Senate Banking Committee Passes New Iran Sanctions Bill

January 30, 2015, Washington, D.C. – Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) recently introduced legislation that would trigger new sanctions against Iran if an agreement is not reached on its nuclear program.  The bipartisan bill, entitled the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 (S. 269),” has a total of thirty-three cosponsors and was marked up by the Senate Banking Committee on January 29, 2015 by a margin of 18-4. Proponents of the new legislation claim that it will strengthen U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran. However, the Obama Administration as well as a number of U.S. negotiating partners have urged Congress to hold off on new Iran sanctions legislation while negotiations are still underway.

Amongst other measures, S.269, would reinstate sanctions on Iran that were previously waived under the interim agreement and impose new economic penalties on Iran if international negotiations do not yield a final nuclear deal by the June 30th deadline.  In addition, the legislation would enhance congressional oversight by requiring the president to submit the text of any final agreement, as well as a verification assessment report, to Congress within five days of reaching an agreement for a one month review period. During today’s markup, the Senate Banking Committee added four amendments to the bill, including two non-binding provisions expressing Congress’ sentiment that the president should transmit any deal with Iran to Congress for a vote, as well as Israel’s right to defend itself and its people.  

Supporters of the measure claim the legislation gives the president adequate flexibility in the negotiations through his ability to waive the sanctions if he feels a deal with Iran is reachable. Nevertheless, President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation claiming that new sanctions on Iran at this time could risk derailing the diplomatic process and splinter the international coalition cooperating on sanctions.  

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fail– alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” said President Obama in the annual State of the Union address.

Leading European foreign policy officials, including British Prime Minster David Cameron, as well as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Federica Mogherini, have also asked Congress not to pass sanctions legislation at this juncture, claiming that new sanctions could “fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far.”

Menendez has responded to criticism by calling it “counterintuitive” to assume that the Iranians will walk away from a deal due to latent sanctions and that it is important for Iran to understand that there will be consequences if they fail to reach an agreement.  Nevertheless, Menendez and a group of Senate Democrats supporting S. 239, sent a letter to the president to assure him that they will not vote on the legislation until after the March 24th (soft deadline to reach outlines of a deal), and only if there is no political framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.  The pledge by Menendez and the other Democrats allows them the opportunity to support the legislation while honoring the Obama Administration’s requests.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have also announced that they will introduce a more “moderate” sanctions bill, which they claim is in step with the administration’s counsel and would not disrupt the negotiations.   Meanwhile, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is proposing an alternative to sanctions by crafting legislation that would require an up-or-down vote in Congress on any final agreement with Iran.  

The many measures floating in the legislative branch demonstrate the desire by many lawmakers for more congressional input over the Iran nuclear negotiations. The debate over Congress’ role in the negotiations is expected to continue leading up to the March deadline to reach a political agreement with Iran.

PAAIA supports efforts to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the decade-long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program.  Last December, PAAIA met with several congressional members and their offices to brief them on the views of the Iranian American community on this important national security matter as reflected through the organization’s National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans.   In addition, PAAIA held a congressional briefing to present the findings of its 2014 Survey of Iranian Americans followed by a panel discussion on Iran.

PAAIA’s  polls indicate that an overwhelming  majority of Iranian Americans would like to see a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute with Iran and that a majority support the Obama administration’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program.

Iranian Americans have deep ties to the people of Iran. They want to see an Iran that is democratic and respects human rights.  A successfully negotiated settlement will increase Iran’s engagement with the international community.  This, in turn, will help the international community’s efforts to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations.   

PAAIA will continue to monitor developments in regards to nuclear negotiations and express the opinions of Iranian Americans to lawmakers and administration officials. 

For the latest updates on the negotiations, please see our Nuclear Negotiations Resource Center.

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