Senators pressure Biden for more China, Iran sanctions over Ukraine war

Members of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee pushed the Biden administration to go further and move quicker on sanctions against Russian allies in its invasion of Ukraine, especially China and Iran.

Questioning representatives from the State Department, Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, senators from both sides of the aisle said sanctions against Chinese companies do not go far enough, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the Biden administration of being weak on Iran.

“We need to cut the head of the snake off, in every way that we can. That means sanctioning [Russia] directly at its inner core … but it also means sanctioning those vigorously who are assisting Russia in this unjust and unholy war,” said committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

“At the end of the day, [China] can not act with impunity and face no consequence,” Menendez said, adding that China was hiding behind affiliated companies in its support of Russia.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, echoed those comments.

“China seems to be acting with impunity, and we really need to ratchet up our sanctions in that regard,” Risch said. “They may be big, but they’re not too big to fail.”

Risch and other committee members lauded the Biden’s administration’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. will provide M1 Abrams tanks to the Ukrainian army. However, Risch — along with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) — argued that the decision took too long.

“All through this thing, we’ve been pressing the administration to do things, and usually they do the right thing, but it takes forever to get there,” Risch said. “As a result of that, there’s a great loss on the battlefield and lives lost in the meantime.”

Cruz hammered the Biden administration for not treating Iran harshly enough, given intel that Tehran is providing drones and other military support to aid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“[The Biden administration] continues to be obsessed with a new nuclear deal with Iran,” Cruz said. “I’m deeply concerned that this administration, even in the middle of a war, is subordinating the need to counter a Russian-Iranian alliance for its own partisan political preferences.”

“Iran has been able to dramatically boost Putin’s war in Ukraine, meanwhile the American taxpayer is shouldering the burden of assisting Ukraine while the Biden administration is greasing both sides of this war,” Cruz said.

State Department Under Secretary Victoria Nuland hit back at Cruz’s claims, pointing to rounds of sanctions against the Iranian military industry since the war in Ukraine began last year. Nuland also told Cruz that the Biden administration is not currently negotiating any nuclear deal with Iran.

“[Iran] is not prepared to take these negotiations seriously right now and [the State Department] has many of the same concerns you have,” she said.

Menendez also fired back at Cruz at the conclusion of the hearing.

“I disagree with my colleague from Texas. … No one has been more insightful, decisive and helpful to the Ukrainians than the Biden administration,” Menendez said. “To suggest anything else is just a parallel universe that some of us seem to live in.”

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