Washington — (JTA) — They want to brandish a new stick against Iran, but hawks in Congress aren’t going to use it — yet.
For all the disappointment they expressed following the deal on Iran’s nuclear program, skeptics in Congress appear to be willing to give the agreement brokered by the Obama administration space to breathe — albeit with tough new punitive measures in place should Iran fail to live up to its end of the bargain.
“I will continue working with my colleagues to craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions if Iran undermines this interim accord or if the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not underway by the end of this six-month period,” U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a leader in passing Iran sanctions, said after the deal’s announcement on Saturday night.
That’s a shift from pre-deal statements in which Kirk was leading an effort to push through new sanctions not conditioned on the outcome of talks between the United States and other world powers and Iran.
Proponents of a tougher line against Iran say the sanctions talk wasn’t an empty threat and helped shaped the outcome of the interim deal. Moreover, Congress is not dropping the stick: Kirk and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are preparing new sanctions legislation to take effect if Iran violates the interim deal.
The two senators “will be working over the Senate recess to craft a bipartisan sanctions bill that establishes a mandatory fail-safe to this interim agreement, ensuring sanctions come back in spades if Iran cheats during the next six months or if Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not being dismantled at the end of the six-month period,” a congressional aide told JTA in an email. “We should expect this legislation to go to the president’s desk for signature before the end of the year.”
But it’s not clear if pro-sanctions lawmakers have backing from the Senate leadership for new sanctions.
“I said when we come back, we’ll take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions, ” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, said Monday in an NPR interview quoted by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill daily. Reid said Menendez and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, will study the issue.