President Barack Obama acknowledges applause before he delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014..
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
Very rarely does the US Congress overturn a presidential veto. Even rarer is when this happens on a foreign policy issue. In 1986, Congress overturned then-president Ronald Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which set in place sanctions against South Africa’s racist regime. Congress’s break with Reagan, which precipitated the fall of the white supremacist leadership of Pretoria, has been vindicated by history.
US senators and congressmen should seriously consider this historical lesson as they debate the passage of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.
US President Barack Obama has vowed, most recently during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, to use his veto power to torpedo the bill, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen.
Mark Kirk of Illinois, should Congress pass it.
Obama has argued that the legislation, which has strong bipartisan support, would “undermine the negotiations” between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries – the five permanent members of the US Security Council (the US, UK, France, Russia and China) and Germany over Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. He has warned that passage of the legislation might isolate the US from its allies.
The reasoning behind Obama’s argument makes little sense. The measure that the Senate is likely to take up would mandate new sanctions against the Islamic Republic only it failed to accept an agreement by the June 30 deadline established in the ongoing talks. The legislation would re-impose the sanctions that were suspended when the interim deal, the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), framing the nuclear talks was signed more than a year ago.
Common sense suggests that Iran’s mullahs would be more motivated to reach an agreement with the P5+1 in the time that remains if they know that failing to do so will usher in harsher sanctions. Both Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have declared in the past that biting sanctions were what pushed the Iranians to enter negotiations in the first place.
By failing to make clear that should this last round of negotiations fail, sanctions will be re-imposed, the US and the other P5+1 countries are inviting pressure from a variety of business interests to further loosen the sanctions regime. They are also sending a message to the Iranians that yet another extension of the negotiations is an option.
Menendez and Kirk’s bill would not be a violation of the JPOA, which states that the “US administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear- related sanctions.” The bill would become US law, but additional sanctions would not be imposed until after the deadline for the latest extension in negotiations permitted under the JPOA.
Obama’s argument in favor of “unity” with the other P5+1 members might make some tactical sense, but it hardly carries any moral weight, particularly if this “unity” allows the Iranians to bamboozle their way to becoming a threshold nuclear state.
Over time, the restrictions put in place on Tehran’s nuclear program under the auspices of the JPOA are not sufficient to prevent the Iranians from using a combination of subterfuge and exploitation of numerous loopholes to come within months of breaking out with a nuclear weapon. The longer the Iranians stall, the closer they come to nuclear weapon capability.
Failing to set a clear deadline for the resumption of biting sanctions also prolongs a situation in which no credible military option is “on the table.”
In recent days we have witnessed numerous examples of Iran’s inimical influence and its infamous ability to spread death and conflict across the globe from Argentina to Yemen to Syria to Lebanon. Inside Iran, journalists such as Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian are imprisoned without charges being pressed, let alone a trial; religious minorities are persecuted; and women are repressed, all in the name of a violently reactionary interpretation of Islam.
This influence will be augmented exponentially if Iran is allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
Congress’s decision to overturn Reagan’s misguided policy on Apartheid-era South Africa has been vindicated by history. How will history judge America and other members of the P5+1 if, out of deference to a US president, Iran’s mullahs are allowed to obtain nuclear weapon capability?