(CNSNews.com) – President Biden in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday expressed support for Iranians protesting against the regime, but congressional Republicans are criticizing him for continuing to pursue a nuclear deal with Tehran despite its malign behavior at home and abroad.
“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” Biden said in his address to the world body. He was referring to spreading anti-regime protests, sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after being arrested by “morality police” enforcing strict rules on Islamic dress.
A minute earlier, Biden had spoken of efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored sanctions; Biden is seeking a return to compliance that would require sanctions relief, releasing billions of dollars to the regime.
Biden reiterated that the U.S. “will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” and restated his belief “that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome.”
In his own address to the General Assembly earlier in the day, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused Western governments of “double standards” on human rights. He criticized them for speaking out on Mahsa Amini’s death – or what he called “an incident under investigation in the Islamic Republic of Iran” – while ignoring rights abuses in Western countries.
Raisi slammed Trump’s reimposition of sanctions, which he described as “a weapon of mass murder,” and indicated that in the current negotiations to return to the JCPOA, Iran was seeking guarantees from the Biden administration that the U.S. would not withdraw again.
Raisi’s attendance at the General Assembly has been deeply controversial. Dozens of U.S. lawmakers and hundreds of Iranian-Americans had earlier urged the administration to deny him a visa, citing among other reasons a long history of human rights atrocities, the imposition of U.S. sanctions against him in 2019, and recently uncovered plots to assassinate U.S. political figures.
One of those allegedly targeted in that plotting was former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who took to Twitter to criticize Biden’s words in New York.
“A woke, weak, and waffling speech from President Biden,” Pompeo said. “You can’t stand up to Iran while giving them hundreds of billions in sanctions relief.”
On the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused the administration of trying to appease the regime in Tehran – as he said President Obama had done during “Green Movement” protests in 2009.
“In the murder of this young woman,” Cotton said of Mahsa Amini, “we see the true face of the ayatollahs – a regime which our president hopes to enrich with hundreds of billions of dollars and to appease with yet another terrible nuclear deal.”
“In fact, just minutes ago, President Biden stood before the world at the U.N. General Assembly, stating at great length that he would continue negotiations towards this dangerous deal while offering only the briefest and emptiest of words to reproach the ayatollahs for the murder of this young woman, for the grave crime of refusing to wear a head scarf in public – and only the briefest of words for the thousands of protesters.”
Cotton said Biden could not be allowed to repeat Obama’s 2009 mistakes “and once again betray the brave people of Iran.”
“So, I call on my colleagues to join me in standing with the people of Iran – with the people of that ancient nation who stand in the streets today chanting ‘Death to the Dictator,’ not with the dictator and the ayatollahs who still to this day chant ‘Death to America.’”
Criticism of the administration’s approach to Iran also came from other GOP lawmakers.
“Mahsa Amini’s murder is a horrifying reminder of what Iran’s regime believes & the Iranian people know it,” tweeted Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). “The U.S. only empowers the regime by continuing nuclear deal negotiations. We must stop.”
“Any regime that treats its citizens with such little regard should face serious consequences,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Hollow calls for accountability are not enough.”
“I urge the Biden administration to follow through on its commitment to defend human rights and suspend efforts to enter into a flawed deal that would grant the world’s largest state sponsor of terror access to billions with little to no checks on how it’s spent,” McCaul said.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.) said that if Biden was serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, his administration cannot rejoin “the failed JCPOA.”
“We must use maximum pressure against the leading state sponsor of terrorism – especially as they continue to target Americans on U.S. soil.”
During the 2009 “Green Movement” protests, sparked by a disputed election, Obama was criticized for an initially cautious response. Despite mass arrests and the killing of dozens of protestors, it was ten days after the demonstrations began before he condemned the crackdown outright for the first time.
Three months earlier, Obama had offered the regime a “new beginning” of engagement and improved cooperation – engagement that led eventually to the JCPOA.
Officials in the current administration have been far quicker in speaking out this time. Soon after the protests began following Amini’s death on Friday, U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley called her death “appalling,” tweeting, “Iran must end its violence against women for exercising their fundamental rights. Those responsible for her death should be held accountable.”