Iran deal opponents play a long game, hoping for toughness from Clinton

Republicans preparing three new bills against nuclear agreement, knowing their efforts are futile

July 13, 2016 02:32
2 minute read.
A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally

A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – One year since world powers announced a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, Hill Republicans are preparing three legislative attacks on the accord that may attract some Democratic support.

But none of their efforts have any realistic chance of passing into law, after US President Barack Obama threatened to veto all three on Monday night.

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Privately, the GOP authors of these bills told The Jerusalem Post they hold little hope their efforts will make it past Obama’s desk.

But that is not their immediate goal. They instead hope to reestablish bipartisan consensus on the issue in Congress – even if it is not enough to overcome a presidential veto – and a legislative track record that lays the groundwork for additional action in coming years, under a new administration less wedded to the nuclear accord.

In the words of one senior Republican congressional staffer, the caucus seeks to “raise the Democratic floor” on tolerance for tough Iran legislation.

“Part of the long game is, assuming [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee] Hillary Clinton gets elected, folks around Jake Sullivan insist that Clinton is going to be tougher on Iran. It’s hard to imagine her being weaker,” said the staffer, referring to her senior foreign policy adviser and a critical figure in the early stages of the Iran nuclear talks.

They feel as if Obama is uniquely protective of the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – and that obstruction of otherwise bipartisan legislation on Iran will have a freer path once he leaves office.

In the meantime, Republicans hope to secure some Democratic support in strengthening sanctions on Iran over its sponsorship of terrorism and its human rights violations.

US sanctions on these activities already exist, but additional sanctions would apply pressure on the Islamic Republic that had previously been exerted over the nuclear issue.

That is precisely why the Obama administration opposes it: Iran considers this an effort to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions under a different name, and would likely treat such a move as a violation of the nuclear accord.

Another bill would bar the US from purchasing Iran’s heavy-water, a key ingredient to any plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. And a third would attempt to block Iran’s access to the American dollar.

The Treasury Department maintains that Iran is barred from directly accessing the US financial system.

But foreign banks that independently transact in US dollars are outside of the department’s jurisdiction, and are free to privately transact in whatever currency they choose.

That provides Iran with US dollars – sometimes in large quantities.

“In the absence of any serious pushback by the White House, Leader McCarthy’s new House legislation draws on important bills authored by Senators [Kelly] Ayotte [R-New Hampshire] and [Mark] Kirk [R-Illinois],” said one senior Republican Senate aide, “and will give lawmakers the opportunity to vote on whether or not to stand up to Iran’s destabilizing and threatening behavior.”

The White House issued the president’s veto threat on Monday night, charging that these bills, separately or collectively, “would impact the continued viability of the JCPOA, a diplomatic arrangement that peacefully and verifiably prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

“The president has made it clear that he will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the JCPOA,” it said.

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