Senate Votes 99-0 to Send Iran Sanctions Bill to Obama’s Desk

Patrick Goodenough | December 1, 2016 | 7:31pm EST
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and ranking member Ben Cardin, D-Md. (AP Photo, File)

( – Despite Iranian complaints and administration arguments that the move is unnecessary, the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation extending the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for another ten years – by a vote of 99-0.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not vote.

The Iran Sanctions Extension Act, which passed in the House in a 419-1 vote a fortnight ago, now goes to President Obama’s desk.

Unlike other pending Iran-related legislation, the White House has not indicated that Obama would veto the bill – the scale of support indicates a veto would be overridden in any case.

But administration officials, concerned about how Iran would react and the potential impact on smooth implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, have argued that ISA extension is unnecessary, arguing that the administration already has the necessary authorities to extend existing sanctions on Iran, or impose additional ones.

“Having the ISA in place or not is not necessary for ‘snapping back,’” Stephen Mull, the ambassador responsible for overseeing implementation of the nuclear deal, told senators in May, using the term coined by the administration to describe how quickly and easily sanctions could be reimposed if Iran cheats.

“We have sufficient authority through various executive orders,” he added.

Thursday’s vote came two days after Secretary of State John Kerry, during closed-door discussions with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill, advised against extending the ISA, according to a report in Al-Monitor.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei weighed in last week, saying extending the ISA would violate the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and adding that Iran would “definitely react” to the move.

Congressional supporters and opponents of the JCPOA alike reject that claim: Nuclear-related sanctions against Iran were waived when the nuclear deal came into effect early this year – and that waiver remains in place under the reauthorized ISA. But other U.S. sanctions, responding to terror-sponsorship, human rights abuses and ballistic missile activities, were never meant to be dropped under the JCPOA.

Citing what he called a continuing “pattern” of Iranian aggression, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said ISA extension was critical.

“This is even more important given how the current administration has been held hostage by Tehran's threats to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, and how it has ignored Iran's overall efforts to upset the balance of power in the greater Middle East,” he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said ISA extension would ensure that President-elect Donald Trump and his administration “have the tools necessary to push back against the regime’s hostile actions.”

Corker, who has been named as one of a short-list of Trump’s possible secretary of state picks, added that he looked “forward to continuing our work to hold Tehran accountable.”

The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) – who along with the majority of Democrats voted in favor of the JCPOA last year – said the Senate and House votes on ISA extension showed that “Congress is serious about reserving the right to credibly snapback sanctions on Iran should it violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

“I believe that the United States must uphold its obligations pursuant to the agreement while reserving the right – consistent with the JCPOA – to snap back sanctions if Iran violates the agreement.”

The ISA was enacted in 1996 (as the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act), reauthorized in 2006 and 2011, and is set to expire at the end of 2016.

Once Obama signs the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, the ISA will be reauthorized through December 31, 2026.

Although U.S. non-nuclear sanctions are definitively intended to remain in place under the JCPOA – as the administration stressed time and again when seeking congressional support for the deal – Iran says they are hampering the return of foreign investment.

Critics counter that it is the regime’s belligerent behavior in the region and at home that has potential investors leery.

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