Congress considering new sanctions on Iran

A bipartisan move is afoot in the Senate to pass legislation this year that would impose new, stricter sanctions on Iran if negotiations do not produce a deal that dismantles Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. Under the interim deal that President Obama struck with Iran, there is a six month negotiating period. Under the contemplated legislation, new sanctions would not kick in until after the expiration of that period, and then only if negotiations fail to produce a favorable final deal.

The tougher sanctions reportedly could reduce Iran’s oil exports by at least 30 percent and blacklist additional sectors of the country’s economy, such as mining, engineering, construction. The sanctions would also freeze all remaining Iranian foreign-exchange reserves.

Key Democrats are said to be in favor of such legislation. Sen. Menendez is helping to develop it. Sen. Schumer reportedly supports it. The legislation would breeze through the Republican-controlled House.

Iran isn’t taking the news well. Its foreign minister Javad Zarif told Time Magazine that the Iranian nuclear deal will be dead if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they are conditional and would not kick in for six months (if ever). “We do not like to negotiate under duress,” he explained. Sounds like a good argument for putting Iran under duress.

President Obama will no doubt lobby hard against sanctions legislation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Democrats back off, claiming that they will revisit sanctions if no good deal has been reached when the six month negotiating period has expired.

If the Dems don’t fold, Obama presumably will veto the sanctions legislation. This will be a minor embarrassment for him and his Party, but no more.

Presumably, Iran won’t kill the interim deal if Congress passes sanctions but Obama vetoes them. The deal seems too good for Iran to walk away from.

Moreover, if Iran backs out even after Obama has vetoed sanctions, the anti-Iran sentiment that held the international sanctions regime together might well be revived. If Iran shrugs off Congress, the crumbling of sanctions can proceed apace.

This dynamic points to additional limits, aside from a presidential veto, on the effectiveness of what Congress contemplates. Even if tougher U.S. sanctions were to kick in after six months, the sanctions regime depends on the participation of other major nations. It’s unclear whether the level of cooperation that has made sanctions so burdensome for Iran can ever be revived now that Obama has veered of off that course.

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