With Iran Nuclear Deal Past Congress, Opponents Consider Options

 

The first cloture vote garnered 58 votes, consisting of all Republican Senators and the four Democrats. The subsequent two votes saw 56, as Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Rand Paul did not participate in the vote on Thursday. Even if the necessary two additional Democrats had switched sides, allowing the resolution to pass, the president would have still had sufficient support to sustain a veto. The Republican efforts have thus been viewed as largely symbolic, although CBS News claims that some Democrats described them as a “waste of time.”

But according to J Weekly, the dim prospects for the success of the vote did not prevent lobbyists against the deal from responding emotionally to the news that the nuclear agreement is now moving toward implementation. Many congressmen were also reported to visibly upset by the outcome, with some of them looking to other legislative alternatives to undermining the deal and preventing implementation from going through to completion.

But J Weekly also claims that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the leading lobby against the deal, is now largely resigned to the outcome and prepared to move forward on the basis of implementation. The group’s new strategy will presumably involve vigorous attempts to contribute to the enforcement of the deal or the exposure of instances of Iranian cheating.

In line with this, AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups and individuals may be expected to begin repairing the damage done to relations between the Israeli and US executives during the course of the nuclear negotiations. Restored and expanded cooperation between the two traditional allies may well improve the prospects for monitoring and relevant intelligence-gathering, which could lead to the promised “snap back” of economic sanctions if Iran cheats.

The failed vote on the resolution of disapproval was immediately preceded by a procedural vote on the re-authorization of existing sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to employ that vote as a new strategy to compel Democrats to help undermine the deal. Passage of the amended rules would have conditioned the president’s suspension of the sanctions – a necessary step in implementing the nuclear deal – upon Iran recognizing the existence of its sworn enemy Israel and also releasing four Americans held prisoner in the country.

But McConnell’s supplementary strategy fared slightly worse than the resolution of disapproval, garnering 53 votes in favor of cloture and 44 votes against. But it remains to be seen whether similar outcomes will emerge from the similar legislative efforts that are already forthcoming. The Daily Caller reports, for instance, that Pennsylvania Representative Pat Meehan introduced a bill to the House on Wednesday that would set a different condition for suspension of sanctions, namely the completion of compensation payments by the Iranian government to the families of victims of terrorist acts that Tehran had sponsored in the past.

The resolution of disapproval easily passed the House before moving to the Senate, so it stands to reason that this bill may receive similar votes, although it would also be subject to the same Senate rules as well as a presidential veto if it does pass both chambers. In light of this, the new pieces of legislation can also be viewed as either longshots or purely symbolic. However in the case of Meehan’s bill, the specific statement would presumably deal with concerns over the consequences of up to 150 billion dollars in Iranian assets being immediately unfrozen.

The Daily Caller notes that American courts have ordered Tehran to pay 43.5 billion dollars to victims of attacks such as the 1984 bombing of US military barracks in Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers. These orders have, however, been flatly ignored by the Iranian regime.

By highlighting these past attacks in the context of the nuclear deal, the US Congress is sure to maintain focus on the prospect that a significant portion of Iran’s newly unfrozen assets will go to further funding of the architects of such attacks, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Many opponents of the deal have called for the implementation of as yet unspecified mechanisms for restricting the flow of assets to these targets.

According to Forward, Adam Szubin, the acting US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence seemed to be responsive to these calls on Thursday during a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. Szubin promised that the US would aggressively enforce those sanctions that remain in place after the implementation of the nuclear deal, including sanctions against Iran’s human rights violations and regional intrusions. Furthermore, he assured skeptical senators that the Treasury Department would actually expand its efforts to constrain the IRGC.

However, according to Arutz Sheva, these remarks were seemingly contradicted on the same day by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said in a letter responding to congressional inquiries that the Obama administration would not back any congressional efforts to expand economic sanctions against Iran, for fear that Iran would take this as just cause to back out of the deal without violating it.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action declares that any efforts to increase sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program in absence of demonstrated violations of the deal would effectively cancel it. But Kerry’s letter suggested that these provisions could be interpreted broadly in order to allow Iran to argue that even additional human rights sanctions have the same intent of constraining Iran’s nuclear development.

Given the contrast between Kerry’s and Szubin’s remarks, there are major outstanding questions about how the US would respond to continued or expanded misbehavior on Iran’s part. And as CBS News pointed out shortly after the defeat of the resolution of disapproval, there are at least as many questions about exactly how Iran will behave in the wake of implementation.

In the initial weeks and months, the regime is almost certain to at least give the impression of full compliance with its commitments under the deal in order to encourage the ongoing rush of Western investment in the Islamic Republic. But CBS adds that the ultimate value of that investment is highly uncertain, with some investors remaining wary in absence of a clear sense of how quickly sanctions will be removed and whether Iran will behave in a way that calls for their re-implementation.

At the same time, the value of unfrozen assets may ultimately turn out to be higher than the previously cited 150 billion dollar figure once the collective effects of various individual recipients are factored in. And this would have especially serious consequences if the regime ultimately expanded its domestic repression and support for terrorism in order to compensate for the implicit compromise of signing the nuclear deal.

Naturally the expectation of this outcome can be expected to motivate the continued push for legislative impediments or supplements to the agreement, as well as for more aggressive and varied monitoring of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear activities.