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January 29, 2015

Analysis: Senate Panel Amends and Advances Iran Sanctions Bill

This morning, the Senate Banking Committee amended the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 (S.269) and passed it out of committee. Four amendments to the original bill were included in the final language, including one that effectively ‘green-lights’ an Israeli attack on Iran and another urging that Congress be allowed an up-or-down vote on any final deal. Meanwhile, several other amendments were rejected, but – according to members of the Committee – will likely resurface when the bill hits the Senate floor.

Among the amendments included in the final bill text were those from Sen. Shelby, Sen. Vitter, and Sen. Toomey.

Sen. Shelby’s amendment would require the President to submit to Congress – along with the text of a final agreement and a verification assessment report – an “economic sanctions relief assessment report,” which would assess the extent to which Iran’s economy is likely to benefit directly and indirectly from sanctions relief pursuant to a deal. The amendment also modifies Section 102(a)(1) of the original bill to specify that the President cannot implement any sanctions relief under a final agreement during the 30-days of continuous session in which Congress reviews an agreement, but may implement constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. (As originally written, the bill was ambiguous as to whether the President was barred from implementing all elements of the deal or only the sanctions relief; this amendment clarifies that restraints on the President’s ability to implement a final agreement relate only to the issue of sanctions relief to Iran.)

Sen. Vitter’s amendments include ‘sense of Congress’ language that effectively “green-lights” an Israeli military attack on Iran, as well as the addition of a “nuclear proliferation assessment statement” by the Secretary of State as part of the President’s submissions to Congress. According to Sen. Vitter’s Amendment No. 3, Congress expressed its belief that “any efforts by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons are a direct threat to Israel’s right to exist,” which would trigger Israel’s right to self-defense, and that the United States “supports Israel’s rights…to defend itself against threats to its existence.” This is troubling, insofar as it suggests that the United States would back Israel’s unilateral military action against Iran and would thus be dragged into a potentially prolonged war not of its own making.

Sen. Toomey’s amendment added ‘sense of Congress’ language that expressed Congress’s belief that the President should submit to Congress any agreement subject to Section 101(a) and that such agreement should be voted on by Congress prior to becoming effective. This sets up further Congressional action demanding that Congress be able to vote on any agreement that the President enters into with Iran, thereby providing Congress a veto over any prospective nuclear deal.

As troubling as the above amendments, however, were those that failed to pass muster at the Senate Banking Committee’s mark-up, but were being prepped for an eventual vote on the Senate floor.

These include Sen. Cotton’s amendments, which would variously remove the President’s power to waive sanctions pursuant to the Act and immediately render effective the sanctions outlined in the bill.  (As passed, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act would provide the President successive 30-day periods to waive the application of sanctions pursuant to the Act. Moreover, the sanctions outlined in the bill would only take effect on a rolling basis starting on July 6, 2015.) As Sen. Cotton noted before previewing his amendments, “I would rather see these negotiations end.” One of Sen. Cotton’s amendments – while failing to receive the Committee’s approval – did have widespread support from Republican colleagues on the Committee. This amendment would limit the President’s power to waive sanctions pursuant to the Act to a single 30-day waiver period. In other words, the President would not be able to renew the waiver should the U.S. and Iran be closing in on a nuclear agreement.

Sen. Toomey did not press Amendment No. 6, which requires that any final nuclear deal with Iran include the dismantlement of Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing facilities and capabilities, as well as the heavy-water reactor at Arak. However, he suggested that he would wait until the bill went to the Senate floor to push forward this amendment. This language is in direct contradiction to language in the Joint Plan of Action, which provides for Iran to have a limited enrichment program under any final nuclear deal.

Sen. Vitter likewise did not press forward two separate amendments – one which would reduce the dollar amount of Iran’s sanction relief under the Joint Plan of Action by 30% if there is a further extension of the JPOA, the other which would reduce U.S. contributions to international organizations of which Iran is a part if Iran had not entered into a “long-term comprehensive solution” or Iran had violated such agreement or any other nuclear agreement agreed to with the United States.

 
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