In addition, the bill would require the administration to report to Congress on the extent to which sanctions relief facilitated the ability of Iran to support terrorism and the Syrian regime, contribute to nuclear bomb and missile proliferation as well as human rights violations, and/or enrich any senior Iranian official’s finances. As Menendez said, because “Iran is the foremost sponsor of regional terrorism, any sanctions relief must be monitored closely, and this legislation ensures that regular reports will be provided to Congress to confirm that Iranian-backed terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah or the murderous Assad regime in Syria aren’t the beneficiaries of newly accessed Iranian funds.” (One wonders why we would do a nuclear deal with them at all, but that’s a separate argument.) He deemed this a “clarifying action” and urged his colleagues to move ahead with legislation.
This measure is separate and about from new sanctions legislation, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015, which passed 18-4 in the Senate Banking Committee in January. After that vote, 12 Democrats pledged to vote for the bill on the floor, but only after the March 30 deadline for a framework agreement. The framework has proved illusory as the Iranians publicly disputed agreement had been reached on key parts and criticism has erupted over concessions to Iran. The deadline for a final deal is Tuesday, meaning the new sanctions bill is likely to come back in play in the event a deal is not reached by the time Congress returns from its 4th of July recess on July 7.
The 2015 Kirk-Menendez bill would ramp up and enhance sanctions, according to a summary of the bill, to “close loopholes in existing petroleum sanctions, enhance sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and financial transactions, and impose further sanctions on Iran’s senior government officials, family members and other individuals for weapons of mass destruction proliferation, terrorism sponsorship and other illicit activities, and on Iran’s shipbuilding, automotive, construction, engineering and mining sectors.”
And then today Menendez sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry denouncing the possibility of more concessions: “Ayatollah Khamenei made a speech on Iranian state television in which he stated that ‘All financial and economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. Congress or the U.S. government should be lifted immediately when we sign a nuclear agreement,’ that ‘inspection of our military sites is out of the question and is one of our red lines,’ and that freezing Iranian research and development ‘for a long time, like 10 or 12 years, is not acceptable. Only days before, the Iranian parliament voted to ban access to military sites, documents and scientists as part of any future deal with the P5+1 countries.” He told Kerry, “These demands are unacceptable – they presuppose that the government of Iran will act in good faith, when it has shown itself in the past to be an untrustworthy negotiating partner. If Iranian negotiators intend to adhere to the provisions demanded by Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s parliament, I urge you to suspend the current negotiations with Iran.” He added, “A deal that allows sanctions to be lifted before Iran’s government meets their obligations, without intrusive inspections to safeguard against a continued covert nuclear program, and that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state, is a bad deal that threatens the national security of America and our allies, and must be rejected.”
In refusing at the behest of the White House to move forward with the new sanctions earlier this year, Senate Democrats bought into the notion that passage before the deadline would disrupt talks and, in any event, was unnecessary. As they watched a succession of concessions play out, Democrats may have come to regret having enabled the president’s appeasement strategy. Extending existing sanctions and bringing the new, enhanced sanctions in play would spare Democrats association with the president’s approach that essentially puts Iran on a glide path to obtaining nuclear weapons.