News : Nuclear

US Policymakers Eager to Act on Iran Issues, but Divided over Strategy

By INU staff

INU - On Thursday, the US House of Representatives was poised to vote on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA), which would give Congress at least 30 days to debate any agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 in negotiations set to end June 30.

If the act passes with a presidential signature, as it is expected to, the Senate will then be able to vote to approve, reject, or take no action on that bill, although a vote to reject it would still face a presidential veto. In that case, President Obama would only need to retain the support of only one-third of either the House or the Senate in order to prevent override of that veto.

On Monday, The Hill reported that congressional Democrats were divided on the extent of support they are willing to give to the president’s soft approach to negotiating with Iran. This division was expressed in part by the refusal of some Democrats to sign onto a letter urging Obama to “stay the course” in pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue and to “exhaust every avenue” before resorting to additional pressure, such as further economic sanctions, in order to compel Tehran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

But even though so prominent Democrats have declined to embrace this language, leaving open the possibility that they may support stronger action against Iran, 150 representatives from the president’s party did attach their names to the document – enough to prevent the House from being able to override a presidential veto.

However, many of the same Democrats were expected to vote in favor of the INARA, giving it much the same bipartisan backing that allowed the bill to pass the Senate with a vote of 98-1. The sole dissenting vote was that of Republican Tom Cotton, who believes that the bill is too weak by virtue of not defining the nuclear agreement as a treat and not requiring additional commitments from the Iranian regime, including withdrawal of support for global terrorism.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the advance vote tally indicated that the bill would “overwhelmingly” pass the House.

The overall picture presented by debate and discussion of the INARA in both chambers of Congress is that the legislature is divided over the question of what is the best strategy for dealing with the Iran policy, but not over the question of whether the Obama administration should be entrusted with executing any such strategy on its own.

In order to retain support for the INARA among both parties, congressional leaders barred the consideration of amendments that would have strengthened the bill in the view of many Republicans. The Daily Signal reported on Tuesday that many in the House were upset that the bill had passed the Senate in its “weak” form, leading GOP representatives to once again attempt to “strengthen” the bill by adding provisions that would have, for instance, required Iran to dismantle its ballistic missile programs or prevented President Obama from being able to disregard specific Iranian violations of the nuclear deal as “insignificant.”

“My impression of the current bill is that it’s not strong enough to really address concerns that most Americans would have,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. But in addition to pushing for a stronger Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Meadows conceded that some other issues could be pursued separately, including the issue of Iran’s support for terrorism.

Consequently, after the House bill was also prevented from being amended, Meadows did indeed introduce a separate measure aimed at preventing Iran-backed terrorist groups like Hezbollah from gaining access to global banking institutions in the event that financial sanctions on Iran are lifted after Congress approves or fails to obstruct a nuclear deal.

This is not the only separate piece of legislation that the US Congress is using to express opposition to Iranian activities at the same time that it is wrangling with the president over the nuclear issue.

UPI reported on Tuesday that the Senate had unanimously passed a resolution aimed at exerting greater pressure on the Iranian government to release three captive Americans and to help find a fourth who disappeared in Iran and is widely believed to be held in secret on suspicious of spying.

The AP also reported that at the same time 43 co-sponsors had signed onto a similar House resolution that also specifically called for the release of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini, and former US Marine Amir Hekmati.

Many believe these individuals have been targeted for use as leverage in Iran’s dealings with the US. The House and Senate resolutions on the topic come at a time when tensions appear to be rising between the two countries after the relative calm of nuclear negotiations. Last week the US Navy joined legislators in making firm responses to Iranian aggression as US warships began escorting American and British cargo ships in the Persian Gulf following Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel.

Al Jazeera reports that US commanders called off the mission after several days, citing the apparent easing of tensions. But on Thursday, the Iranian Navy fired warning shots at yet another ship, this one bearing the flag of Singapore. At the same time, Iranian warships and cargo vessels maintained a standoff with the US and the Gulf States over their requests to inspect shipments that Iran claims are humanitarian aid but that might also be further Iranian weapons shipments.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Yemen’s UN mission to the United Nations Security Council said in a letter that in light of these actions Tehran “bears complete responsibility for any incident that arises from their attempt to enter Yemeni waters.” But the divisions within the US legislature and between the chief executive and the military raise some questions about the likelihood of the US initiating any such incident.

 

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