Days after President Barack Obama hailed the fruits of diplomacy with Iran, Republican lawmakers pressed for tougher sanctions on Tehran for recent missile tests and other actions.
"We need to stand up to this Iranian regime — their illegal testing of ballistic missiles, their continued support for hostage-taking," said Senator Kelly Ayotte at a news conference at the Capitol. "We're going to impose tougher sanctions."
"This president and this secretary of state [John Kerry] have pandered to the Iranians, no matter what they have done, no matter what offense they have committed," said fellow-Republican Senator John McCain. "They won't do a damn thing. And we will have to try to act as a Congress."
The lawmakers did not spell out the punitive measures they had in mind, but voiced blistering criticism of the Obama administration's engagement with Iran.
"Our president and our secretary of state have negotiated the worst deal since Munich," said Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the short-lived accord between Britain and Germany before World War II. "There is no requirement for the Iranians to change their behavior. They have a pathway to a bomb, a missile to deliver it, and money to pay for it."
On Sunday, Obama hailed implementation of last year's nuclear pact with Iran.
"Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb," the president said. "We've achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East."
Obama and sanctions
While noting that Iran is now entitled to billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Obama noted that differences remain between Washington and Tehran and announced new sanctions for Iranian missile tests.
"We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program," Obama said. "And we will continue to enforce these sanctions, vigorously. Iran's recent missile test, for example, was a violation of its international obligations. And as a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran's ballistic missile program. And we are going to remain vigilant about it."
Republicans view the new sanctions as a mere slap on the wrist, and argue that stronger measures are required to curb Iranian behavior. In particular, they slammed Iran's brief detention of U.S. sailors last week, and expressed dismay that Kerry thanked Tehran after their release.
For any sanctions bill to pass Congress, a handful of Democratic senators would have to join Republicans in backing the legislation. Congressional rejection of the nuclear pact was blocked last year when minority Democrats prevented Republicans from getting a three-fifths vote required to advance the resolution.
Not all Democrats supported the deal and, among those who did, some are voicing concerns about recent Iranian behavior, including missile tests.
"I'm a strong supporter of the deal," Senator Tim Kaine told VOA. "But the deal only works if there is tough implementation, and includes not only the four corners of the deal, but in other areas that are subject to international law.
"If Iran cheats and gets away with it, then that will likely affect how they treat this deal."