(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama?
The contentious debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not ended, but simply moved into its next predictable phase: dealing with Iranian violations of the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution 2231.
Back in the summer of 2015, Democratic Senators wrestled over the difficult choice of trusting the president on Iran or risking the wrath of the administration and the Democratic leadership by opposing the deal because it would weaken American national security interests. In the end, most begrudgingly choose political allegiance over principle, but publicly promised disappointed constituents that they would meticulously monitor for Iranian violations, and be quick to respond with “snapback” sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal.
Fast-forward to Spring 2016, and the Iranian transgressions of both the JCPOA and UNSC resolutions on missile tests are clear to everyone.
Furthermore, Iran’s continued support of the genocidal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, with Iranian- backed Hezbollah shock troops, has unquestionably broken all human rights standards, being the very definition of state-sponsored terrorism. Just ask the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians Syria has tried to starve to death with Iranian financial support.
During my briefings on Capitol Hill in March, I reviewed two pieces of new Senate legislation, The Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 and the Iran Terrorism and Human Rights Sanctions Act of 2016 (S. 2726). Both called for tangible consequences for Iranian missile tests, human rights abuses and support of terrorism. They simply follow the president’s promises that there would be “snapback sanctions” if Iran violates the deal, as it obviously is, flagrantly violating UNSC Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA . The most recent missile tested by Iran can carry a nuclear payload and is capable of reaching both Israel and Europe. President Barack Obama and his administration are pressuring Democrats to forget about the “snapback sanctions.” The legacy deal is more important than the truth.
The administration, with the good graces of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and “Shomer of the Senate” Chuck Schumer have told fellow Democrats that all of this is a “Republican” ruse to destroy the president’s legacy, leaving the world in a dangerous predicament without the deal in place. They tell fellow Democrats not to vote for this “Republican legislation,” as it would be a political win for them, and that’s what counts.
Instead the administration is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by trying to extend the toothless Iran Sanctions Act, which will allow the president to continue to waive any meaningful sanctions on Iran.
Even more troubling is that the administration never told the American public that the Iranian Parliament never actually approved the American version of the JCPOA given to Congress. The Majlis (Iranian Parliament) only approved an amended Iranian version that among other things disallows snapback provisions.
Yet Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate on July 23, 2015, ‘‘We will not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action if we use our authorities to impose sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights, missiles… the JCPOA does not provide Iran any relief from United States sanctions under any of those authorities or other authorities.”
Over the past four months Iran has launched multiple banned missile tests, all of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload, in breach of the JCPOA .
UNSC Resolution 2231 was sold to Congress as an endorsement of the JCPOA , both touted as major achievements to stop Iran’s quest to build and deliver a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, Iran never accepted UNSC Resolution 2231 as valid or enforceable.
When the administration realized during the negotiation last year that Iran would not allow any teeth to be attached to the JCPOA for future violations of the agreement, the administration pulled a fast one on Congress and the American public by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians, i.e. banning missile tests, to an obscure Annex B in UNSC Resolution 2231, but absent from the JCPOA .
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as different from the start.
In July 2015, according to a MEMRI translation Araghchi said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [that if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA , then], ‘There is no agreement,’ and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue….”
As reported in MEMRI, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues (arms embargo, ballistic missiles) to UNSCR 2231 with the clear intent of violating it.”
2231 “calls upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity, including launches, related to ballistic missiles designed with the capability of delivering nuclear weapons. But Russia, as should have been expected, has defended its Iranian client and said the wording on Iranian missile tests is not legally binding. Putin 1, Obama 0.
Senator Mark Kirk, who has been insisting on Iranian accountability while defending American national security interests in regard to Iran’s quest for nuclear capability, said, “I reject our current posture of willful ignorance and inaction towards Iran’s terrorist activities, illegal missile testing, funding Assad’s war, and human rights abuses. The administration’s response cannot once again be it’s ‘not supposed to be doing that’ as Iran continues to walk all over US foreign policy and the international community.”
Democratic senators who reluctantly voted for the JCPOA claimed the Obama administration would hold tough and respond to violations immediately if the Iranians pulled any shenanigans. In addition, the president promised that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were in no way going to stop sanctions on Iran for its state sponsorship of terrorism or human rights abuses.
So much for the president’s promises.
Missile tests breaking UNSC resolutions evoke only rhetorical grumbles and shrugged shoulders from the administration, like what-can-we-do parents whose kids are misbehaving.
Which brings us to Congress’ foreign policy obligations to impose sanctions on Iran for breaking the JCPOA and UNSC 2231.
Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama? The key is Democratic ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Cardin, to his credit, voted against the JCPOA , but has received the runaround from the administration on consequences for Iran’s transgressions.
Ben, do the right thing.
Also calling senators Gillibrand, Coons, Booker, Wyden, Cantwell, Blumenthal, Schumer, Murphy and Peters.
The author is the director of MEPIN™.