Congress Moves to Impose Sanctions on Iran

Kirk, Menendez buck Obama admin on sanctions, seek to strangle Tehran's terrorism

Hassan Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani / AP

Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) revived on Thursday long-stalled legislation to impose and extend sanctions on Iran for a period of at least 10 more years, according to sources familiar with the move.

The bipartisan bid to extend economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic comes ahead of a self-imposed June 30 deadline for Western powers to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Iranian leaders in recent days have demanded greater concessions from the United States and are insisting that economic sanctions must be completely lifted on day one of any agreement—before international inspectors are able to verify that Iran is not building nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has been fighting congressional attempts to extend and impose new sanctions on Tehran, going so far as to lobby sympathetic legislators to kill these efforts.

However, Menendez and Kirk have tried multiple times to impose greater sanctions against the White House’s demands.

The senators moved again on Thursday to push sanctions despite White House objection. They filed legislation that would extend the economic sanctions on Tehran for at least 10 more years.

The bill seeks to renew the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, which is set to expire next year.

Such an extension would defund Iran’s continued efforts to bolster its nuclear program and also strike out at its global financial support for terror organizations.

This would ensure that harsh sanctions could "snap back" at a moment's notice if Iran is caught cheating on any agreement that is reached in the coming days.

The legislation also would require the Obama administration to file reports with Congress detailing whether the billions of dollars in sanctions relief already provided to Iran has been spent to support terrorism or the country’s nuclear and missile programs, or if the money is contributing to human rights violations.

The bill also would mandate that the White House disclose if ongoing sanctions relief has enriched any senior Iranian officials.

"Congress passed the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to drain Iran’s financial support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and terrorist threats to the United States and Israel and block funds for building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles," Kirk said in a statement provided to the Washington Free Beacon.

"Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper recently told senators that ‘Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism,’ so if the White House is serious about maintaining terrorism sanctions against Iran no matter what, it must support our bipartisan effort to renew this expiring law," Kirk said.

If Western powers strike a deal with Iran in the coming days, "it is critical that should Iran violate the terms of an agreement, severe penalties will follow and a forceful snapback of sanctions will occur," Menendez said in a separate statement provided to the Free Beacon. "For me, the trend lines of the Iran talks are deeply worrying, our red lines have turned into green lights, leaving snapback as one of the few tools available to demand Iranian compliance with an agreement."

"Absent renewal we would be unilaterally lifting sanctions on Iran and hence unilaterally disarming," Menednez said. "It stands to reason that if negotiators are serious about snapback, then they should support the immediate extension of the Iran Sanctions Act to ensure there is no question for Iran about the consequences of non-compliance."

While Congress has historically extended Iran sanctions in a bipartisan manner, the issue has become more controversial as the Obama administration moves to suppress such efforts in order to preserve its diplomacy.

Earlier this week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei demanded in a speech that any final nuclear deal last a period of fewer than 10 years. This would enable the country to restart aspects of its nuclear program without restriction after this time.

Reports also have indicated that the United States has offered to assist Iran in the building and maintenance of new light water nuclear reactors.