Obama Admin: Iran Deal Limits New Congressional Action on Iran

Limits new sanctions on Iranian terrorism, human rights violations

John Kerry / AP
September 17, 2015

The recently inked nuclear accord with Iran restricts the United States’ ability to impose new sanctions on the Islamic Republic in response to terror activities, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile development, according to a document provided to Congress by the Obama administration and obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.

Secretary of State John Kerry writes in the document that although the nuclear accord theoretically allows Congress to impose new non-nuclear sanctions, American lawmakers will be restricted from enacting legislation that Iran could use as an excuse for walking away from the deal, according to the document, which was provided as an on-the-record response to a series of questions from Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).

Experts who spoke to the Free Beacon raised alarms about the Obama administration’s response, which they claim would give Iran a veto over congressional efforts to respond to Iranian human rights atrocities and global terror activities. Tehran, they say, would claim that such measures are an excuse for re-imposing nuclear sanctions slated to be lifted under the deal.

Iran claimed in a letter sent to the United Nations last July that it would treat any new sanctions efforts—including those not related to its nuclear program—as a violation of the deal, specifically if those sanctions targeted Iranian entities that had once been penalized for illicit nuclear activity.

Iran emphasized in the letter that it would enforce that interpretation "irrespective of whether such new sanctions are introduced on nuclear related or other grounds," according to a copy of the letter published by Foreign Policy.

Kerry, in his recent letter to Rubio, admitted that the United States will have limited options in sanctioning Iran.

Congress will not have "free rein to simply re-impose tomorrow all of our nuclear-related sanctions under some other pretext," Kerry wrote. "Iran would obviously see that as bad faith."

"We do not have free rein to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions without a credible rationale," Kerry said later in the document.

Insiders told the Free Beacon that the administration’s stance would likely prevent the United States from responding to Iranian aggression and human rights violations.

"You have to understand how crazy backwards this is," a senior D.C.-based political strategist involved in the fight over Iran sanctions legislation told the Free Beacon. "If you’re an Iranian general who is just involved in terrorism, we may be able to sanction you for that."

"But let’s say you’re an Iranian general who was involved in the nuclear program, and we designated you for that but now under the deal we’re delisting you," the strategist said. "If you now switch to being an arch-terrorist, Congress can’t touch you because the Iranians will say we’re doing an end-run around the JCPOA."

Kerry declined to support new congressional actions against Iran, stating that the administration would "remain vocal about human rights violations in Iran" and would only "continue to enforce existing human rights sanctions."

The administration’s stance comes amid repeated promises to lawmakers that the administration would double down on the use of sanctions as a means to push back against Iranian non-nuclear aggression.