President Trump can and should impose new sanctions on Iran that don’t imperil the Iran nuclear agreement, according to Senate Democrats.
“I really hope he does that,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I think it is the right path. I think that should be welcomed and even celebrated on a bipartisan basis here.”
Trump faces a legal deadline Friday to decide whether to renew the sanctions waived under the terms of the nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. National security hawks have made the case for scrapping the agreement in light of recent Iranian aggression in the Middle East. But Democratic proponents of the deal counter that Trump has neglected to put sufficient pressure on the regime outside the parameters of the nuclear deal.
“The reality is, the president has the authority to impose tougher sanctions on Iran for their ballistic missile program, for their human rights violations, and their support for terrorism in the region,” Coons said. “And he can use those authorities and take much tougher action than he has so far, without putting the JCPOA at risk.”
Congress voted in favor of new Iran sanctions in 2017, as part of a major sanctions package that also targeted Russia and North Korea. Trump’s team has yet to implement much of that law, as the administration has conducted internal debates about the U.S. posture towards the nuclear deal and American strategy in Syria, where Iran has emerged as a major force in supporting dictator Bashar Assad.
“There are more far-reaching authorities that the administration has and I can't wait to use them so that we can get to an Iran strategy,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Thursday morning during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the crisis in Syria.
A senior State Department official explained that the urgent need to defeat the Islamic State as a land-holding terrorist power delayed other foreign policy priorities.
“As long as ISIS remained a potent fighting force in Syria, the bandwidth, the space to deal with these broader strategic challenges, including Iran — and, of course, Assad and the regime — simply wasn’t there,” Ambassador David Satterfield of the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs said during the hearing. “But that bandwidth is being freed up now.”
That answer frustrated Democrats, particularly those concerned that Republican foreign policy hawks will convince Trump that he should renew the previously-waived nuclear sanctions.
“He’s got a really clear pathway to showing he’s tough enough: use the legal authorities the Senate already gave you,” Coons told reporters. “And if they want more, I suspect we’d give them more.”