Congressional Republicans are cheering national security adviser Michael Flynn for putting Iran “on notice” Wednesday, marking a rare point of unity for lawmakers who have often split with the Trump administration over foreign policy.
Flynn did not say what he meant by warning the country, which is one of the seven Muslim-majority nations from which President Trump has temporarily barred visitors and refugees. But the president said during the campaign that he intended to revoke the nuclear deal with Iran, which was designed to halt production of that country’s nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
Most GOP senators assumed that sanctions are what Flynn had in mind when he said it was time to put Iran “on notice.”
“We should stop the crap. I think I know what he means. … More sanctions,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
“I think it’s appropriate to put them on notice,” added Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of Trump’s most vocal critics when it comes to foreign engagement. “I’m convinced it means that if [Iran] continue[s] to violate what is clearly the agreement, that we will take appropriate action.”
What “appropriate action” is, Flynn did not say.
But some Republicans are comfortable with that, too.
“Part of the benefit of the ambiguity of that is that it’s ambiguous,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said. “But I think it’s a signal that things have changed, and I think it’s helpful.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another vocal critic of the Trump team’s foreign policy, also endorsed Flynn’s warning to Iran.
Republicans see Flynn’s comments as a first step to persuading the international community that Iran is in violation of the 2015 nuclear accord. And if other nations don’t share the U.S. view, many Republicans are eager to have the United States punish Iran more severely on its own.
“Nobody’s talking about war, invasion or anything else, but we have sanctions and, personally, I think we need to review what violations they have with the deal right now,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) “We have plenty of latitude, we have a bigger economy and there are plenty of things that our partners think are important in dealing with us that we could influence.”
Republicans have been clamoring for a tougher stance against Iran even before the ink was dry on the 2015 nuclear pact struck by the United States, Iran, Russia, China, and several European nations. The GOP, which opposed the deal, has charged that it only encouraged Iran to push the envelope in ways that violate the pact and U.N. sanctions — such as launching a spate of nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests and funding groups opposed to U.S. allies.
It is not clear, however, that Iran’s actions violate more than the spirit of the deal. The agreement only prohibits nuclear activity, and under the active U.N. Security Council resolution Iran is “called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles.” In a previous version, Iran was strictly forbidden from doing so.
Perdue said that personally, he would “like to see the Iran deal negated.”
That goes further than some of his colleagues, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Corker has advocated strict enforcement of the deal but urged the Trump administration not to simply rip it up.