Senate Committee Advances Iran Sanctions Bill

WASHINGTON – In overwhelming fashion, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Iran sanctions legislation setting up a full floor wide vote. The measure, introduced on March 23 by Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), was also supported by ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (D-MD) along with Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). In a 18-3 vote, independent minded Republican Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in opposing the legislation.

“We can no longer allow the nuclear agreement with Iran to dictate U.S. policy throughout the Middle East, and this bill is an important first step in finally holding Iran accountable for their non-nuclear destabilizing activities,” Corker said. The bill targeted Tehran for its support of terrorist organizations across the Middle East including Hezbollah along with Iran’s ballistic missile program. AIPAC has actively lobbied for the bill and included the measure as one of its top priorities in this year’s Policy Conference. Yesterday, former Secretary of State John Kerry warned against passing S. 722– Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Act of 2017 noting in a series of Twitter posts, “After Rouhani’s reelection, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation. This is not the moment for a new Iran bill.”

Prior to the vote, Corker emphasized his willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion by delaying the vote until after Iran’s Presidential elections, which occurred on Friday, to avoid any appearance of US interference. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) proposed an amendment to the bill that would refrain from sanctioning the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and instead target just the Quds Force. However, his measure was overwhelmingly defeated.

GOP Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered robust opposition to the bill. He cited the ongoing tensions and arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran while noting that Riyahd also shares flagrant human rights violations in addition to supporting terror groups across the region. Yet, the Kentucky lawmaker pointed out that no sanctions legislation was currently targeting Saudi Arabia while the Trump administration recently signed a $110 billion arms deal with Riyadh. Nonetheless, Paul’s arguments appeared to fall on deaf ears. “It’s critical that the United States do more to counter the Iranian regime’s growing missile threats, support for international terrorism and militancy, and systematic abuse of human rights,” explained Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

As the top Democrat on the SFRC, Cardin emphasized that the new sanctions legislation is not meant to tear up the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by former President Barak Obama with Iran otherwise known as the JCPOA. However, Thursday’s sanctions were the most significant since the 2015 deal and if passed by the Senate floor are likely to provoke an angry response from Tehran.

Senator James Risch (R-ID) argued that the current sanctions legislation should have been part of the original nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration. “We shouldn’t have to do this,” he added that “these people are not people who want to get on the international stage and take a place with the rest of the countries that want to see peace and harmony.” This provoked one of the most tense moments of the debate, as Senator Tim Kaine (D-VI) quickly interjected “These people — that’s a tough, tough phrase. We’ve got no beef with Iranian people.”

The bill “imposes mandatory sanctions on persons involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program and those that transact with them” while enforcing an arms embargo of prohibited weapons to and from Iran. S. 722 currently enjoys 48 co-sponsors and with near unanimous Republican backing along with significant Democratic support is likely to be approved by the entire Senate during a floor wide vote at an undetermined time.

Separately, the SFRC passed by voice vote a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. While Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) previously voiced concern over Israeli control in East Jerusalem, no Democrats opposed Thursday’s symbolic measure. S. 176 “reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104–45) as United States law, and calls upon the President and all United States officials to abide by its provisions” while also noting the bipartisan US policy that Jerusalem remains an issue within final status negotiations as part of the two state solution framework. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) co-sponsored the measure.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.