July 19, 2024
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Bi-Partisan Sanctions Bill Heads Toward Veto

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of twenty-six Senators co-sponsoring the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 – thirteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans – formally unveiled the bill which would add sanctions against Iran if it does not meet the terms of the agreements being drafted in Geneva. Rumors indicated that the bill would allow Israel to attack Iran and that Congress would back that move. It turned out that the rumors were wrong. The measure would expand restrictions on Iran’s energy sector. It also states that the United States should provide military, diplomatic and economic support to Israel if the Jewish state takes military action against Iranian facilities.

In an exclusive interview with a member of Senator Robert Menendez’s senior staff, JLBC asked about the bill introduced mid-December by Senator Menendez, (D-NJ) chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, and 24 additional members of the Senate, half Democrats, half Republicans. “It’s a very bi-partisan Bill,” Adam Sharon, the senator’s spokesman said. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote, but caused an uproar last Wednesday as details were leaked, but those details were not in the document.

The focus of the Menendez-Kirk Bill is to establish a “red line “and to act as an active warning. If Iran violates the agreements signed in Geneva in November, 2013, and shows itself unable to abide by the agreement which requires that the Regime to relinquish both the pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and the capability to produce such weapons, the sanctions detailed in the bill go into effect.

According to Sharon, “the Bill gives the President great flexibility to continue to pursue the diplomatic track and seek the diplomatic outcome preferable to all parties.” It establishes future, prospective sanctions that the President has up to a year to implement. The bill, he said, is “an attempt to establish a benchmark,” and no new sanctions are to be put into effect now or in the immediate weeks if the Geneva agreement is respected.

Critics of the Geneva agreement have said that while Iran may suspend active production of nuclear components, it will simply maintain its capability and suffer no consequence for any failure or breach. The Menendez-Kirk Bill provides an insurance policy to prevent that and provides negotiators with tools to insure that the best agreement is made. “The hope is that Iran will do the right thing and abide by UN security resolutions and the Geneva agreement.”

The bill outlines and establishes significant consequences so that Iran does not breach the Geneva agreement. Iran is required to suspend and cease its nuclear weapons program and the capability to re-start it. “It is realistic,” said Adam Sharon. “The legislation recognizes the years and decades of denial and deceptions that have come out of Iran. It makes sure we are operating with a strengthened hand in these negotiations, although a diplomatic outcome would be best. The onus and pressure are on Iran to begin in good faith.”

JLBC asked the Senator’s spokesman about the influence of outside forces on the development of this type of bill. “In general, when working on such major issues, the voices and expertise of a wide range of communities are involved.”

The Senator is very clear about the reality of Iran’s threat against Israel. “When you have that kind of hate speech and anti-Israel, genocidal speech, this is not something to be taken lightly. This is language that cannot be ignored. You cannot turn the other way whenever you hear that kind of speech.

“The current sanctions, Senator Menendez believes, brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. The credible threat of future sanctions requires that Iran cooperate and act in good faith during future negotiations. He notes that first, the Iranians blamed the administration for enforcing sanctions; now, they criticize Congress. It is clear that the burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate the nuclear weapons program.”

Menendez colleague, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday refused to back away from the bill. He is one of the leaders of the bi-partisan effort to hit Iran with stricter sanctions, despite President Obama’s recent plea not to interfere in negotiations aimed at stopping Tehran’s nuclear program.

“There are many of us, Democrats and Republicans in this Senate, who believe the best way to avoid war and get Iran to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He pooh-poohed the notion that the Iranians “came to the table out of the goodness of their hearts.”

He, too, believes that it’s logical that tough sanctions brought them to the table. “If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they’re going to do that. So we have to be tough.”

Obama discouraged Congress from passing such legislation during the six-month window for negotiations, during which time the U.S. softens sanctions in exchange for a reduction in Iranian uranium enrichment and access for international inspectors.

At his final scheduled year-end press conference last week, Obama said, “I’ve heard arguments, well, but this way we can be assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation.”

He added, “If we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. And we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of action.”

Initial media accounts of the legislation’s language were confused. The law’s wording was first leaked in a post last Wednesday night to Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable blog, which contained several factual errors, including an implication that the bill authorize[d] military force against Iran.

“The American people rightfully distrust Iran’s true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations,” Sen. Kirk said. “This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote.”

“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” said Sen. Menendez. “The Iranians last week blamed the Administration for enforcing sanctions; now, they criticize Congress. The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate its nuclear weapons program. Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution.”

The White House threatened to veto the legislation should it come to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Voice of America reported that the president believes that U.S. lawmakers must allow the United States and other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, to continue testing Iran’s commitment to a diplomatic solution.

Iran and the P5+1 nations resumed expert-level talks in Geneva last Thursday. The Senate legislation is not likely to come to a vote until sometime in January. White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama would veto any bill containing new sanctions.

“We don’t believe this proposal is necessary, as I think we have made clear, and we have been discussing with members of Congress for quite some time. We don’t believe it will be enacted; we certainly know it’s not necessary. If it were to pass, the president would veto it,” Carney said.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced new enforcement actions against additional Iranian companies and individuals based on existing sanctions, a step that led Iran to temporarily interrupt discussions.

Carney said the White House has been in “regular and very direct” conversations with lawmakers, and reiterated that Congress could act quickly if Iran fails to comply. New sanctions, he said, could derail negotiations and suggest “bad faith” on the part of the United States.

Two Republicans who have signed on to the legislation — John McCain and Lindsey Graham — spoke in the Senate about the need to maintain pressure on Iran. McCain said it would be appropriate for Congress to make clear to the Obama administration and to Iran’s leadership that the “screws are going to tighten.”

“Shouldn’t there be some sanctions that would kick in after a six-month period which then the Iranians would know that if they don’t reach an agreement then the sanctions would be more severe?” McCain asked.

White House spokesman Carney also responded to a question about remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding efforts to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, and the U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Speaking in Poland, where interceptors for the missile shield are to be deployed by 2018, Lavrov said successful implementation of the Geneva agreement would remove the cause for the U.S. missile shield.

Carney said the U.S. position has not changed, noting that an interim deal with Iran is “not a comprehensive agreement and not a resolution to the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

By Maxine Dovere and combined sources

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