Democrats in Congress Demand Sanctions on Iran

Democratic members of Congress close to President Obama have begun to speak openly of joining Republicans in passing new sanctions against Iran for its illegal missile tests.  The White House had sent word to Congress that it was going to propose new sanctions following a determination by a United Nations expert panel that Iran’s October missile test had violated United Nations Security Council Ruling 1929, which bars Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests.  After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani objected in strong terms to the White House’s proposal, however, the President of the United States caved.

Congressional Democrats have begun to object in public, embarrassed by the weakness shown by the White House’s policy.  Even Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz put her name on the letter chiding the President for his feckless policy.

“The United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences,” Schultz, D-Fla., and six other House Democrats wrote in a letter Wednesday to Obama.

They urged the administration to act on the sanctions “without further delay” and issued a stark warning about the risk of holding back in light of the nuclear deal.

“Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the [nuclear deal], the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region,” they wrote.

The White House’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, insisted that sanctions were on the way — eventually.  “Ultimately, we will impose those financial penalties — we’ll impose those sanctions at a time and place of our choosing when our experts believe they would have the maximum impact,” he said. “And those decisions are not subject to negotiation by the Iranians — or anybody else for that matter.”

Iran, for its part, has doubled down on missiles.  Rouhani ordered the development of new missiles be redoubled after the White House suggested that it might impose sanctions.  The speaker of Iran’s parliament has pledged to fund the development, production and deployment of missiles following a tour of Iran’s new “Missile City,” a series of underground tunnels constructed to protect Iran’s new arsenal of Emad missiles from American airpower.  The Emad missiles are nuclear-capable and contain what is, for Iran, a precision guidance capacity.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has stated that he will consider any new sanctions to put an end to the Iran deal.  This is in spite of the fact that both the P5+1 Joint Coordinated Plan of Action (JCOPA) and the United Nations Security Council ruling endorsing the deal, UNSCR 2231, allow for nuclear related sanctions in the event of violations by Iran such as the violation of UNSCR 1929 by the October missile test.  Khamenei says that even non-nuclear related sanctions, such as for Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, would be violations of the Iran deal in his opinion.

American President Obama, who has tied his signature foreign policy accomplishment to Khamenei’s cooperation, may thus feel that he is not able to act on sanctions.  It is highly likely that he will not impose new sanctions on Iran in spite of violations, nor ‘snap back’ sanctions such as were often invoked in the debate before Congress.  What remains to be seen is if he will veto sanctions imposed by Congress, especially given the advocacy of those sanctions by important Democratic allies.