“We don’t believe this proposal is necessary, as I think we’ve made clear and we have been discussing with members of Congress for quite some time,” he told a briefing. “We don’t believe it will be enacted. We certainly know it’s not necessary. If it were to pass, the president would veto it.”
The rare veto threat comes despite the fact the new legislation would not bring more sanctions into play unless Iran violates an interim agreement reached with the U.S. and five other powers last month; violates a final agreement negotiated in line with a timetable set down in the deal that was struck in Geneva; or runs out the clock by letting the interim agreement expire without a final-status one in place.
There are also conditions relating to missile and terror activity. (The president will have to certify that Iran has not conducted any tests of ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers (310 miles), and “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 measure’s sponsors say the contingency-based bill does give the Obama administration the flexibility it says it needs in its diplomatic efforts.
A statement from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) , who introduced the legislation with Senate Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), noted that it gives the administration “up to one year from the conclusion of an implementing agreement to pursue a diplomatic track resulting in the complete and verifiable termination of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.”
Far from jeopardize the diplomatic effort, proponents say, delayed-trigger sanctions legislation would be helpful, providing a clear incentive to a regime which – as the administration itself argues – only agreed to negotiate in the first place because of the effectiveness of existing sanctions.
“The American people rightfully distrust Iran’s true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations,” added Kirk.
But the administration has argued since the Nov. 24 Geneva agreement was reached that even a measure with a deferred sanctions threat would be a sign of “bad faith.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday the new legislation would “divide the international community” and “could drive the Iranians to take a harder line.”
“They have their own domestic political situation there, and if we are seen as being an intransigent party or not sincerely open to negotiations, it could urge their folks to take a harder line,” she said.
It would also make conflict more likely, Carney said at the White House.
“Passing new sanctions legislation now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution and greatly increase the chances that the United States would have to take military action,” he said.
Reacting to those comments, the Emergency Committee for Israel said the administration was falsely accusing the bill’s sponsors “of engaging in a rush to war.”
“In fact the White House has responded in far harsher terms to these members of Congress than it has to an Iranian regime which continues to enrich uranium, prevent monitoring of its nuclear program, and still refuses to implement the Geneva agreement negotiated last month,” the advocacy group said in a statement.
“That is why members of Congress of both parties doubt Iranian claims of good faith – and why they are supporting legislation that makes clear Congress has its own red lines for any deal, and that there will be real consequences if Iran refuses to dismantle its nuclear program.”
The prospective sanctions themselves include tightening existing restrictions on the purchase of Iranian petroleum, as well as additional measures targeting Iran’s engineering, mining and construction sectors.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Iranian energy sanctions, called the bill “a sanctions-in-waiting, insurance policy.”
“If Iran cheats or walks away from the table, and the new sanctions are imposed, Iran’s economy will suffer significantly.”
Apart from Menendez and Kirk, the legislation has the support of 24 other senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), John Cornyn (Texas), John McCain (Ariz.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Pat Roberts (Kans.), Susan Collins (Me.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jerry Moran (Kans.) and Mike Johanns (Nebr.).
Democratic co-sponsors are Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Chris Coons (Del.), Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).