administration hope to receive in return for this sanctions relief? First—it says returning to the JCPOA will put Iran’s nuclear program “back in the box.” Second—the administration hopes the Iranians will agree to negotiate a “longer and stronger” deal—after we’ve given away all of our leverage in the form of sanctions relief. Both of these ideas are unrealistic.

Let’s dispense with the notion that reentering the JCPOA puts Iran’s nuclear program “back in the box.” It’s difficult to say whether Iran’s nuclear program was ever entirely “in the box.” The JCPOA required Iran to disclose the entirety of its past nuclear activities. Yet when confronted with evidence of undisclosed nuclear activities at several sites, Iran has refused to offer any explanation. As a result, the IAEA—the world’s nuclear watchdog—is now on the record that it can’t even attest to the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s an enormous problem that the administration seems to be ignoring.

Furthermore, within a few years, key parts of the JCPOA that ostensibly limit certain elements of Iran’s nuclear program will expire. So “the box” offered by the JCPOA is more like a wet paper bag disintegrating by the second.

Then there’s this notion that once the administration lifts sanctions on Iran, Iran will enter into negotiations for a “longer and stronger deal.” It’s wholly unreasonable to believe that Iran will grant concessions to the West after the United States gives up its primary form of leverage on Iran—which is sanctions.

That’s especially true given that the new Iranian President has made clear he opposes talks with the U.S. on limiting Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups. This is unsurprising. He’s a hardliner who ordered the extrajudicial killings of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. And he’s currently sanctioned by the U.S. for being part of the inner circle of Iran’s Supreme Leader.

I recognize that you will not be able to change the administration’s desire to return to the JCPOA. But the status of U.S. sanctions against Iran are at the heart of these negotiations. If confirmed, you will both play critical roles in enforcing U.S. sanctions around the world that are an essential and vital part of our foreign policy. As such, you need to defend the process by which—and the people through whom—we implement sanctions.

Unfortunately, last month an unnamed “senior State Department official” suggested to reporters that sanctions imposed by the Trump administration were done illegally and without any evidentiary basis. Specifically, this “senior official” said, and I quote:

“The Trump administration deliberately and avowedly imposed sanctions by invoking labels – terrorism labels and other labels even though it was done purely for the purpose of preventing… a return to the… JCPOA… We have to go through every sanction to make sure whether… they were legitimately or not legitimately imposed.”

This reckless comment is dangerous because it opens up sanctions to legal challenges. Furthermore, it’s an insult to the career, civil servant lawyers at Treasury who work on these sanctions.

This is a clear instance where your leadership matters. In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, you should publicly make clear that no terrorism sanctions imposed under the previous administration were done so illegitimately.

Iran is among many national security challenges facing our nation. In this hearing, I hope to hear from you both candid and straightforward views on these and other issues. If confirmed, it’s critical that you swiftly take up Treasury’s important work to advance our national security interests.