Letters about the Iran Deal are Not Enough, Senators

By Jennifer Rubin

Washington Post

October 22, 2015

Yesterday Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), sent aletter to Secretary of State John Kerry concerning Iran’s missile test. They reminded him:

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power clearly stated that Iran’s test was a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 which specifically states that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”

We are concerned about the military significance of this test, which is part of a long-term Iranian program that seeks to improve the range and capabilities of its ballistic missiles. We are also convinced that the launch is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.

We strongly believe that the ability of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions must be fortified by a zero-tolerance policy to respond to violations of the agreement and of applicable UN resolutions – and a unified plan of action between the United States and our European allies about what specific responses should be deployed to respond to incremental violations.

Well, what are they doing? Oh, they “urge” the administration to “consider” unilateral or multilateral sanctions. That’s it?

“Senate concern about Iran’s recent ballistic missile test is welcome but unfortunately this letter reflects a lack of full appreciation of its import,” Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), tells me. “The test is a result of the Iran deal, which 9 of the 11 letter signators signed, in two ways.” He explains that not only did the deal, at Iran’s insistence, leave out any discussion of intercontinental ballistic missiles, but more broadly “the deal marked the final collapse of American credibility, encouraging Iran to accelerate its ballistic missile program and other provocative acts (such as in Syria).” Since the deal is entirely the work of Democrats, they bear full responsibility for the consequences.

An official with a pro-Israel organization tells me, “Two things must be clear — first, the nuclear deal has only emboldened Iranian misbehavior and second it must be met, not with mere protest, but rather with concrete actions such as hard-hitting sanctions.”

What would be meaningful? “If they truly want to repent and show truly concern, then they can impose sanctions on Iran for this violation, support a significant beefing up of our military support for Israel that would augment its ability to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, support strengthening America’s military capabilities in the Middle East and the world, press President Obama to confront Iran in the Middle East and make clear to Iran that we won’t tolerate any such hostile action anymore,” Makovsky says. “That would help for starters.”

Mark Dubowitz, a widely regarded sanctions expert, agrees that talk (or letter writing) is cheap. “It’s now time to translate these expressions of concern into something tangible,” he argues. “Congress should pass legislation to statutorily designate all Iranian entities including banks involved in the development, production and testing of these missiles. It’s clear that the Obama administration will do nothing unless forced to act.”

On one level, one can see this as an attempt to cover Democrats’ rear ends now that the deal is proving calamitous, just as Republicans predicted. (“It’s a bit late for nine of these Senators to start demonstrating concern over ballistic missiles,” Makovsky notes.) That said, this really does present the opportunity on a bipartisan basis to roll back Iran and perhaps undo an awful deal. Republicans should test their colleagues forthwith. Put a sanctions bill on the floor. If Democrats filibuster it or won’t override a presidential veto, we will know the letter was stained with crocodile tears.

And while Republicans are at it, they should put on the president’s desk a bill to keep all sanctions in place unless and until Americans held in Iran, including Post reporter Jason Rezaian, are set free. Obama did not use leverage when he had it to bring these people home; Congress should not make the same error.