Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) on Monday called for the United States to impose additional sanctions on Iran after the Islamic Republic recently launched ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, adding that he is unsure why the Obama administration has refused to do so up to this point.
Coons, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, made his statement in response to a reporter's question on where he stands regarding Congress passing new sanctions against Iran.
Rachel Oswald of Congressional Quarterly asked for Coons’ thoughts on Congress moving on a bill “that would require mandatory sanctions if Iran conducts another ballistic missile test” and “the continuing talk about Congress reauthorizing the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act.”
“When it comes to taking additional sanctions to announce designations in response to the ballistic missile launches, absolutely I think we should do so,” Coons said. “The two recent ballistic missile launches violate UN Security Council resolution 1929 … I think those designations are all but ready to go.”
Iran has conducted two known ballistic missile tests since the U.S. and five other world powers struck an agreement with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program this past summer. The first test, which violated a UN Security Council resolution, took place on Oct. 10, and the second occurred on Nov. 21. Many commentators and analysts have said the second launch committed the same violation, but the Obama administration has not confirmed that publicly yet. The missiles are reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads, which has raised doubts over Tehran's willingness to abide by the nuclear accord.
The agreement does not restrict Iran's ability to improve its strategic missile arsenal, but UN Security Council resolution 2231, which gives the deal international force, does forbid the Islamic Republic from launching nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
In this context, members of Congress have called on the president to take a firmer stance against Iranian provocations, and Coons addressed the Obama administration in his comments, saying he does not know “why the administration has hesitated [to take actions against Iran], but I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with those designations.”
Coons also said Congress should be considering the Iran Policy Oversight Act, which is a bill he “introduced with colleagues who were both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal. And it lays out a framework for engaging in comprehensive efforts to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East,” provides support for U.S. allies in the region, and clarifies “some ambiguous provisions of the JCPOA [nuclear deal].”
He added that the Senate must confirm President Obama's national security nominees who have been held up by Congress for some time, including Adam Szubin, the acting undersecretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Coons’ comments come as Democratic lawmakers are joining Republicans in calling for additional pressure and the Obama administration to take a tougher posture toward Iran.
Critics of this past summer's nuclear agreement argued at the time that the president would be self-deterred from countering Iranian aggression out of a desire to preserve the deal at all costs, a point his administration denies.
Since the deal was completed, Tehran has engaged in a series of actions that Washington has opposed beyond the ballistic missile tests, causing some politicians and analysts to say Iran is not a partner in good faith.
Iran has also been involved in an intense feud with regional rival Saudi Arabia over the past nine days since Riyadh executed a dissident Shiite cleric on Jan. 2, which led to Iranian protestors attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia has since cut all diplomatic ties with Iran, and the tension between the two Middle Eastern powers has escalated since then.
Some analysts have said Saudi Arabia is acting independently against Iran without consulting Washington because it feels the U.S. is seeking a strategic realignment in the region that would strengthen Tehran at the kingdom's expense, with the nuclear deal adding to this perception in Riyadh.
Coons announced his official support for the Iran deal in September, but he wanted the Senate to have the opportunity to vote on the agreement, which never occurred.