U.S. President Joe Biden signed a massive $768 annual defense bill into law on Monday, but opposed a provision requiring him to provide Congress with detailed reports regarding the military capabilities of Iran and related activities.
The Iran-related provision, Sec. 1227(a)(1), requires a "detailed description" of Iran's military advancements, all arms sales and transfers to or from Iran, all missile launches by Iran and changes in Iranian-backed military groups' capabilities. Any intelligence provided to Congress will likely be classified, at best, and would likely be in the form of a verbal briefing instead of a written report.
In a statement following the National Defense Authorization Act's signing, Biden said the Iran-related provision was one of several that would "effectively require executive departments and agencies to submit reports to certain committees that will include highly sensitive classified information, including information that could reveal critical intelligence sources or military operational plans."
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Biden noted that he has constitutional authority to prevent the disclosure of such sensitive information for national security purposes, while recognizing that congressional oversight committees have their own legitimate needs to ensure national security and military matters.
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"Accordingly, it has been the common practice of the executive branch to comply with statutory reporting requirements in a way that satisfies congressional needs" and that respects the need to protect from "unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence," Biden's statement said. "I believe the Congress shares this understanding, and my Administration will presume that it is incorporated into statutory reporting requirements of the kind at issue in the Act."
Biden's announcement comes days after the U.S. Navy seized "upwards of 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a vessel originating in Iran. This ship was on a route historically used to illegally smuggle weapons to the Houthis in Yemen," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, adding that "Iran’s support for armed groups throughout the region threatens international and regional security, our forces, our diplomatic personnel and citizens in the region, as well as our partners." Price added that the Biden administration is committed to countering the threat from Iran.
Also on Monday, negotiations resumed in Vienna between Iran and five world powers on restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement. After seven previous rounds of talks ended without a breakthrough, Washington and Tehran are each waiting to see if the other side’s position has softened during the off-period, though senior U.S. officials have relayed their skepticism about the chances of reaching a deal to their Israeli counterparts.