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Time for Congress to take charge on Iran

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In all likelihood, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will proceed with a vote on sanctions after the Thanksgiving break. The question, however, is what will go into a new sanctions bill. To be clear, this is not a matter of Republicans refusing to embrace the new deal or Republicans fighting the president; this is a bipartisan and, in that regard, totally unprecedented repudiation of an administration’s effort to stray from its own policy.

There are two issues vexing Congress. The first is violations of the new interim deal (which will only go into effect if a subsequent implementation plan is agreed upon). The second is heading off an even more disastrous final deal or dealing with the absence of a final agreement.

As to the interim deal, the temptation for the United States will overwhelming be to turn a blind eye toward Iranian violations, including refusal to abide by the inspection requirements. Under the agreement, “the P5+1 and Iran have committed to establishing a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA to monitor implementation and address issues that may arise.” The potential for non-enforcement, or at the very least, ongoing squabbling over the terms of the deal, is extremely high. Given Iran’s record of cheating and deceiving inspectors over the last 10 years or so, it should be expected that Iran will not abide by the interim deal’s terms. (In fact, “Senior Iranian officials said that they are ready to build a second and third nuclear reactor in addition to the one currently operated in tandem with Russia, according to state-run media reports.”) Congress can provide an incentive for the administration to actually demand full compliance with a threat of further sanctions during the six-month time frame.

The most compelling issue here is the final agreement. Congress has good reason to suspect that the administration will not demand complete compliance with six U.N. resolutions that require Iran to suspend all enrichment, dismantle its illegal facilities, ship enriched material out of the country and submit to wide-ranging inspections. The way to prevent a deal that undercuts the U.N. requirements or that prevents Iran from stalling negotiations beyond the six-month time frame is to pass legislation putting new sanctions into effect unless a new agreement that complies with the U.N. mandates is concluded within six months. If there is no deal or there is a deal like the interim deal that leaves Iran free to enrich at some level with its nuclear the enrichment infrastructure essentially intact, the congressional sanctions boom will fall. Given the administration’s lack of credibility and past evasions, Congress should be very stingy with any executive “waivers” that would allow Obama and Iran to evade the new sanctions.

What if President Obama vetoes sanctions? There is the potential for a veto override, although certainly the president will pull out all the stops to fend off challenges to his appeasement.

How would Congress decide if the current interim agreement is violated or if a final deal does not meet the U.N. requirements? Congress would in all likelihood need to hold a subsequent round of votes. However, the sanctions structure would be in place, both to deter Iran and to keep the administration on the straight and narrow.

In essence, Congress would treat the administration the same way that the U.N. treated Iran: Action is demanded and consequences flow from noncompliance. It is a measure of how far the administration has gone in siding with Iran against its own policies and the national security interests of the United States and our allies that Congress must now bludgeon the president into adhering to his own policies. Lee Smith explains the remarkable and dangerous transformation in the Middle East that Obama is attempting:

The White House abandoned its traditional regional allies because it seeks a strategic realignment in the Middle East. Nonetheless, Israel and Saudi Arabia have plenty of resources—financial and military—to manage the Iranian challenge. Before that, however, they’ll have to come to terms with what they previously thought unimaginable, for while they slept the region has shifted under their feet. Now they must awaken to the new reality. To go against Iran doesn’t mean going without the United States; it means going against it.

To be blunt, Congress must push back against the administration in order to strengthen solidarity with our traditional allies in the region who demand Iran lives up to its international obligations. Congress must make clear the price of a new understanding between the United States and Iran cannot be allowing Iran to maintain its enrichment program. That price is too steep and the policy underlying it is reckless.

If Congress doesn’t act there will be only one option to preventing an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability: Israeli military action. If Congress wants to avoid a Middle East war, it should exhaust all other possibilities, including a sanctions framework that puts both Iran and the administration on a short leash.