National Security

Senators eye plan to renew Iran sanctions

Some senators are insisting on renewing expiring sanctions against Iran, even as lawmakers decide whether to endorse the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear deal with the country.  

Though the administration is calling the move “premature,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on Thursday said renewing existing sanctions set to expire next year will act as a bulwark against Iran’s ability to cheat on the deal.

“It seems to me that if you want a deterrent, Iran has to know consequences,” he told three members of Obama’s Cabinet during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.

{mosads}“Maybe it will never be called into play. That’s fine, that’s good — hopefully it won’t be called into play,” he added. “But they need to know what the consequences are.”

“I’m going to move to reauthorize them because I believe it should be part of the deterrence.”

The Iran Sanctions Act, which was first enacted in 1996, aims to block Iran from building nuclear weapons as well as from financing extremist groups such as Hezbollah. Though many of those sanctions would be lifted under the terms of the international deal with Iran, Menendez said the law should be on the books so there is something to “snap back” to if Iran breaks the deal.

“I don’t understand how we ultimately have a credible belief that snapback means something, if in fact you don’t have the ability to have those sanctions in place,” said Menendez, who has shown increasing skepticism about the multilateral accord.

The move comes to the chagrin the Obama administration and threatens to divide the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Renewing the law now would be “premature,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Menendez and other lawmakers Thursday.

“We have enormous tools with or without the Iran Sanctions Act to snap back sanctions through the [National Defense Authorization Act] sanctions on oil and financial institution,” he said.

Earlier this year, Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced legislation to renew the sanctions for another 10 years. 

Lew indicated that renewal of the sanctions might be seen favorably if it came immediately before they expired at the end of next year, but might not be allowed under the nuclear deal inked by the U.S., Iran and five other nations earlier this month.

“If it’s on expiration, it’s one thing. If it’s well advanced, it’s another,” Lew said Thursday.

“I think the idea of coming out of the box right now is very different than what you do when it expires.”

Lew’s “reticence” was “troubling,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters after Thursday’s hearing.

“We have always planned to extend that.”

Tags Bob Corker Bob Menendez Iran Iran Sanctions Act Jack Lew Sanctions against Iran

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