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Published on January 14th, 2014 | by Jim Lobe

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Flaws in the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions (Wag the Dog) Bill

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by Jim Lobe

Ed Levine, an arms control specialist who worked for both Republican and Democratic senators for 20 years on the Intelligence Committee and another ten on the Foreign Relations Committee, has written a detailed and devastating analysis of S. 1881, the Kirk-Menendez bill, for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation on whose advisory board he currently serves. We have reproduced it below, but it makes clear that, contrary to claims by the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013 is designed to torpedo the Nov. 24 “first step” nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Passage of the bill, Levine concludes, would “leave the United States closer to a Hobson’s choice between going to war with Iran and accepting Iran as an eventual nuclear weapons state.”

Indeed, it’s quite clear from Sen. Mark Kirk’s reaction (as well as those of other Republicans, including that of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) to the implementation accord between the P5+1 that the entire purpose of the bill is to derail the Nov. 24 agreement, as opposed to acting as a “diplomatic insurance policy” to ensure that its terms are fulfilled, as Sen. Menendez argued last week in the Washington Post. Indeed, Senate Republicans, all but two of whom have co-sponsored the bill, are clearly doing the bidding of AIPAC and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in trying to subvert the Nov. 24 agreement, while the 16 Democratic senators who have signed as co-sponsors have insisted that the bill is intended to support that accord. One would think the very partisan difference in the understanding of the intent of the bill would lead some of these 16 Democrats to reconsider their support. That may well be beginning to happen anyway as a result of Sunday’s successful conclusion of the implementation accord, as pointed out in this report by Reuters. But the difference in intent will probably make it easier for the White House to keep the majority of Democrats from breaking ranks.

As of now, the bill has 59 co-sponsors, but the magic number is 67 — a veto-proof majority. While Senate staffers close to AIPAC claimed anonymously last week that they had that many, and at least ten more, committed “yes” votes if the bill came to the floor, the combination of Sunday’s implementation agreement and the clarity of purpose shown by Kirk and Cantor in their reactions to the accord probably diminishes the chances of their reaching that goal. Moreover, unless they get at least half a dozen more Democrats to co-sponsor, Majority Leader Harry Reid is considered unlikely to schedule a vote and almost certainly not before the Presidents’ Day recess in mid-February in any case. And if even a few current Democratic co-sponsors decide to drop their support, the bill may never see the light of day. (AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference here in Washington is March 2-4.)

This is Levine’s analysis:

S.1881, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” will undercut President Obama’s efforts to obtain a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear activities. To the extent that it removes the diplomatic option, moreover, it will leave the United States closer to a Hobson’s choice between going to war with Iran and accepting Iran as an eventual nuclear weapons state.

Supporters of the bill, which was introduced on December 19 by Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL), claim that enactment of it would not impede the E3+3 (AKA the P5+1) negotiations with Iran, but the text of Title III of the bill manifestly contradicts such claims. Specifically:

