CAPITOL HILL - The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told VOA that Iran’s missile launches are sparking stronger resolve in Congress to renew and boost U.S. sanctions on Tehran.
“There are three categories [of sanctions] that can be looked at in a bipartisan way, and we are attempting to do that now,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said.
In particular, Corker said he is working to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, which was suspended as part of last year’s landmark international nuclear accord with Tehran. The law targets international investment in Iran. It remains on the books but will expire at the end of the year unless Congress extends it.
Responding to congressional developments on Iran, a senior administration official told VOA, "It's not necessary to extend the Iran Sanctions Act at this time since it does not expire until the end of the year. Right now our focus is on implementing the deal, and verifying that Iran completes its key nuclear steps."
President Barack Obama has stated repeatedly that sanctions will “snap back” if Iran violates the nuclear accord. Such leverage will be lost if the Iran Sanctions Act expires, according to Corker.
“In the event there are violations, the snap-back provisions that are a part of the [nuclear] agreement mean that there has to be something to snap back to,” the senator said. “So extending that, dealing with conventional weapons and dealing with ballistic missiles are three areas that I think we have a possibility of reaching consensus on.”
Another committee member, Democrat Robert Menendez, also is on record supporting the ISA’s renewal through 2026.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last October, Menendez wrote, “Provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act expire in 2016. Failing to reauthorize these provisions is also a message to the Iranian regime.”
Testifying on Capitol Hill last month, Kerry counseled against a “rush” to extend the ISA and suggested patience during the implementation of the international nuclear deal.
Patience at an end
“Iran is developing a nuclear program so that they can put it on top of a ballistic missile and destroy the nation of Israel,” Republican Senator Cory Gardner told VOA. “They wrote as much on the ballistic missile [launched this week] itself.”
“Absolutely Congress should increase our sanctions and efforts. But the president might veto it, because this president doesn’t seem to want to stop Iranian bad behavior. In fact, in many ways, I think the Iran nuclear deal has enabled Iranian bad behavior,” Gardner added.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons hopes for a unified international response to Iran’s violations of the U.N. resolution.
“I think this calls for sustained active global engagement. I think the Security Council should act against this recent ballistic missile launch,” Coons said. “I continue to urge the administration to be engaged and strenuous in enforcing our existing sanctions against their ballistic missile program, their ongoing human rights violations, as well as their support for terrorism in the region.”
Corker said renewing the Iran Sanctions Act would be a unilateral U.S. move, but could cause other nations to act, as well.
“We’ve seen in the past, sometimes when we begin – just like with North Korea – there are follow-ons that are taken up by other countries,” Corker said.
Iran has warned that punitive measures would cause it to terminate its adherence to the nuclear deal.
Asked about Iran’s most recent missile launches, on Wednesday State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States will “take whatever appropriate response is necessary, either at the U.N. or unilaterally.”
“We condemn all threats to Israel, and we stand – will stand – with Israel to help it defend itself against all kinds of threats,” Kirby added.