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February 12, 2016

Schumer, Menendez Renew Calls for New Iran Sanctions

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two top Democrats said Sunday they expected the Senate would still move forward with enhanced sanctions against Iran, despite news out of Geneva of an interim agreement regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

“As for additional sanctions, this disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December. I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues,” New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer said in a statement.

That’s despite explicit pleas from President Barack Obama Saturday night against Congressional action, warning that a new round of sanctions now could derail the talks and undermine the international coalition.

But Schumer’s statement called the interim deal a disappointment.

“It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced,” Schumer said. “A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

That statement came just after Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez expressed a similar sentiment. Both Menendez and Schumer are senior members of the Senate Banking Committee, which has lead jurisdiction over the sanctions issue.

“I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement,” the New Jersey Democrat said in a statement.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that he planned to move a sanctions measure when the Senate returns from a two-week Thanksgiving break on Dec. 9.

Menendez’s prediction regarding the Senate sanctions measure is in line with what two key Republicans said just after the President Barack Obama announced the deal between the P5+1 world powers and the Iranian government late Saturday night. Sens. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., each indicated that a new sanctions regime accompanied by a six month delay in implementation would be a reasonable course while the broader negotiations with Iran move forward.

Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t respond directly when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos if Obama would veto new Iran sanctions.

“Well, George, I believe Congress will recognize that this deal actually has a great deal of benefit in it, and I look forward to going up and working with our colleagues on the hill in order to try to persuade them that this is not the moment to increase sanctions,” Kerry said on This Week. “I’m confident that as Congress examines what we have been able to achieve here, and as they measure the fact that if you didn’t do what we were doing, they would be marching forward and putting more centrifuges in, enriching more, moving closer to a weapon.”

“In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran’s history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification,” Menendez said. “Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions. I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions, nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail. I will be monitoring the enforcement of existing sanctions not covered by the interim agreement to ensure they are being robustly enforced.”

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., sounded a bit more upbeat in his own statement.

“There is no harm in testing Iran’s willingness because a freeze and a partial roll-back of Iran’s nuclear energy activities is a bigger plus for us and the world than the release of $7 billion to Iran from its own assets, particularly since twice that amount of Iran’s oil revenue will be added to Iran’s frozen asset pile during that six-month period,” Levin said. “If there is no final deal at the end of six months, the interim deal will expire because it is not by its terms a final deal. And if Iran does not consent to a comprehensive agreement that ensures it cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, there is a broad consensus in Congress to impose even tougher sanctions.”

Lawmakers in both chambers and in both parties have expressed skepticism about the interim agreement, with some being more circumspect than others before receiving full briefings.

“The Administration and its negotiating partners claim that a final deal can be completed that affirms Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently and irreversibly dismantles the infrastructure of its uranium and plutonium nuclear programs,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. “That is a goal the House shares. The lingering question, however, is whether the negotiating partners will work equally hard to preserve the strong international sanctions regime until that goal is achieved. Otherwise, we will look back on the interim deal as a remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability.”

The Ohio Republican added: “The House looks forward to the Administration providing a briefing on the interim deal and the next steps.”

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