Lawmakers project unified front supporting tougher rhetoric on Iran at bipartisan press conference

Members of Congress push for hawkish Iran stance after nuclear talks collapse

John Bowden
Washington DC
Friday 18 November 2022 16:19 GMT
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Protests rage in small towns and cities across Iran

The bipartisan consensus on Iran was on full display in the halls of Congress on Thursday.

A group of lawmakers including centrists and moderates from both parties convened for a joint press conference on Capitol Hill and touted support for a resolution recognising the desire of protesters across Iran to see the government replaced with a democratic and secular government.

The briefing was attended by nearly a dozen members of the House including Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, Brad Sherman, Randy Webber, and Joe Wilson. The message of the gathering was clear: the lawmakers want to see the Biden administration take a tougher line against Tehran now than nuclear talks with Iran’s government have stalled and protests over the death of a young woman in police custody have dragged on for weeks.

“Congress stands with these protesters who have inspired the world with their bravery,” Mr Sherman said on Thursday.

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, another attendee, used her own remarks to ridicule the “vast Western conspiracy” she said Tehranian officials had concocted as a scapegoat for the protests rapidly consuming the country, which have presented the greatest challenge for the regime’s legitimacy in years.

Under Joe Biden’s presidency, the US State Department has repeatedly condemned the crackdown initiated by Iran’s government against those protesters but has stopped short of recognising the legitimacy of the demand for the government to be toppled. Part of that likely stems from a desire to avoid the accusations of fomenting “regime change” that have followed US misadventures in foreign policy spanning from Libya to Afghanistan.

Members of Congress speak at a joint press conference on Iran
Members of Congress speak at a joint press conference on Iran (OIAC)

In a statement on Monday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan echoed that the US remains “deeply concerned” with the Iranian response but stopped short of previewing any action in response. So far, the US has implemented sanctions against entities and persons involved in the crackdown while also seeking Iran’s removal from a key UN council on women’s rights.

“The United States, standing with our partners and allies around the world, will continue to pursue accountability for those responsible for these abuses through sanctions and other means,” said Mr Sullivan.

If Thursday’s presser was any indication, however, the calls for the administration to take a tougher tone are only going to increase with the swearing-in of the new Republican House majority in January. The event was a rare showing of bipartisan unity on a highly-charged political topic made all the more unusual by the fact that it occurred just days after a contentious midterm election fight that in some races has yet to even completely resolve.

That suggests Democrats supportive of a more aggressive posture against Iran will likely work with their Republican colleagues to keep that pressure intact over the next two years; progressives, meanwhile remain supportive of efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord but have little means of encouraging the White House to resume negotiations that went nowhere this year.

Rep Sheila Jackson Lee indicated as much in her remarks, declaring: “The freedom of Iran is on the lips of every single member of Congress. It is not a partisan issue.”

Sheila Jackson Lee says Iranian freedom is 'not a partisan issue'

Thursday’s event was hosted by the Organization of Iranian American Communities, a group which supports the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its president-elect, Maryam Rajavi. The organisations largely oppose those efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Tehran and generally push for Washington to openly declare its support for the collapse of Iran’s government through internal revolution.

Ms Rajavi spoke alongside the lawmakers in a remote appearance and reiterated those viewpoints in her remarks.

Protesters in Iran, she argued, “specifically want the world to recognize the Iranian people’s struggle to overthrow the mullahs’ regime and the young people’s fight against the Revolutionary Guards or the IRGC”.

She added: “Is it not true that a regime that shot and killed at least 57 children in the last two months must be overthrown?”

The US recently unveiled information implicatin Iranian companies in a scheme to supply drone aircraft to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group for use in Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine; the US Treasury Department unveiled a round of sanctions against individuals and companies involved in that effort earlier this week.

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