Obama Threatens Veto, but Congress Continues Push for Terror Sanctions

While it is by no means certain that the bill would pass, it certainly has the support of virtually the entire Republican Party as well as many Democrats who agree that the president has maintained an excessively soft policy toward the Islamic Republic, which is regarded as a state sponsor of terrorism as well as a regular violator of international human rights laws and UN Security Council resolutions.

Nevertheless, if congressional rules do not allow for a divided Democratic minority to block the bill’s passage as they did in the case of a resolution of disapproval for the Iran nuclear deal, then President Obama will exercise his veto power, thereby necessitating that the House and Senate muster a three-fourths majority to get the legislation passed.

The president has justified this obstruction by saying that the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act would prevent the US from fulfilling its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, insofar as it would link promised sanctions relief to issues that are not directly related to the Iranian nuclear program.

But the Obama administration has also repeatedly pointed out that the deal does not prevent the US from sanctioning Iran over its human rights abuses and support for international terrorism. This would seem to open up the possibility of retaining sanctions on specific entities by way of re-categorizing those sanctions in line with demonstrated abuses. However, the Obama administration may be wary of any such move, since a number of Iranian officials have indicated that they would see any new sanctions – including non-nuclear sanctions – as violations of the JCPOA and a reason to walk away from their own obligations.

This wariness was arguably illustrated by the US Treasury Department’s apparent decision to hold back the implementation of sanctions that it had announced last month in response to Iran’s October violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning development and testing of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

The administration has subsequently come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats for what they fear will give the Iranian regime that it will not face serious consequences for even transparently provocative actions. On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Chris Coons joined in this chorus of criticism, telling reporters that he was both publicly and privately urging the president to move forward with the sanctions, according to The Hill.

But even as leading Democrats contribute their voices to this issue, there is doubt as to whether Obama will respond positively. And for that reason, other American legislators are moving to take matters into their own hands. For example, Wicked Local reported on Tuesday that Democratic Representatives Joe Kennedy III and Ted Deutch introduced the Zero Tolerance for Terror Act last week, which would expedite the process by which Congress itself could impose new sanctions on Iran for its terrorist or ballistic missile activities.

The case for circumventing the president on such matters may likely be bolstered this week after two small US naval vessels reported strayed just inside the boundaries of Iranian territorial waters and were seized. As of late Tuesday, ten American sailors were being held by the Islamic Republic in what many are sure to see as a show of force akin to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “test fire” of unguided missiles within about 1,500 yards of a US aircraft carrier at the end of December.

The Obama administration responded to the capture of the ten American sailors by downplaying the threat they face and repeating unnamed Iranian officials’ assurance that the individuals would be released promptly and unharmed, perhaps as early as Wednesday morning. But several of Obama’s critics, including Republican presidential hopefuls seized on the incident to expose Obama’s purported weakness on the international stage.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum described the president’s response as “feckless,” according to CNN. And Texas Senator Ted Cruz said it was “the latest manifestation of the weakness of Barack Obama [and evidence] that every bad actor … views Obama as a laughingstock.”

Obama’s apparent decision to take these provocative developments in stride contradicts not only the approached advocated by much of the US Congress, but also the current activities of US allies in the Middle East, many of whom have downgraded relations with Iran in recent days, as well as taking other actions to expose the Islamic Republic’s aggressive behaviors.

These foreign powers may also be a source of support for congressional advocacy, especially as they highlight supposed incidences of terrorist intrusion by Iran into other regions of the Middle East. The Gulf Times noted on Tuesday that Kuwait had sentenced two individuals to death for alleged ties to a Tehran-led terrorist operation that had stockpiled large quantities of explosives and weapons inside Kuwait. Twenty-four others were also sentenced to various prison terms.

This comes only days after Bahrain broke up a Shiite militant organization with ties to the IRGC, thereby pointing to a demonstrated, ongoing pattern of infiltration by Iranian hardline agents into other countries in the region.