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Allow a Vote on Iran Sanctions | Commentary

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proved once again that the world is a very dangerous place. While the Obama administration continues to respond to this crisis, America cannot afford for the president to take his eye off the ball on a pressing issue of national security: Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

The president and some of his Democratic allies continue to weaken America’s hand in ongoing negotiations with Iran. The most recent example occurred last month. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate, blocked a bipartisan attempt to hold Iran accountable.

Last November, President Barack Obama announced an interim agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program. He said, “if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will  . . .  ratchet up the pressure.” In the State of the Union address this year, he repeated his threat. The president said that if Iran did not “seize this opportunity” during the interim period to negotiate a final agreement on its nuclear program, “then [he would] be the first to call for more sanctions.”

Republicans introduced an amendment to give the president more authority to ratchet up the pressure on Iran. It would give the president increased sanctions power against Iran if negotiations stall. An earlier attempt to provide the same authority garnered 59 Senate co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats. Now Reid refuses to allow the Senate to consider this amendment or the original bill.

The amendment simply carries out Obama’s stated policy on Iran. It provides new sanctions authority to the president, and holds that authority until the expiration of the six-month interim deal. As Obama has said, it gives Iran a chance to seize this diplomatic opportunity while providing consequences if it does not.

Reid, of course, is doing the bidding of the White House. Obama has threatened to veto any legislation that gives him the sanctions authority he claims to want. Now the president argues that the amendment violates the interim agreement. The president is wrong.

The agreement says, “the U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” during the interim period. The legislation is consistent with that language. It specifically authorizes the president to suspend the implementation of additional sanctions while the interim deal is in effect and a final agreement is being negotiated. No new sanctions would be imposed on Iran during the interim agreement.

If Congress passes this amendment, and the president truly believes it violates the interim agreement, then he could fulfil his pledge and veto the bill. That would be “consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress” that the agreement describes. At least he would take a position, for America and the rest of the world to see. At least the people’s representatives in Congress would have a chance to express their views on this vital national security issue. Reid has blocked even that basic debate.

Obama has admitted it was the sanctions regime that made the interim deal possible. It makes sense that increased sanctions would make a final agreement more likely.

The amendment would let the American people express their expectations about what a final agreement should look like. Without clear guidance, there is the danger that Obama might be so eager to negotiate any deal that he agrees to a poor one.

The Obama administration appears to have conceded that Iran can maintain a uranium enrichment capability under a final agreement. The bipartisan amendment corrects this error by stating that Iran must dismantle its enrichment capabilities.

These are the sorts of policy debates we need to have in public, not behind closed doors. The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin, has said on many occasions that if you don’t want to fight fires, don’t become a firefighter; and if you don’t want to vote on tough issues, don’t run for Congress. As a medical doctor, I would add, “physician, heal thyself.” Let the American people, through the senators they elect, express their position on whether to hold Iran to its nuclear promises.

It is time for America to hold Iran accountable. If Reid or any other Democrat thinks otherwise, they can vote against that amendment. If Obama disagrees with the majority of Senators, let him veto the bill. Then the American people will know who is genuinely interested in a nuclear-free Iran, and who is just talking tough for the cameras.

Sen. John Barrasso is a Republican from Wyoming.

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