Senate GOP Ties Iran Sanctions Fight to Defense Bill

By Jordain Carney

The Hill

May 25, 2016

Senate Republicans are linking a battle over Iran sanctions to a wide-ranging defense policy bill.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte—backed by 18 other Republican senators—has filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to expand sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program and individuals who support it.

Ayotte's amendments would also extend the Iran Sanctions Act, currently set to expire at the end of the year, though 2031.

The New Hampshire Republican warned earlier this year that she would push for new sanctions against Iran unless the Obama administration took a firmer stance against a series of reported ballistic missile tests.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of the senator's backing Ayotte's amendment, said that "instead of reportedly sweetening sanctions relief, the Obama administration must make good on its promise to use the tools at its disposal to react to Iran's bad behavior."

Though the Senate Republicans failed to block the Iran nuclear deal in Congress, they've continued to voice frustration over the agreement. The recent fallout over a profile of Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security advisor, and a fight over buying heavy water from Iran have kept lawmakers' attention focused on the issue.

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top members of the Foreign Relations Committee, have been working on sanctions legislation for months targeting Iran's ballistic missile program and extending the Iran Sanctions Act.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate's No. 2 Republican, has also filed an amendment to sanction individuals involved with an incident in which Iran boarded U.S. ships and held American sailors earlier this year. The incident sparked outrage from lawmakers, ahead of President Obama's final State of the Union.

Cornyn wants Obama to determine and report to Congress if Iran violated the Geneva Convention or any "right under international law to conduct innocent passage."

If the administration determines a violation did occur, they must hand over a list of Iranian officials involved and sanction them, including blocking them for entering the United States and freezing assets.

"When one of our Navy's boats is innocently transiting across Iranian waters and is not engaged in military activity or taking any other action that would prejudice the peace and security of Iran, it's against the law... to stop, board and seize that vessel," Cornyn said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also wants to block the Defense Department from entering into contracts with individuals who support currently sanctioned Iranians or are connected to the Iran Revolutionary Guards.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is asking the administration to hand over reports on any coordination between Russia and Iran, between Iran and North Korea and on whether Iran is using commercial aircraft for illegal military actives.

Cornyn said he would be offering another amendment targeting Iran-based Mahan Airline, which he referred to as a "terrorist airline or airways."

The proposal, he said, would require the Department of Homeland Security to list the airports the airline flies to, and if any additional security measures that are needed.

"The largest commercial airline is the number-one state sponsor of terrorism," Cornyn added. "This airline has repeatedly played a role in exporting Iran's terrorism."