  • Section 301(a)(2)(I) requires the President to certify, in order to suspend application of the new sanctions, that “Iran has not conducted any tests for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers.” While this objective may be consistent with a UN Security Council resolution, it moves the goalposts by making the new sanctions contingent not just on Iran’s nuclear activities, but also on its missile programs. This paragraph also does not specify a time period (although the requirement in section 301(a)(1) for a certification every 30 days might imply one), so Iran’s past missile tests beyond 500 km might make it impossible for the President ever to make this certification.
  • Section 301(a)(2)(H) requires the President also to certify that “Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world.” Once again, there is no time period specified, so Iran’s past support of terrorism might make it impossible for the President ever to make this certification. Even if a time period were clear, however, this language would mean that if, say, Hezbollah were to explode a bomb outside a U.S. firm’s office in Beirut, the sanctions would go into effect (because Iran gives financial and other support to Hezbollah) even if Iran’s nuclear activities and negotiations were completely in good faith. So, once again, the goalposts are being moved.
  • Section 301(a)(2)(F) requires the President to certify that the United States seeks an agreement “that will dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure.” But while Iran may agree in the end to dismantle some of its nuclear infrastructure, there is no realistic chance that it will dismantle all of its uranium enrichment capability. In order for the President to make this certification, therefore, he will have to argue either that “you didn’t say all of Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure” (although that is clearly the bill’s intent) or that “if the negotiators agree to allow some level of nuclear enrichment in Iran, then the facilities are no longer illicit” (which begins to sound like statements by Richard Nixon or the Queen of Hearts).
  • Section 301(a)(3), regarding a suspension of sanctions beyond 180 days, adds the requirement that an agreement be imminent under which “Iran will…dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure…and other capabilities critical to the production of nuclear weapons.” This raises the same concerns as does the paragraph just noted, plus the new question of what those “other capabilities” might be. At a minimum, such ill-defined requirements invite future partisan attacks on the President.
  • Section 301(a)(4) reimposes previously suspended sanctions if the President does not make the required certifications. This paragraph applies not only to the sanctions mandated by this bill, but also to “[a]ny sanctions deferred, waived, or otherwise suspended by the President pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action or any agreement to implement the Joint Plan of Action.” Thus, it moves the goalposts even for the modest sanctions relief that the United States is currently providing to Iran. To the extent that the currently-provided sanctions relief relates to sanctions imposed pursuant to the President’s own powers, moreover, section 301(a)(4) may run afoul of the separation of powers under the United States Constitution.
  • Section 301(b) allows the President to suspend the bill’s sanctions annually after a final agreement is reached with Iran, but only if a resolution of disapproval of the agreement is not enacted pursuant to section 301(c). The primary effect of this insertion of Congress into the negotiating process will be to cast doubt upon the ability of the United States to implement any agreement that the E3+3 reaches with Iran. The provision is also unnecessary, as most of the sanctions relief that would be sought in a final agreement would require statutory changes anyway.
  • Section 301(b)(1) imposes a certification requirement to suspend the bill’s new sanctions after a final agreement with Iran has been reached, even if a resolution of disapproval has been defeated. This certification requirement imposes maximalist demands upon the E3+3 negotiators. Paragraph (A) requires that the agreement include dismantlement of Iran’s “enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology.” How one dismantles technology is left to the imagination. Paragraph (B) requires that Iran come “into compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program,” which would require its suspension, at least, of all uranium enrichment. In all likelihood, however, the complete suspension of enrichment either will be impossible to achieve through diplomacy or will be achieved only for a short time before Iran is permitted to resume an agreed level of enrichment of an agreed quantity of uranium under international verification. Paragraph (C) requires that all the IAEA’s issues regarding past or present Iranian nuclear activities be resolved – an objective that the United States and its allies surely share, but that may prove difficult to achieve even if the other objectives are realized. Paragraph (D) requires “continuous, around the clock, on-site inspection…of all suspect facilities in Iran,” which would likely be inordinately expensive and unnecessary, and might also impose safety hazards.

Taken as a whole, these requirements, however desirable in theory, build a bridge too far for the E3+3 to reach. If they are enacted, all parties to the negotiations will interpret them as barring the United States from implementing the sanctions relief proposed in any feasible agreement. Rather than buttressing the U.S. position in the negotiations, therefore, they will bring an end to those negotiations. Worse yet, they will create large fissures in the E3+3 coalition that has imposed international sanctions on Iran. Thus, even though the bill purports to support sanctions, it may well result in the collapse of many of them.

It is in that context that one should read the sense of Congress, in section 2(b)(5) of the bill, that if Israel is compelled to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States should provide “military support” to Israel. While such support could be limited to intelligence and arms sales, there would be great pressure for the United States to take a more active military role. So this bill, by its many steps to close the window for diplomacy with Iran, could end the international sanctions regime and lead either to a nuclear-armed Iran or to a war in which U.S. armed forces might well be active participants. 

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The Washington Bureau Chief of the international news agency, Inter Press Service, Jim Lobe is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy.



3 Responses to Flaws in the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions (Wag the Dog) Bill

  1. avatar Farhang Jahanpour says:

    Despite all the insincere claims that the aim of the bill is to strengthen the Administration’s hand and make sure that Iran abides by the terms of the agreement, the real intention of the Senate bill S. 1881 can be clearly seen in the following statement that if Israel is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the United States “should stand with Israel and provide … diplomatic, military and economic support to the Government of Israel in the defense of its territory, people and existence.” If this is not a declaration of war on Iran on behalf of Israel, I do not know what it is! The worst part of this statement is that it gives a blank check to Israel to start the war at the time of its choosing on the excuse of Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons, and it binds the United States to support that illegal aggression at disastrous costs to itself, to Iran and to the Middle East.

    Netanyahu once succeeded to push the United States to wage a war on Iraq on the basis of lies. He should not be allowed to do it again in the case of Iran

  2. avatar James Canning says:

    I have thought all along that the purpose of this bill is to prevent a deal between Iran and the P5+1.

  3. avatar Norman says:

    Couldn’t be any clearer than what we’ve read in this post today. Let’s call it for what it is, a betrayal of the People of the U.S. for the benefit of Israel. I don’t really think it makes any difference whether or not Netanyahoo gets his way on this, he’s going to launch an attack on Iran with or without U.S. backing, hoping to force the U.S. into his WAR. Looks like it’s either all out war on the horizon, or AIPAC and the rest of the people who demand subservience to Netanyahoos insane warmongering, are in for a very rude awakening.

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