US President Joe Biden's candidate for chief of Central Command (CENTCOM), Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, warned Iran might use the money resulting from the sanctions waivers to support its proxies in the region.
Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there is a risk with sanctions relief that "Iran would use some of that money to support its proxies and terrorism in the region. And if they did, it could increase the risk to our forces in the region."
US officials stated that they likely have until the end of this month to salvage the nuclear agreement with Iran.
CNN quoted senior administration officials as saying that "this session is the critical one… We are genuinely in the very final stretch."
Kurilla's warnings reflected the military leaders' concern about Iran's growing influence in the region.
"Iran is the No. 1 destabilizing factor in the Middle East right now with their malign behavior," testified Kurilla, calling on the US to maintain strong relations with the countries of the world and enhance its capabilities to confront the Iranian threat.
The General stressed the importance of artificial intelligence in confronting Iran, adding that he would boost this strategy if approved for the position, noting that the US must continue to invest in technology, including artificial intelligence, to enhance its capabilities to respond to Iran's military capabilities.
Kurilla also referred to the Houthis' recent ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stressing the importance of publicly accusing Iran of these attacks.
The US must expose Iran's involvement in such actions whenever possible, said Kurilla.
At the hearing, the army general said it's critical to help partners in the region improve cyber defenses that can protect them from Iran's "very capable offensive cyber capability."
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives members sat in the opposite section of the building listening to the President's Special Envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, to discuss developments on the nuclear talks in Vienna.
Malley participated in the hearing via videoconferencing to answer questions about the administration's negotiations over the return to the 2015 nuclear deal amid concerns over the pace of Iran's nuclear advances and sanctions implementation.
The envoy provided his first classified briefing on Capitol Hill and it was evident that bipartisan legislators were running out of patience with Malley.
Representative Claudia Tenney, a committee member, led the pressure on Malley to testify
She said later that the session left her with more questions than answers.
"Before today, Rob Malley had yet to appear before the full Foreign Affairs Committee, either publicly or in private, to answer our questions and explain to the American people why sanctions are not being fully enforced on Iran," Tenney said.
"This briefing, unfortunately, left me with more questions than answers. While it was a start, it is still not enough."
Tenney also called for a full public hearing, urging greater transparency, adding that it "was a start, it is still not enough. Rob Malley works for the American people, and he needs to answer to them as well."
"That's why I'm continuing to press for a full, public hearing. On a matter as important to our national security as a nuclear Iran, maximum transparency is the only path forward."
Senate Foreign Relations Chair Senator Bob Menendez shared Tenney's concerns during a briefing at the Senate, which included the top Middle East official on the National Security Council, Brett McGurk.
Members pressured Malley to clarify the administration's efforts to return to the agreement in light of many questions raised by Menendez.
Earlier this week, Malley spoke with congressional staffers and left them feeling that the next few weeks will determine if the deal lasts or dies, two congressional sources told CNN.
"I have been cautiously optimistic about the Biden administration's initial efforts," said Menendez.
"However, a year later, I have yet to hear any parameters of 'longer' or 'stronger' terms or whether that is even a feasible prospect."
Menendez said it's still "possible" for the US to agree with Iran, but "it's increasingly difficult, cause the window is closing, closing rapidly."
In turn, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said after leaving the closed session that it was a "sobering and shocking briefing," saying that Iran is "weeks away from a nuclear weapon, once they decide to get it, that time is getting smaller, not bigger."