By Joel Gehrke
Congressional Republicans and Democrats are proceeding with the most aggressive crackdown on Iran since former President Barack Obama’s first term.
House and Senate lawmakers unveiled separate sanctions legislation last week, just in time for the 2017 AIPAC policy conference, which began Sunday. The legislation, which has critical bipartisan support on both ends of the Capitol, imposes mandatory sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and tightens enforcement of an international ban on selling weapons to Iran. The packages diverge in one key area — the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization — that holds significant policy ramifications and the threat of political pain, as well.
Curiously, the often slow-moving Senate took the more aggressive approach, applying the terrorist label to the IRGC. “This legislation demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said when announcing the bill. “These steps will allow us to regain the initiative on Iran and push back forcefully against this threat to our security and that of our allies.”To designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization would be no small thing.
It’s the first time that such a label has been applied to a government entity, albeit one responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War. President Trump’s administration has declined to use existing law to do so, in part because national security officials worry that it would impede tacit coordination against the Islamic State in Iraq, if not lead Iranian-backed militias to attack U.S. forces.
The designation could also hurt Iran’s economy by deterring foreign investment in companies controlled by the IRGC. That’s why Iran hawks love the idea so much, but the Obama administration never pulled the trigger on the designation, and proponents of the Iran deal say it could shatter the nuclear pact. Any U.S. action to hurt Iran’s economy violates the nuclear deal, according to the National Iranian American Council, because the nuclear deal calls for Western powers to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”
So, Corker had good reason to brag about the bipartisanship. The legislation has seven Democratic co-sponsors, including five who voted for Obama’s Iran deal. That means it has 59 votes, one shy of a filibuster-proof majority, even before the debate begins. And yet, the House version of the bill doesn’t contain that language.
But the designation has Democratic support as well. “I, personally, would not be opposed to having terrorism in our bill as well,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the Washington Examiner. “What we want, however, and what was important and what we worked on to emphasize, is we believe strongly that this does not implicate the JCPOA, the nuclear deal.”
Corker doesn’t plan to let those worries stand in the way of his sanctions package, however. House members will have to vote on the IRGC language in order to pass legislation identical to the Senate so it can be sent to Trump’s desk.
“Sen. Corker will continue to work with the administration and his colleagues in both chambers of Congress to advance this important legislation,” a Foreign Relations Committee spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner. “Each element in the bill has received strong bipartisan, bicameral support, and we do not expect the IRGC provision to be a sticking point as we move forward.”
That’s where the gamesmanship on the House side may be coming into play. By deferring to skeptics, however temporarily, House Republicans created an opportunity to create a wedge issue to use against any Democrats who support the current House bill but oppose the IRGC proposal.
“Certain Republicans would welcome the chance to force Democrats to take what shouldn’t be, but might be, a tough vote, specifically one designating the IRGC, which has the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands,” a senior official at a pro-Israel organization closely involved in the Iran sanctions fight told the Washington Examiner. “Democrats know that. That’s yet another reason why Democrats would be willing to see IRGC sanctions added in one form or another to the broader legislation.”
Either way, Iran hawks are confident that it’s only a matter of time before the IRGC is labeled a foreign terrorist organization.
Source: Washington Examiner