Congress Passes New Iran Sanctions, Ignoring Obama Admin Threats

Obama admin locked in last-minute bid to preserve nuke deal

U.S. Capitol building

U.S. Capitol building / AP

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Congress unanimously voted on Thursday to level new sanctions on Iran, sending a clear message that lawmakers stand opposed to the Obama administration's continued concessions to Tehran in the final months before it leaves office, according to comments provided to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry, made a final push in recent weeks to convince lawmakers to abandon the new sanctions, but lawmakers remained firm on Thursday, voting 99-0 to approve the new sanctions. Even Democrats who have supported the White House's diplomacy voted in favor of the sanctions.

Senior Iranian officials have been adamant that new sanctions would violate last summer's nuclear agreement and have threatened multiple times in recent months to walk away from the deal if the United States does not meet all of its demands under the deal.

A State Department official told the Free Beacon the department is focused on ensuring that Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA when asked about its position on the sanctions bill.

While President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the new sanctions, sources told the Free Beacon that mounting opposition to the deal may make this difficult for the White House, which has been working in its final months to preserve the diplomatic agreement before President-elect Donald Trump assumes control.

As lawmakers pave the way for Trump to undo the deal, the Obama administration is working furiously in its final days to preserve a deal that officials describe as a signature piece of Obama's time in office.

"President Obama should immediately sign into law the Iran Sanctions Extension Act," Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), a key architect of the sanctions, told the Free Beacon. "Since the fatally-flawed nuclear deal, the outgoing administration has done so appallingly little to push back against the growing dangers of Iran's terrorism financing, missile proliferation, support for the Assad regime, and human rights abuses."

"Renewal of the expiring Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 is an important first step in strengthening the safety and security of the United States and our allies, including Israel, against Iran's grave threats," Kirk said.

The White House worked fiercely to stop the new sanctions from coming to a vote, according to sources familiar with the situation. However, the administration could not stem a growing sense in Congress that Iran has continued to embrace terrorism and foster chaos in the region since the nuclear deal was inked.

Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal, told the Free Beacon following the vote that the Obama administration is not likely to be happy with the outcome.

"The only actions President Obama should be taking on Iran over these next few weeks is to vigorously and fully implement all sanctions against the regime and enforce all restrictions against its nuclear program," she said. "But we shouldn’t expect that to happen, as we’ve already seen Iran attempt to manipulate the White House into blocking the Iran Sanctions Act extension—which was an unsuccessful effort—by absurdly claiming it would violate the JCPOA."

Congress will continue to work against the administration's pro-Iran efforts, Ros-Lehtinen said.

"It will be up to Congress to prevent any further concessions from the administration to the State Sponsor of Terror, Iran, and to prepare a solid game plan that counters the regime’s continued aggressive behavior and repeated attempts to violate or undermine its nuclear commitments so that when President-elect Trump’s administration comes in, we can move forward swiftly on any Iran-related action," she said.

Iran's continued aggression against U.S. forces in the region and ongoing demands that America give it greater access to financial resources have angered many on Capitol Hill, who told the Free Beacon that continued appeasement is no longer an option to rein in the regime's behavior.

"It's pathetic to see some administration officials ardently working behind the scenes to block the Iran Sanctions Extension Act when everyone, including the Iranians, should well know the renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 does not expressly violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," said one senior GOP congressional aide working on the matter.

Another source described many attempts by Obama administration officials to work behind-the-scenes to preserve the deal. This includes continued sanctions relief for Iran, more cash payments, and the facilitation of deals enabling Iran to buy Western aircraft.

"The administration is attempting anything and everything possible to make the deal irreversible," said one senior congressional aide familiar with Obama administration attempts to preserve the deal. "In short, this means more giveaways to Iran at the expense of our own national security."

"We will continue to block these concessions when possible, and then work with President-elect Trump to undo them," the source added. Just last week, the House passed the Iran Sanctions Act on a bipartisan basis despite bogus concerns from the administration."

A senior congressional adviser who works intimately with lawmakers said that the vote to approve sanctions has added a layer of complication to the administration's pro-Iran efforts.

"The Obama administration is scrambling to keep the deal from collapsing in the final weeks before Trump gets inaugurated, so they can blame the collapse on him later," the source said. "That's why you're seeing all this activity to transfer airplanes, negotiate more billion dollar transfers, jam up Congress, and so on."

Kirk, in a statement on the Senate floor just ahead of the sanctions vote, took aim at Iran's continued violent behavior.

"Iran's behavior has worsened" since the nuclear deal was signed, Kirk said. "Iran has taken more American hostages, including Baquer Namazi and Reza Shahini. It increased support to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. It caused problems in Yemen and Iraq."

"Iran has conducted multiple missile tests," Kirk added.

Update 2:30 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Rep. Ros Lehtinen.

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.