WASHINGTON — Even if the administration manages to put the kibosh on a push for harsher sanctions against Iran in advance of the next round of nuclear negotiations in three weeks’ time, a number of Republican Congressmen are already exploring new ways to maintain pressure on Tehran.
With the budget battle soon behind them, some of Capitol Hill’s most vocal legislators have open proposals that could cast a pall over the administration’s cautious optimism on thwarting Iran’s rogue nuclear program via diplomacy.
A hawkish bill that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) described in September as an “authorization of military force in Iran” was supposed to be introduced last Friday, but since disappeared into the legislative haze surrounding the budget.
The bill, entitled the “United States-Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act” was supposed to be introduced as leverage in advance of the first round of talks. It included a section that would impose a number of preconditions on any formal agreement with Iran and also mandated that as part of any agreement, Iran would have to cease support for terrorist groups, recognize Israel’s sovereignty, and to display “peaceful foreign policy conduct and actions.”
The Franks bill also includes additional sanctions, but it is most significant for its sponsor’s belief that an Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) is the next logical step for American bargaining.
“If we authorize the use of military force now, it will strengthen the president’s hand in any potential talks with Iran,” Franks said in September when the Tehran-Washington thaw was in its initial stages. “If we do not, the president may rely on reactionary efforts, much like the debacle in Syria. For the sake of our national security, the security of our allies, and global stability, more generally, we must have every option available in advance.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a powerful Senate hawk with similar ideas.
“I do believe without the threat of credible military force by us, the Iranians are going to just slow-walk, so I’m trying to create the dynamic that there is bipartisan support for continued diplomacy, sanctions and the use of force as a last resort,” he told reporters last month.
Graham said that “it is important” for President Barack Obama to “have [an AUMF] in his back pocket if negotiations get serious.”
The AUMF is not the only way – beyond sanctions – that Congress can curb administration enthusiasm.
Coming off of the pinnacle – or debacle – of his political career, depending on who is asked, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) can also begin to push his draft of a resolution to place conditions on any meeting between Obama and Rouhani.
The resolution, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, lists a series of hurdles that Iran must jump before a bilateral top-level meeting can occur. Like the Franks legislation, the Cruz resolution would demand that Rouhani first “affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state” and that Iran “immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience.”
The resolution does not have any cosponsors, and, as such, seems an unlikely bet to advance. Cruz, however, has proven in recent weeks what many had already believed – that he can drive a one-man performance through the Senate.
Congress can also keep up pressure on Iran by re-focusing the debate.
In the past month, it has become increasingly popular in Congress to raise awareness and push Iran on the issue of two American citizens currently imprisoned in Iran – evangelical pastor Saeed Abedini and alleged US spy Amir Hekmati.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), Robert Pittenger (R-NC) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) have all advocated for the release of Iran’s US prisoners, and just before the shutdown, Labrador called on the US to halt all diplomacy with Iran until Abedini is released.