Stiffen the penalties on Iranian non-compliance

There is ncreasing congressional irritation with a White House so determined to clinch an agreement with Tehran’s mullahs that they are wiling to risk the broader peace.

The bipartisan sanctions imposed under a provision of the 2011 Defense Authorization Act known as the Kirk-Menendez Amendment crippled Iran’s economy and facilitated the regime’s need to negotiate.

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But relief without serious concessions preserved the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

Lifting the sanctions was as naïve as it was ill-conceived and the administration’s rush to secure peace at any cost only served Tehran’s interests.

At a moment when economic and political penalties should have been increased, extended, and enhanced to further ripen Iranian compliance, Obama lost his nerve and bent to Iranian threats.

The president’s first-term foreign policy pragmatism has regrettably given way to a global passivity that has increased instability in the Middle East.

Syria and Iraq are ablaze with bloody civil wars, Tehran is facilitating al Qaeda in Iraq’s foothold, and Shiite domination of political rivals has gone unchallenged.

Obama’s rhetorical goal of peacefully terminating Iran’s nuclear weapons program is admirable but negotiations without mechanisms to ensure verification are a fool’s endeavor and bargaining without extracting meaningful concessions is a rookie mistake.

Tehran’s diplomatic slight of hand has frustrated U.S. security interests for decades. The U.S. Senate’s passage of the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act – bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) – would guarantee the regime pays a cost for breaching diplomatic agreements and increase penalties should Tehran renege on the Joint Plan of Action agreed to in Geneva.

But the best insurance policy against an emerging Iranian nuclear program is a group of three-thousand Iranian dissidents, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), who are detained at Camp Liberty in Iraq. The group provided critical intelligence that revealed Tehran’s nuclear activities and facilitated the first round of global sanctions.

Iraqi security forces – acting as Tehran’s proxies – have been involved in murderous efforts to break the back of the regime’s most worrisome opposition by repeatedly attacking the camp’s unarmed dissidents.

Attacks on Camp Ashraf by Iraqi security forces and proxies in July 2009, April 2011, and September 2013 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of unarmed dissidents protected under the Geneva Convention.

There were also four rockets attacks on Camp Liberty in 2013 alone. Today, the safety of seven hostages – including six women – also remains unclear in spite of global condemnation.

If the White House lacks the moral fortitude, political will, and strategic wherewithal to abandon the policy of appeasement that has characterized U.S.-Iran policy for decades, the U.S. Senate should develop policy mechanisms – including enhanced sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition – for when the negotiations fail.

Fifty-nine senators, almost enough to override a presidential veto, have signed onto the bipartisan bill to prevent the administration from going wobbly if Tehran’s diplomatic agreements fall short.

The Senate should ignore the administration’s recent fear mongering on the legislation and build momentum for prompt passage of the bill before it is too late.

Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Negotiation and Conflict Management and Global Affairs and Human Security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. The opinions expressed are his own.