Menendez Demands to Know ‘Endgame’ for Future Iran Deals

Next, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) provided keynote remarks. 
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Dec. 12, 2013, 9:29 a.m.

Sen. Robert Men­en­dez isn’t go­ing to let the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for­get that Con­gress knows bet­ter when it comes to pres­sur­ing Ir­an. Now, the New Jer­sey Demo­crat wants more than just new sanc­tions the ad­min­is­tra­tion is warn­ing against — he wants a res­ol­u­tion to define the “en­dgame” for any fu­ture deal with Ir­an.

Men­en­dez has proven him­self an Ir­an hawk, ready to buck his own party in the White House. Con­gress has proven be­fore — and could again — that mem­bers are a for­mid­able force on this is­sue.

Flash back to Decem­ber 2011, when Un­der­sec­ret­ary of State for Polit­ic­al Af­fairs Wendy Sher­man and Treas­ury Un­der­sec­ret­ary for Ter­ror­ism and Fin­an­cial In­tel­li­gence Dav­id Co­hen were seated — as they were again Thursday — be­fore a Sen­ate pan­el ar­guing against more sanc­tions on Ir­an. At the time, they ar­gued, mem­bers’ pro­posed sanc­tions tar­get­ing for­eign fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tions that do busi­ness with the Cent­ral Bank of Ir­an would have un­in­ten­ded ef­fects. They would splinter the glob­al al­li­ance work­ing to pres­sure Tehran and boost oil prices — which would give Ir­an more money to fund its nuc­le­ar am­bi­tions.

But the Sen­ate did not listen. The sanc­tions passed un­an­im­ously as an amend­ment to the fisc­al 2012 de­fense policy bill days later.

“That amend­ment went on to pass 100 to zero, and it is one of the things the ad­min­is­tra­tion her­alds today as the es­sence of what has got­ten Ir­an to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table,” said Men­en­dez, now chair­man of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, at a Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee hear­ing Thursday. “I just want to put on the re­cord my skep­ti­cism” — about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s op­pos­i­tion to new meas­ures now as world powers ne­go­ti­ate with Ir­an — “based on the his­tory we’ve had.”

Men­en­dez has been in fa­vor of pro­spect­ive sanc­tions that could be im­posed after the six-month win­dow of the in­ter­im deal between world powers and Ir­an ex­pires or founders. He’s now call­ing for more. “I’m be­gin­ning to think that maybe what the Sen­ate needs to do is define the en­dgame and at least what it finds as ac­cept­able as the fi­nal status,” Men­en­dez said.

He would have help from the House, where Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., and Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., are try­ing to sim­il­arly out­line what should be in a fi­nal agree­ment with Ir­an through a res­ol­u­tion.

Mem­bers are deeply sus­pi­cious about the cur­rent deal on the table, which stip­u­lates Ir­an will elim­in­ate its most dan­ger­ous stock­pile of urani­um en­riched at 20 per­cent and halt en­rich­ment of stocks above 5 per­cent but does not pre­clude Ir­an from keep­ing some en­rich­ment cap­ab­il­ity. They are wor­ried the in­ter­im deal would give Ir­an an eco­nom­ic life­line just as it’s be­gin­ning to com­prom­ise.

At the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee hear­ing, Co­hen de­fen­ded the in­ter­im deal, in­sist­ing that the up to $7 bil­lion in sanc­tions re­lief will not ma­ter­i­ally im­prove the con­di­tion of the Ir­a­ni­an eco­nomy. “At the end of the six-month peri­od, we ex­pect that Ir­an will be even deep­er in the hole eco­nom­ic­ally than it is today,” he said. Ir­an’s eco­nom­ic woes — in­clud­ing the fact that oil ex­ports sig­ni­fic­antly de­creased, and its whole eco­nomy con­trac­ted by more than 5 per­cent un­der the crush of sanc­tions — “dwarf” the lim­ited re­lief offered to Ir­an in the deal, he said. And Co­hen stressed that sanc­tions would con­tin­ue to be en­forced: Just hours be­fore the hear­ing, Treas­ury des­ig­nated a slew of com­pan­ies and in­di­vidu­als as vi­ol­at­ors of in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions against Ir­an for provid­ing sup­port to its nuc­le­ar pro­gram.

What’s more, Sher­man prom­ised the sanc­tions re­lief would not come in a lump sum. Even the $4.2 bil­lion in re­stric­ted as­sets would come in monthly al­loc­a­tions to keep up with veri­fied Ir­a­ni­an pro­gress on its nuc­le­ar com­mit­ments.

And there are some signs that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s charm of­fens­ive to con­vince skep­tic­al mem­bers of Con­gress to hold off on new sanc­tions is work­ing.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­peared to win a key sup­port­er in Bank­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim John­son, D-S.D., who, des­pite hav­ing ne­go­ti­ated a sanc­tions bill with his rank­ing mem­ber, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is will­ing to hold off — for now. “I agree the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for a dip­lo­mat­ic pause is reas­on­able,” John­son said. Con­gress must be will­ing to provide the ad­min­is­tra­tion time, he said, since “a new round of U.S. sanc­tions now could rup­ture the unity of the in­ter­na­tion­al co­ali­tion against Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram.” His sanc­tions bill, however, could be “fi­nal­ized and moved quickly” if Ir­an fails to com­ply with the agree­ment or ne­go­ti­ations col­lapse.

Crapo, too, said the U.S. should vig­or­ously en­force the core of ex­ist­ing sanc­tions and “de­vel­op a plan of ac­tion in the event that ne­go­ti­ations do not pro­duce the res­ults that dip­lo­mats want.”

Sher­man and Co­hen were clear that they did not want the U.S. to be seen as re­spons­ible for des­troy­ing ne­go­ti­ations. But Ir­an’s own ac­tions — in­clud­ing its plans to launch a rock­et next week, which Men­en­dez called a cov­er for a mil­it­ary bal­list­ic-weapons pro­gram — are “pro­voc­at­ive” and “a sign of bad faith,” he said.

For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., de­cried how com­pan­ies would soon seek to do busi­ness with Ir­an, and the rogue state could be con­sidered part of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity for keep­ing its bar­gain with world powers.

“It’s an out­stand­ing agree­ment for them, be­cause in six months they’re go­ing to be a nor­mal in­ter­na­tion­al en­tity,” Cork­er said. “I don’t see any way you hold the sanc­tions, but, again, ob­vi­ously, we’re dis­ap­poin­ted but hope­ful that some­how you can put the genie back in the bottle and end up with some type of agree­ment that averts war­fare.”

But even Cork­er ad­mit­ted that with a full dock­et in the Sen­ate, and strong op­pos­i­tion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, mem­bers may not ac­tu­ally take the step to go through with threats to im­pose sanc­tions.

“I real­ize,” Cork­er said, “we’re sort of go­ing to a rope-a-dope here in the Sen­ate, and that we’re not ac­tu­ally go­ing to do any­thing.”

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