“Frankly right now there’s not a hell of a lot we can do because [the U.S. and its allies] just freed up $100 million to the Iranians,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We’ll pay a very, very heavy price for that in the future.”
McCain referenced the 10 American Navy sailors who were photographed in Iranian custody with their hands over the backs of their necks, kneeling down, a photo he carried around with him during the Republican Party’s retreat in Baltimore last week. “I’m amazed, with their hands behind their necks and the secretary of State says that it’s really a great thing. It’s one of the most disgraceful chapters in U.S. history,” McCain said Tuesday. “I mean, the [footage] of American service members on their knees, that was spread everywhere in the Middle East. That was one of the great propaganda triumphs that the Iranians have ever had.”
“We’re in a really bad place,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said Wednesday.
Corker, who fought stridently to block the Iran nuclear deal last year, expressed frustrations with the deal in a committeewide hearing on its implications for the Middle East Wednesday morning. But in an interview later in the day, Corker argued that Congress isn’t completely without recourse.
The Senate is expected to take up a reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires late this year, in the next few months, sending a signal to the Iranian regime and providing a key tool for the administration to reinstate sanctions against the country should they fail to hold up to the standards of the nuclear deal.
The administration pushed back against Congress’s desire to renew ISA late last year, warning that it could put the nuclear deal in jeopardy. But senators say that now that Implementation Day has arrived in Iran, they believe the administration will support them in moving forward on a reauthorization.
As part of the nuclear deal, the United States has not done away with sanctions against Iran, but merely paused them allowing the administration to, in Washington’s terms, “snap back” sanctions should the country violate the deal.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who was also highly critical of the Iran deal, argued Wednesday that early passage of a new ISA bill is important so that the U.S. will “have something to snap back to.” Menendez argued that it will take months to alert and prepare the nation’s allies to implement new sanctions on Iran, should they become necessary. “It’s a year, easy,” Menendez said.
Corker said that it’s very possible that Congress could levy new sanctions against Iran in addition to ISA this year, adding that particularly “if activities continue as-is, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of bipartisan support.”
But for any sanctions to go through, they’ll need the support of President Obama, who negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran that he’s hailed as “historic progress through diplomacy” in the Middle East. The Obama administration has said it will support reauthorization of ISA before its expiration in 2016, but it's unclear what the fate of other sanctions would be.