Sen. Mark Kirk Seeks to Restore Iran Sanctions as Obama Deal Falls Apart

The sanctions on Iran have not technically been removed — in fact, we learned today that even the timing of their removal under the Lausanne framework is a matter of great dispute between Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Obama Administration. But Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is already talking about passing a bill to keep them in place, effectively killing whatever remains of Obama’s deal.

Eli Lake’s description of the situation at Bloomberg View illustrates how far and fast the deal has fallen. The view that the Lausanne agreement is falling apart is becoming increasingly widespread, despite Administration assurances that Iran’s leaders are just talking tough to shore up fiery domestic constituencies:

A week ago, the White House was on top of the world. President Barack Obama announced a new framework agreement with Iran and five other great powers to resolve the long-standing stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program. And after producing a detailed fact sheet, the White House got some unexpected good news: Sen. Mark Kirk, the Republican co-author of sanctions legislation the president had said would kill the talks if it passed, said he would shelve his bill until the June 30 final deadline for the nuclear discussions.

That promise is no longer operative. Kirk told me Thursday that he is pushing for a full Senate vote on his Nuclear Weapons Free Act of 2015, legislation he authored with Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who was indicted last week by a grand jury on corruption charges.

Kirk initially delayed pushing for a full Senate vote on his bill because it appeared the president and Secretary of State John Kerry had actually gotten the Iranians to agree on a political framework for a nuclear deal — the bottom line stipulation for an earlier agreement by 12 Senate Democrat supporters of Kirk’s bill to hold off on voting for it.

Now Kirk feels that there isn’t much of an agreement at all. As he told me Thursday, “Because Iran refuses to agree to the same framework for a final deal as the United States, and because Iran still strongly disputes basic issues like how a final deal will address comprehensive sanctions relief, uranium enrichment, and coming clean on Iran’s military nuclear activities, I believe the full Senate should vote, sooner rather than later, on the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s defiant remarks about how Obama’s talking points are false, and Iran expects instant sanctions relief while defying the most crucial restrictions they supposedly agreed to, have evidently lit some fires on Capitol Hill.

It is interesting that Khamenei would make such belligerent statements about instant relief, since the framework touted by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry really amounted to the pretense of phased removal — only the most blatant violation of the terms by Iran would have prevented those sanctions from coming off very quickly. Iran’s unwillingness to play along for even a few days suggests that visions of such blatant violations are dancing in their heads.

“If Obama wants to stop that legislation in its tracks, he will have to explain why Iran’s supreme leader isn’t being truthful,” writes Lake. “If he isn’t willing to do that, members of Congress might conclude that Iran is the only party in these talks that still has red lines.”

This rhetoric is not just coming from the Ayatollah — Iran’s entire foreign policy apparatus has been denouncing Obama’s talking points in unison. It looks as if Congress is moving closer to letting both Iran and the Obama Administration know that more stringent standards must be met by Tehran before those sanctions can be lifted.


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