Action Alert:

“Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act” Seeks to Derail Iran Negotiations

S.269 – the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 was authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).  Kirk serves with Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  Menendez is former Chair and now Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Their bill was introduced January 27 as S. 269 (Senate Bill 269).  It had 6 Democratic cosponsors at the time of its introduction.  Currently there are 49 cosponsors, including 7 Democrats.  A version of this bill was “marked up” in the Banking Committee, but the language was not identical to S. 269.

Prior to its formal introduction, 10 Senate Democrats wrote President Obama identifying themselves as “supporters” of the bill – though two (Cardin and Stabenow) were not co-sponsors.  Three Democratic supporters of the 2014 version of this legislation may also vote with their Republican colleagues, as may three Democrats on the Banking Committee who voted their approval (Tester, Warner and Heitkamp).  And there are three Republicans who have yet to cosponsor (but are known to be supportive; two Republicans – Flake and Paul – are known to be opposed). 

There are thus 68 potential votes for passage and override, should the “framework” agreement of the P5+1 talks, due March 24, be judged inadequate by the current backers of the bill.  (A “comprehensive” agreement to include all technical details is due by June 30 – at which time the entire “Joint Plan of Action” is set to expire).

S. 269 is designed to re-impose, on July 6, all sanctions previously passed by Congress but suspended at the outset of the P5+1 talks, and to impose a series of escalating additional sanctions on Iran if a final nuclear agreement  (required by June 30 under the revised Joint Plan of Action) is not reached.  These incremental economic measure would “culminat[e] in a de facto economic embargo on Iran by December 2015” in the words of NIAC analyst Tyler Cullis.

No sanctions relief can be granted for a period of 30 days of “continuous session” of the Congress – with a formula that extends this non-relief well beyond 30 calendar days.

There are every 30-day “waiver” provisions contingent on Presidential findings of national security concerns, but Republican amendments have been readied to constrain or remove this waiver authority.

Another amendment agreed to (by voice vote) in the Banking Committee Hearing preapproves Israeli military action in response to “any efforts by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.”  This accords with a 2013 Senate resolution, passed 99-0, that “urges that if Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program the U.S. government should provide Israel with diplomatic, military, and economic support.”

Current text: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s269/text 

note: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  has indicated that S. 269 may be introduced as an amendment to S. 615, with both measures bypassing committee consideration.

NEGOTIATING PARTNERS ON THE PROSPECT OF ADDITIONAL SANCTIONS

  • UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the White House on Jan. 16, that additional sanctions “would undermine…international unity and set back our chances for a diplomatic solution” with Iran.

    He is also on record as saying:  “It’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion, and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran.”

  • The foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy wrote in January that:

    Introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture. While many Iranians know how much they stand to gain by overcoming isolation and engaging with the world, there are also those in Tehran who oppose any nuclear deal. We should not give them new arguments.  New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far. Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.

TESTIMONY FROM SENIOR FOREIGN POLICY EXPERTS

  • Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Adviser, testified before the Senate in January that “two things are likely to happen if we increase the sanctions. They will break the talks. And a lot of the people who have now joined us in the sanctions would be in danger of leaving because most of the people who joined us in sanctions on Iran didn’t do it to destroy Iran. They did it to help get a nuclear solution.”
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s U.S. National Security Adviser, said at the same Senate hearing, “the breaking off of the negotiations or the collapse of the negotiations would arrest and reverse the painful and difficult process of increasing moderation within Iranian political life.”

COMMENTARY ON S. 269

This bill is not a new threat to Iranian officials, it is a threat to our own negotiators. Many in Iran’s government would be delighted if Congress were to pass new sanctions that force the U.S. to violate the interim agreement. This would only help Iran blame the U.S. and unravel the sanctions without having to make a single nuclear concession. Some in Congress are so infatuated with the all stick, no carrot, approach that they are turning the sticks against our own negotiators. They are attacking the home team and undercutting U.S. negotiating leverage.” 

—  NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi