A Guide to the Proposed Amdts to the New Iran Sanctions Bill

Below are the amendments that are pending for this morning's markup in the Senate Banking Committee of S. 269, “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015”, along with very brief analysis of what each would do.  Taken as a whole, the goal of these amendments appears to be to demonstrate that the base text – which is the subject of serious controversy – could be a lot worse.  Which of course is true, but does not change the fact that the base text itself remains problematic, and moving ahead with it at this time directly threatens the ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

- Amdt 1 (Shelby) seeks to require an additional assessment report relating to economic sanctions relief for Iran.  This requirement has already been added to the text (it appears that this amendment was drafted before the bill was finalized).

- Amdt 2 (Vitter) requires an additional assessment regarding nuclear proliferation. This assessment must start with a statement on the "consistency of the text of the agreement with the requirements of this Act" – a strange requirement, since the underlying bill does not lay out requirements for the text, other than in the non-binding Sense of Congress (i.e., these are not “requirements” of the Act).  The rest of the Act is about reporting/assessment/verification requirements and sanctions that will be imposed if those requirements aren't met.  It is not clear how Vitter expect an agreement with Iran to be “consistent” with those requirements. 

- Amdt 3 (Vitter) appears to be a green light for the use of force by Israel against Iran.  The underlying messages appears to be: fine, maybe we can't prevent the Obama Administration and P5+1 partners from negotiating with Iran, and maybe we can't prevent a deal, but we can give a green light for a foreign country to launch military action that would make negotiations and/or a deal moot.  And, for those who have short memories, please note that Congress already came down firmly on this issue – supporting Israel if it attacks Iran, in 2013, with the passage of S Res 65.  Making this amendment gratuitous and redundant.

- Amdt 4 (Vitter) is an effort to water down the Presidential waiver authority added to this bill in Sec. 208.  As the bill is currently written, all waived sanctions snap back on July 6 and new sanctions start to kick in on that day if the requirements of the bill are not met.  Sec. 208 allows the President to waive all of this for successive 30 day periods. Vitter wants to limit this waiver such that the President can prevent new sanctions from kicking in and can prevent all previously-waived sanctions from snapping back, but with this amendment (which is a "notwithstanding" provision), some of those waived sanctions would still snap back regardless, at a rate of 30% per month.  So if talks extended more than 90 days, they'd snap back completely.  In short, this is an effort to make sure that talks are not extended and if they are, that in advance their failure is guaranteed.

- Amdt 5 (Vitter) looks like a backdoor amendment to impose a new kind of sanctions on Iran, targeting international organizations (similar to what Congress already does with the Palestinians and UN agencies). In doing so, this would create another “cutting off our nose to spite our face” law –undermining international organizations whose operations are important (even vital) to U.S. interests and weakening U.S. leverage in those organizations, in order to “punish” those organizations dealing with Iran.  This approach vis-à-vis the Palestinians is already threatening the foundations of the UN system; adopting this approach vis-à-vis Iran would appear to involve an even graver threat, given that Iran is a sovereign nation and member of the UN and international agencies because they understand what a mess it would make.

- Amdt 6 (Toomey) is basically seeking to legislate a red lines for negotiations (complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program, zero enrichment, etc) that everyone agrees are a deal-killer.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

- Amdt 7 (Toomey) is basically seeking to give Congress formal veto authority over any agreement.

- Amdt 8 (Toomey) is a watered-down version of Amdt 7, making it more of a sense of Congress that Congress should get veto authority, rather than that it shall have veto authority. 

- Amdt 9 (Cotton) seeks to eliminate Sec 208, the 30-day waiver authority added (belatedly) to the bill by its authors. Basically this amendment is saying that if a deal is not signed, sealed, and delivered by the beginning of July it's all over - even if the sides just need a few more hours or days to avoid war.

- Amdt 10 (Cotton) seeks to drastically water down Sec. 208 so that at most the President could have 30 days after the JPOA expires to keep negotiating.  After that, he would have zero authority to waive the snap-back of previously-waived sanctions or the imposition of new sanctions, as laid out in this bill.  Basically this amendment is saying that if a deal is not signed, sealed, and delivered by the beginning of August it's all over - even if the sides just need a few more hours or days to avoid war.

- Amdt 11 (Cotton) seeks to impose all the new sanctions laid out in the bill, including the snap back of previously-waived sanctions, on the day this Act becomes law.  It thus removes even the pretense that these are "triggered" sanctions, in effect removing the "trigger."

- Amdt 12 (Cotton) seeks to change the bill from one that would impose escalating sanctions over a period of months (assuming sanctions are triggered under the bill) to a bill that would impose all the sanctions in one fell swoop once the trigger is tripped.  It thus eliminates even the pretense of imposing gradual pressure (in the event that talks fail) in order to convince Iran to play ball. 

- Amdt 13 (Cotton) appears to be laying the groundwork for compelling the Administration to continue to classify Iran as a country that supports international terrorism - a designation involves mandatory sanctions – until new conditions are met, including requiring certification that “there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned” – language that seems to be code for regime change.