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Senators Should Read Before Signing the Menendez-Kirk Iran Sanctions Bill

The Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill would move America closer to going to war with Iran or accepting an Iranian nuclear weapon. Have senators actually read it?

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The Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill (SB 1881), or “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” would move America closer to a Hobson’s choice between going to war with Iran and accepting an Iranian nuclear weapon. Have the senators planning to sign the bill actually read it?

Fifty-nine US senators have signed up to sponsor the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill (SB1881), the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.” Yet it is hard to believe many have actually read the 53-page bill.

The bill would frustrate President Obama’s efforts to obtain a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear activities, and it is opposed by 80 percent of Democratic committee chairmen. It would all but remove the diplomatic option and move America closer to a Hobson’s choice between going to war with Iran and accepting an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Supporters of the bill say it would not impede the current negotiations with Iran, but the text of Title III contradicts that claim.

Section 301(a)(2)(H) requires the president to certify, to suspend the bill’s new sanctions, 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.” The bill thus ties sanctions – and the negotiations with Iran – to the actions of third-party groups like Hezbollah, even if Iran negotiates and acts in good faith on its nuclear program. Section 301(a)(2)(I) would tie sanctions also to Iran’s missile tests, again even if Iran is cooperative on nuclear matters.

Section 301(a)(3) covers the suspension of sanctions beyond 180 days and requires that any agreement force Iran to “dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure … and other capabilities critical to the production of nuclear weapons.” In the first-step deal, Iran agreed to convert its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile and open its nuclear facilities to more international inspections. The bill’s message is more sanctions unless the negotiations lead to Iran’s complete capitulation, which is simply unrealistic.

Section 301(a)(4) reimposes “any 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,” unless the president makes all of the above certifications, as well as others. This section undercuts the president’s promise in the first-step agreement and, insofar as it relates to sanctions originally imposed under the president’s own powers, may even violate the Constitution.

Section 301(b)(1) imposes a certification requirement to suspend the bill’s new sanctions even after a final agreement with Iran, and even if Congress supports that agreement. This requirement imposes maximalist demands on the negotiators, including 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.

Taken as a whole, these requirements build a bridge too far. Rather than buttressing the US position in the negotiations, the bill would bring an end to negotiations and very likely splinter the coalition that has implemented international sanctions.

I doubt that the co-sponsors really intend to scuttle the Iran negotiations and break up the international sanctions regime. Rather, like so many scam victims, they wired their money to a political Nigeria without ever reading the fine print.

But there is still time. With a little effort, they could read the bill – and, with a little courage, withdraw their support, unless they really want what it really says.

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