US Senate votes unanimously to extend Iran sanctions

US Senate votes unanimously to extend Iran sanctions ... 02/12/2016 Politics

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By Austin Wright
12/01/16 02:22 PM EST
The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to extend sanctions on Iran for 10 years as President-elect Donald Trump faces calls not to immediately scrap a nuclear pact with Iran that he labeled "disastrous" on the campaign trail.
The House-passed measure would renew the Iran Sanctions Act, first enacted in 1996 and set to expire at the end of the year. The White House has suggested the extension is unnecessary, saying the president already has authority to re-impose sanctions on Iran, but it has not explicitly threatened a veto.
The Sanctions Act imposes penalties on Iran’s energy sector and other industries, but gives the president authority to waive those sanctions — and Obama has done so under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal.
Supporters of the extension say keeping the law on the books would send a signal to Iran that the United States can quickly re-instate the sanctions if the Islamic Republic violates the nuclear pact.
“If the sanctions architecture has expired, then we have no sanctions which we can snap back,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. With the law’s extension, “The Iranians will know the consequences of any breach.”
Added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “We can ill afford to allow sanctions that deter and impede Iran’s development of conventional weapons of mass destruction to expire.”
Critics of the extended sanctions are concerned Iran might view them as a provocation — and the country’s supreme leader has already said as much. On Iranian state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that “if this sanction is implemented, this is definitely a violation of the agreement, without any doubt,” as CNN reported last week.
In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he thinks the extension will lead to some “aggressive posturing by the hard-liners in Iran” but that it won’t cause the country to walk away from the nuclear deal.
The sanctions vote comes as Congress and the incoming Trump administration are weighing their options for dealing with Iran, which has continued to test ballistic missiles.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are considering putting in place stricter sanctions to curb Iran’s provocative military actions and support groups the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations. Such sanctions would not be aimed directly at Iran’s nuclear program — so lawmakers say they would not violate the nuclear pact, which seeks to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in return for sanctions relief.
Meanwhile, the incoming Trump administration faces calls not to entirely scrap the nuclear deal on Day One, as POLITICO has previously reported.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), for instance, said the United States has already given up much of its leverage by allowing Iran to access billions of dollars in frozen assets.
“I think the beginning point is for us to cause them to strictly adhere [to the deal],” Corker, a candidate to be Trump’s secretary of state, said on MSNBC last month. “And I think that what we have to remember is, we have to keep the Europeans and others with us in this process.”
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama had not yet decided whether to sign the extended sanctions.
“We’ll take a look at what bill is passed and determine whether or not the president will sign it,” Earnest said. “But for those in Congress who are interested in making sure the administration has sufficient authority, I can confirm that we do, and I can confirm that we have not been shy about using it.”
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