Senate Democrats Press White House on More Iran Sanctions

  • Casey and Coons backed the nuclear deal, but want enforcement
  • House expected to vote Wednesday on a separate sanctions bill

President Barack Obama is coming under pressure from his own party to advance new penalties to punish Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests even as a landmark nuclear deal, which would loosen international sanctions, is on the verge of being implemented.

Several Democratic senators who supported the deal say they’re worried that the Obama administration’s delay in issuing new sanctions may undermine the U.S.’s ability to enforce the agreement.

Bob Casey

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who’s a member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said Monday they want the administration to move forward with additional sanctions after the missile tests that Iran conducted late last year. Both senators supported the July agreement that would ease economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on the country’s nuclear program.

“I am concerned that as implementation of the JCPOA moves forward, the administration has not taken steps to hold Iran accountable for its actions and to demonstrate that there will be swift consequences for violations of the JCPOA,” Casey said, referring to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was reached by six world powers and Iran. “Chinese and Russian obstructionism is blocking UN Security Council action, so I urge the administration to sanction the individuals or entities responsible for this violation.”

He added, “I am concerned that although Treasury prepared new designations, they have not been formally announced and implemented.”

Treasury’s Pause

The Treasury Department last month was said to be close to announcing sanctions against several companies and individuals for their ties to Iran’s ballistic missile program. No such sanctions have been issued yet, however, and the State Department has declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry intervened to make sure nothing got in the way of the Iran nuclear accord taking effect.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani predicted Monday that the deal will take effect “in a few days,” while other officials have predicted the “Implementation Day” will come within a few weeks after Iran completes the final steps required to curb its nuclear program.

TIMELINE: Iran Oil, Banking Sectors Prepare for Sanctions Relief

While the U.S. emphasizes that nothing in the nuclear deal bars it from maintaining or imposing sanctions against Iran’s ballistic-missile development, human-rights violations or support for terrorist groups, Iranian leaders have said new sanctions of any type would put the accord at risk.

“We’ll issue them when it’s time,” Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked about sanctions over the latest missile test.

The delay has led to complaints from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, that the lag time might undercut future efforts to enforce the nuclear agreement.

Chris Coons

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Coons -- who said his understanding that the U.S. would still be able to sanction Iran on issues such as the missile program played a role in his support for the nuclear deal -- said “I don’t know why the administration has hesitated.”

“I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with" new sanctions designations, Coons said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. "I am concerned with the hesitation.”

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on Iran sanctions legislation, H.R. 3662. Provisions include a prohibition on removing foreign financial institutions or people from the Treasury Department’s sanctions list unless the president vouches that they haven’t helped finance Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or terrorist groups. The president would veto the bill because it would jeopardize the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, the White House said in a statement Monday night.

House Democratic leaders have said they see the House bill as a partisan measure intended to undermine the nuclear deal, but it could still attract Democratic support.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.