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Wicker: Accountability Is Crucial After Ill-Advised Lifting of Iran Sanctions

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An international deal with Iran over its nuclear program raised widespread concerns when it was reached last summer. Even Senate Democrats who supported the agreement noted it had “significant shortcomings” and could set “a dangerous precedent.”

I joined 57 of my colleagues in voicing the concerns of the American people when a vote of disapproval was brought to the Senate floor. A pact of this magnitude and consequence should have been handled like a treaty – requiring two-thirds approval by the Senate to become binding – not as an executive agreement that circumvented consultation with Congress.

Extensive Record of Bad Behavior

Now that the deal has been implemented and international sanctions have been lifted, all eyes are on Iran, which stands to gain upwards of $100 billion in frozen assets after years of economic isolation. The United States and regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel are carefully watching how Tehran will respond to this windfall, in addition to growing trade and investment.

The possibility that Iran could use its newfound capital for nefarious purposes is no stretch of the imagination. The militant state has a history of bad behavior, including support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and cruel dictatorships like that of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Officials from the Obama Administration have conceded that some of the money from the lifting of sanctions could end up funding terrorism and violence. Moreover, Iran is still considered a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department – a designation it has retained for more than three decades.

Disregard for International Commitments

Iran also continues to defy international obligations and makes no secret of its belligerent aims. In October and November, it violated a United Nations ban by testing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. In September, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that Israel would not exist in 25 years and that America was still the “Great Satan.” Earlier this month, Iranians held U.S. sailors at gunpoint after a mechanical issue allegedly led their boats into Iranian waters. One presumes that Iran will give little heed to new U.S. sanctions on ballistic missile testing. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already called these new sanctions “illegal.”

Need for Verifiable Change

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate the long-awaited homecoming and safe return of innocent Americans, who were released by Iran on January 16. And yet this brief token of cooperation does not erase Tehran’s litany of transgressions. These Americans were wrongfully arrested under a brutal regime and ultimately traded for the release of seven Iranian nationals with legitimate U.S. criminal charges or convictions. As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial noted, Iran should call the nuclear deal and prisoner exchange “Operation Clean Sweep.”

Iran should be held accountable for its promises, which the current nuclear agreement may not deliver. I support a new effort led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to prohibit sanctions relief until we can be absolutely certain that Iran has ended all military aspects of its nuclear program. There should be concrete, unequivocal evidence that Iran has changed its behavior before potentially assisting the Ayatollah in tightening his grip on power. Our continued commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran remains essential to America’s national security interests and the future stability of the entire Middle East.


Column courtesy of Senator Roger Wicker

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