Toomey Pushes to Strengthen New Iran Sanctions

Wants Congress to have strict oversight on final nuclear deal with Tehran

Pat Toomey
Pat Toomey / AP

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) is considering several new measures that would significantly strengthen new Iran sanctions legislation and give Congress strict oversight on any final nuclear deal with Tehran, according to sources familiar with the senator’s strategy.

Toomey is poised to offer three new amendments to the hotly contested sanctions bill, which has been the focus of a fierce battle on Capitol Hill in recent days, according to an overview of the measures exclusively provided to the Washington Free Beacon.

Toomey could offer all three of these measures on Thursday during a Senate Banking Committee hearing that will focus on new sanctions legislation, jointly sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.)

The concern among many Republicans and a contingent of Democrats is that the new sanctions bill has been dangerously watered down by Obama administration allies and does not go far enough in penalizing Iran.

Menendez announced in a surprise move earlier this week that he and a block of key Democrats would delay a vote on the new sanctions until late March, despite concerns that such a bill would lose its impact.

"There’s a little concern the sanctions keep getting weaker and weaker and weaker in order to try and attract more Democratic support," said one congressional aide familiar with the deliberations. "There’s a concern that, at some point, what are we doing this for?"

"There’s a pretty widespread concern throughout the Republican side and in some circles on the Democratic side" that the White House has invalidated any new sanctions.

Toomey’s new measures seek to address these concerns.

The first measure under consideration would mandate that any final deal with Iran include the full dismantlement of its nuclear program, something the Obama administration admits it is not seeking to accomplish in talks.

Toomey’s amendment would require the president to certify that Iran relinquishes "enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities," as well as its "heavy water reactor and [nuclear] production plant at Arak," according to a draft version of the measure previewed by the Free Beacon.

Iran also would be forced to give up "any new weapons components and technology so that the government of Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon," according to the amendment.

This differs from the administration’s approach, which would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium. State Department officials say they seek to delay Iran’s production of a nuclear bomb by about a year.

The second Toomey proposal up for consideration would ensure the Kirk-Menendez bill is not watered down any further.

As the Obama administration rallies its allies to unravel the sanctions bill, senators such as Toomey are pushing the opposite approach.

"The sanctions should at least be as strong as what’s currently being proposed," said one source familiar with the senator’s thinking. "We shouldn’t weaken it any more. It’s already been weakened from the last Congress."

"And we’re by no means the only people who think this should be strengthened," the source added.

The third Toomey measure seeks to provide congressional oversight over any final deal via an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

However, it remains unclear at this point whether such a measure would be legally binding or not.

Under one draft version of the amendment, the administration would be required by law to give Congress an "affirmative vote" on the deal before it becomes "binding and enforceable," according to a draft.

Another version of the measure offers a non-binding "sense of Congress" that any deal be subject to such a vote.

"Frankly, it’s productive for the Iranians to know that Americans will stand by a deal we make because the Congress will have voted to make it effective," said the congressional source. "And if you cut a bad deal that Congress doesn’t think is fair, the U.S. can come back and re-sanction Iran."

Toomey explained his broad concerns with the deal during a hearing Tuesday with senior Obama administration officials.

"We do need to pass a sanction bill that should be at least as strong as the Nuclear Weapons Free Act of 2014, the Kirk-Menendez bill," Toomey said. "I also think we should make it clear to the president that he should seek to preclude any uranium enrichment capability by Iran in a final agreement that is reached."

"And I think that any such agreement negotiated between the administration and the Iranians should be put to Congress for a vote before it becomes operational," he added.

Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed skepticism that the Obama administration would ever reach a deal with Iran.

"Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I am deeply skeptical that the Iranians have any intention of accepting an agreement that meets the needs of the international community," said Coats. "At the same time, I am suspicious that the Administration intends to drag this negotiations process out even further into the distant future, with one pointless extension after another. I fear we are being played by the Iranians who are winning time for their illicit nuclear programs."