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June 3 2024

Policy Briefs

The Biden Administration Follows in Obama’s Footsteps

Tymahz Toumadje


Andrew Ghalili


On May 21, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) revealed in letters sent to the State Department, Justice Department, and FBI, that the Obama-era State Department “actively and persistently interfered” with FBI arrests of high-value Islamic Republic regime criminals in the United States between 2015 and 2016. At the time, President Obama asserted that the enforcement of sanctions against Iran would remain robust under the JCPOA. Despite this, the administration's actions often contradicted their public commitments to enforcing these sanctions.


  • Whistleblower disclosures indicate that the Obama administration, particularly then-Secretary of State John Kerry, obstructed FBI efforts to arrest individuals supporting Iran's weapons programs. Emails from 2017 detail instances where the State Department blocked FBI operations due to “on-going politics”, allowing key suspects to evade capture.
    • In one instance, the FBI lost the chance to arrest a suspect on the Terrorism Watch List, who subsequently returned to Iran. Further records show that the State Department's interference persisted until the Trump administration took office, highlighting a pattern of political decisions undermining law enforcement efforts against Iranian threats.
  • Earlier in the week, reports revealed the Biden administration is currently working against an effort spearheaded by Britain and France to censure the Islamic Republic at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) member-state board in early June.

Obama Administration’s Blocking of FBI Arrests

  • Leaked FBI emails from August 25, 2017, document at least eight instances where the State Department blocked FBI efforts to arrest individuals aiding the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. These blocks resulted in missed opportunities to arrest key suspects, including one individual on the Terrorism Watch List who eventually returned to Iran.

    • In another notable case, the FBI planned to arrest a suspect mid-flight, but the State Department intervened, forcing the suspect to leave the U.S. upon arrival.
    • The leaked emails indicate that the State Department’s interference began as early as 2015 and continued until the Trump administration took office, quickly lifting State’s block on FBI arrests, resulting in the successful capture of two of the Iranian targets that were previously being protected under the Obama administration.
    • One leaked email from July 2015 showing correspondence between two FBI personnel reads, “We are all beside ourselves on asking the field to stand down on a layup arrest, however as it stands right now we all have to sit back and wait until the US and Iran negotiations resolve themselves.”
  • Congress, reflecting a bipartisan commitment to holding Iran accountable, passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act in May 2015. This act restricted the President from easing sanctions on Iran without congressional oversight. However, these leaks show the administration circumventing this oversight, misleading Congress and the public. These blocks by the State Department under John Kerry’s leadership not only allowed key suspects to evade capture but also harmed efforts to curb the Islamic Republic regime’s missile program.

Biden Administration Pushing Against IAEA Censure of Iran

  • The United States is pushing against European states pursuing a formal censure of the Islamic Republic for its violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
    • A vote on the censure resolution will come during the quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting from June 3 to June 7, where Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be reviewed.
    • This comes after May 27 IAEA reports that the Islamic Republic regime can now enrich weapons-grade uranium for up to 13 nuclear weapons in four months.
  • European diplomats have voiced concerns that failure to censure the regime would weaken Western deterrence and undermine the authority of the IAEA. 
    • European diplomats have also complained that the Biden administration seems “unwilling to pursue a serious diplomatic effort with Iran or take punitive actions against Tehran’s nuclear transgressions.”
      • This perceived lack of decisiveness from the Biden administration is causing frustration with our European partners, further damaging our relations with key global allies.