By Michael Bowman, VOA
CAPITOL HILL - A Senate panel has overwhelmingly approved new U.S.
sanctions targeting Iran's support for international terrorism and its ballistic
missile program, the first move to punish Tehran since a landmark nuclear accord
went into effect.
Thursday's 18-3 vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came days
after President Donald Trump pledged common cause with Israel and Sunni Arab
states to counter Iranian influence in the region.
"The bill passed overwhelmingly today [in committee] and I believe will pass overwhelmingly on the Senate floor," said the committee's chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
"If you think about what just happened with the [president's] trip to Saudi Arabia, this begins to coordinate a Middle Eastern strategy that counters Iran's aggression in the region. There is a move to push back against the many nefarious activities that Iran has been engaged in," Corker added.
Eight of the committee's 10 Democrats backed the bill, including Chris Coons of Delaware, who, in 2015, supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
"This bill shows a continuing determination by the American Congress to stand up to Iran's continued, even expanded malign activities around the world: their ongoing ballistic missile launches, their support for terrorism, their human rights violations," Coons said. "All of these are areas that are specifically called out in the JCPOA as areas where it is appropriate and possible for the United States, if necessary, to impose additional sanctions."
Ahead of the vote, a central figure in nuclear negotiations with Iran, former secretary of state John Kerry, took to Twitter to warn against new sanctions, writing: "There are many tools to up the pressure already in place and at our disposal. We need to weigh/consider risk to JCPOA."
That concern was shared by the bill's opponents in the Senate, including Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico.
"Let's remember, the Iranians have just had an election, re-elected [President Hassan] Rouhani, who was a supporter of this agreement and he was re-elected by a big margin," Udall said. "So the first move of our government with this legislation is going to be to threaten the [nuclear] agreement. I think that's a very bad posture for us."
Such concerns are unwarranted, according to backers of the sanctions.
"We know that this in no way touches the nuclear deal," Corker said.
"Tehran can argue all they want that these areas for additional sanctions are not permitted under the JCPOA," Coons said. "The plain text of the agreement allows additional sanctions in these three areas [support for terrorism, missile development, and human rights]."
The committee's lone Republican to oppose bill, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, argued that punishing Iranian missile development makes no sense after President Trump inked a major arms deal with Iran's arch-rival, Saudi Arabia.
"If we want Iran to stop or lessen their development of ballistic weapons, we need to address the cause: the arms race in the Middle East," Paul said.
Between Trump's actions and the sanctions bill, no one is disputing that a shift has occurred away from the former Obama administration's handling of Iran.
"Some chose to believe that the regime in Tehran would respond to the JCPOA and the opportunity it gave the Iranian government to change their behavior, to engage with the West, to demonstrate that it wants to become part of the community of nations," Coons said. "In the last year their [Iran's] actions have proven the opposite, and I think it's now appropriate for us to take these steps [impose sanctions]."
Many will be watching Iran's reaction if the sanctions become law. Asked by VOA if he is concerned about how the bill will be viewed in Tehran, Corker shrugged.
"Are you talking about the people, [or] are you talking about this revolutionary leadership that is carrying out terrorism throughout the Middle East?" Corker responded. "I can't answer for both."
Response to Passing of Deeply Flawed Iran Sanctions Bill (S.722) - "With a vote for this flawed sanctions bill the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided to give Donald Trump new tools to kill the Iran deal and stumble into war with Iran. After Iranians overwhelmingly voted for openness and engagement, Senators have effectively endorsed Trump's calls for a provocative and dangerous approach to the Middle East. NIAC Action condemns this vote and urges the full Senate to abstain from moving the bill forward." -NIAC Action
Costs of the Clenched Fist - - In his first inaugural address, one of President Barack Obama's messages to America's adversaries was that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." A few years later, the unclenching of Iran's fist was marked by the election of reformist Hassan Rouhani and the entry of Iran into negotiations with the United States and five other powers, leading to a detailed agreement in which Iran accepted severe limitations on, and intrusive scrutiny of, its nuclear program and closed all possible pathways to possible acquisition of a nuclear weapon. -Paul R. Pillar, LobeLog
Trump's Alignment with Sunni Autocrats Masks Shallow Understanding of Region - President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia has engendered endless press reporting and analysis. Two key points stand out in the media coverage. First, the trip was mostly show than action. Second, the Saudis played up to Trump's craving for adulation and narcissism. They knew he was a fickle showman and acted accordingly. He of course loved it, and they proved that rich princely Bedouins could capture the world stage, at least for a fleeting moment. -Emile Nakhleh
JUST WHISTLING A TUNE IN A HURRICANE Mr. Trump's Historic First Foreign Trip - I watched with great disgust President Trump's long delivery at the gathering of Moslem heads of state in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His half-hour-long speech was eloquently worded, obviously not his words, as he lacks the degree of literacy or the command of the language required for that. The content of his speech was rhetorical, hypocritical and transparently shallow and, I might add, disgracefully dishonest. -Kambiz Zarrabi
Arms Deal Stories Omit War Crimes Arms Will Be Used For - The Trump administration wrapped up a weapons deal with the Saudi Arabian government this week that will be worth up to $350 billion over the next ten years. News of the deal came as Trump visited Riyadh and paid fealty to one of the United States' most enduring allies in the Middle East. -Adam Johnson, LobeLog
Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime - The bar for Donald Trump's speech in Riyadh had been set so low that it was scraping the sand. How much could be expected from a notorious exploiter of Islamophobia speaking to a gathering of leaders of majority Muslim countries? Getting through the experience without causing major new damage should perhaps be considered a success. Perhaps Trump and his speechwriters were wise not to attempt anything more. -Paul R. Pillar, LobeLog 5/24/17
Trump in the Middle East: From 'America First' to Saudi and Israel first -
President Donald Trump's visit to the Middle East has turned out as expected: no
single act of outreach to the Muslim world could undo his fueling of
Islamophobia and no amount of Iranophobia could cover up the irony of Trump and
Saudi Arabia uniting against intolerance. -Trita Parsi, Middle East
... Payvand News - 05/26/17 ... --