Congress must defend sanctions on Iran

Congress must defend sanctions on Iran
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The Republican takeover of Congress is an opportunity to signal to the administration and the Iranian regime that it will not be business as usual when it comes to the Iran nuclear negotiations. The Obama administration may be willing to accept Iran’s continued uranium enrichment, but Congress will not allow the world’s biggest sponsor of terror to have the world’s deadliest weapon. Congress must use all necessary means to compel the administration to either secure a deal that guarantees Iran has completely ceased all uranium enrichment and dismantled its nuclear infrastructure, or abandon the nuclear negotiations entirely in order to prevent an unacceptable deal that Congress perceives as weak.

As long as Iran possesses any form of enriched uranium, thousands of centrifuges, facilities and other materials for nuclear weapons production and delivery, it poses an extraordinary threat not only to U.S. national security interests but to our allies in the region as well. As part of the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, the Obama administration mistakenly eased U.S. sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for minor, mostly cosmetic and easily reversible modifications from Tehran.

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As the author of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 and of the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006, and as a leading voice in Congress on Iran sanctions, I am acutely aware of the complexities of the Iranian sanctions architecture. Congress understands the value of sanctions as leverage against the regime, but the administration has grossly misinterpreted the goal of the sanctions to be the process of negotiations rather than an end to all nuclear-related activities.

When sanctions were fully and vigorously enforced, they exacted a heavy toll on the Iranian economy and, in turn, denied Tehran the financial resources to continue funding other illicit activities, but the economic relief provided by the Obama administration only strengthened the Iranian regime. The administration is dangerously myopic in its misunderstanding of the scope of the sanctions: The sanctions in place are designed to work together to target not just the nuclear program but Iran’s support for terror, its ballistic missile programs and those related to other weapons of mass destruction and its abysmal human rights practices. These issues are all being ignored, and if the administration attempts to unravel the nuclear related sanctions, it will weaken our leverage and further embolden the regime in Tehran to continue these other illicit activities.

While details have yet to be finalized, we have heard that President Obama will ease, suspend or waive certain sanctions against the regime, but we have not yet heard from the administration under what authority it plans to use to do so. In this respect, administration apologists have offered us more insight on the administration’s intentions than the president himself has, despite the looming Nov. 24 deadline.

The president intends to avail himself of waivers that were included in some of the sanctions laws. Here, too, the administration has misinterpreted the provisions. Though there are waiver provisions — provisions I fought against and continue to oppose — they can only be implemented if the president certifies that waiving these provisions will be essential or vital “to the national security interests of the United States.” Allowing more money to flow to a designated state sponsor of terrorism is diametrically opposed to our national security interests. Nor does it advance our nation’s security to ease sanctions on Iran when it operated a covert program for decades without detection or monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have no way of verifying the regime has disclosed the full extent of its nuclear program. Issuing these waivers and concessions to Iran further contradicts the president’s own national emergency certification, which has continually been reissued since 1995 because of the unusual and extraordinary threats to our national security by the actions of the Iranian regime.

That is why these diplomatic efforts cannot be successful unless Iran is actually compelled to abandon its pursuit of the weapon, not just pushing back the breakout time. And that is where the Iran sanctions measures come in. Congress has been demanding a more active role and greater authority in the Iran nuclear negotiations, and that is why, now that Republicans have taken control of Congress, we must roll up our sleeves and be ready to protect the intent and integrity of the sanctions we created. Congress must not sit idly by and allow Obama to circumvent our authority, while he forges a weak agreement with Iran that would threaten U.S. national security interests. 

This is an opportunity for a Republican-controlled Congress to shape the nuclear negotiations. We must demand the cessation of all uranium enrichment and the complete dismantling of the regime’s nuclear infrastructure. And if the administration cannot secure a deal with those guarantees, it must abandon the talks and reinstate all sanctions and work with Congress on their expansion.

Ros-Lehtinen has represented South Florida since 1989. She is chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.