WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition on Friday called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) to advance a new sanctions bill against Iran through the Senate toward final approval. Although the White House has insisted that it does not intend to ease current sanctions on Iran, pressure is mounting for the Senate to take up and pass tougher-still sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“Despite President [Hassan] Rouhani’s ‘charm offensive,’ Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability continues unabated,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said Friday. “By moving aggressively to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran, Congress enhances the prospect that the regime will alter its dangerous course.”
Brooks complained that although parallel legislation already passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in July, the Senate has delayed its sanctions bill “at the administration’s request.” The House legislation passed with near-unanimous bipartisan support, and, like the Senate bill, would put further restrictions on strategic sectors of the Iranian economy, including its oil exports.
“The Obama administration continues to waffle and send mixed messages in its dealings with the Iranian regime, and that has emboldened the regime while stirring deep concern among our allies,” complained Brooks. He called on Johnson and Reid to advance the legislation when the Senate returns from its recess in the coming week.
“We cannot soften the US position on sanctions unless and until the Iranian regime stops talking and takes measurable, concrete action to end the pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Brooks added.
Earlier this week, DC insider website The Hill reported that although Johnson’s committee had been expected to introduce the sanctions bill this coming Tuesday, Senate Democratic leadership had been asked to delay the bill during a Thursday meeting at the White House.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), whose staffers were present at the Thursday meeting, already stood up against similar White House pressure two years ago, when he co-authored the sanctions legislation that is currently enforced against Iran.
According to The Hill, the White House denied that the Thursday meeting was an attempt to hold off on additional sanctions in advance of the next meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiators.
A source at a pro-Israel organization that is familiar with Congress, who asked not to be identified, expressed guarded optimism that the Senate would support the legislation. “The Senate leadership has been very supportive in the past of moving these bills, and I have not seen anything reflective of the fact that it is going to change,” he said.
“It is not unusual for administrations to say that they don’t want such a bill taken up, but it is our view that increased sanctions are important. You have to have additional sanctions as long as the Iranians have not taken any moves to stop their nuclear program,” he continued, emphasizing that “this is the widespread view on Capitol Hill.”
“The only reason that we’ve gotten to this point is because of the sanctions regime,” the source said. “We’re holding diplomatic talks but the program is continuing and the centrifuges continue to spin.”
On Thursday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes emphasized that the administration was not interested in easing sanctions before Iran takes “concrete steps” to stepping down its nuclear program.