The Senate gave President Barack Obama a brief reprieve on the push for new sanctions against Iran this week when they agreed to not draft a formal sanctions bill until after March 24, the deadline set by international negotiators from Iran and the PS5+1 group which includes the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, for creating an agreement which limits Iran’s nuclear power. However, champions of increased Iran sanctions conveyed that they would restart their efforts, if the current talks are not successful. The pause in the lobby for increased sanctions took place two weeks after President Obama threatened to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation. The concern is that new conditions could collapse talks with Iran and also increase the likelihood of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
There is ample support in both the House and the Senate for legislation imposing new sanctions against Iran to over-ride a veto. The Kirk-Menendez bill which was authored by Senator Mark Kirk (Republican- Illinois) and Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) of the Senate Banking Committee has garnered a lot of support. At least ten Democratic senators have already professed their support for the bill. The draft of the Kirk-Menendez bill stipulates that if no agreement is reached by the June 30, 2015 deadline, the sanctions which had been lifted as a result of the interim agreement, would be reinstated. Furthermore, new sanctions would be implemented including restrictions on market access for Iran’s oil. The bill would prohibit any new waivers of sanctions until Congress has the time to review the bill for 30 legislative days which translates to two-three months in actual calendar time.
President Obama’s stance on Iran has generated more bipartisan negative reaction and spawned more legislative activity. Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, credits President Obama’s “irresponsible” manner of interacting with Congress for House Leader John Boehner’s “going around the White House” to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in March. Senator Corker is currently working on a bill with Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) which would require congressional oversight over any new agreement with Iran. Senator Rand Paul (Republican-Kentucky) and soon to retire Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California) have announced their collaboration on legislation which takes a more moderate approach to sanctions than the Kirk-Menendez bill. The Boxer-Paul legislation proposes new sanctions on Iran only if Iran is found to be in violation of its existing agreements. According to Senator Boxer pushing for new sanctions while negotiations are ongoing “does not strengthen us, doesn’t strengthen our position at all.”
The plethora of legislation calling for more sanctions against Iran demonstrates that Republican and Democrats are united in the view point that President Obama’s approach towards Iran is weak and naïve. He is not facing Iran with strength and conviction. He needs to put his fingerprints on an agreement which binds Iran to ironclad requirements. More importantly, he needs to demonstrate that if Iran violates this agreement in any manner, they will suffer the consequences diplomatically and economically. Let’s see what happens on March 24.
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