Congressman Joe Kennedy

Representing the 4th District of Massachusetts

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Kennedy op/ed: U.S. must be ready to sanction Iran

Jan 25, 2016
In The News

The weekend before last was an historic moment in American diplomacy. International inspectors certified that Iran had shipped 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia, removed the core of the Arak reactor, and dismantled more than 13,000 centrifuges. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is no longer on the threshold of weaponization and it has fulfilled its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is undeniably good news.

Successful implementation of the plan does not, however, mark the end of the risks that Iran poses to the United States and to our allies. That’s because the agreement was, by design, limited to Iran’s nuclear program. Left untouched by the nuclear accord are the regime’s ongoing support for terrorist organizations, violations of human rights, and illegal development of a ballistic missile system. Across these three areas, Iran continues to violate international law and foment unrest in the most volatile region in the world.

In October, Iran launched a ballistic missile in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions separate from the nuclear agreement. In November, Iran launched another.

In December, the Iranian Navy fired rockets in the Strait of Hormuz within 1,500 yards of the USS Harry Truman and the brave men and women serving aboard it. And while the recent release of five Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran is good news, the last-minute attempts to detain prisoners’ family members prove the government of Iran still has a long way to go to earn our trust.

These actions signal that while the Iran nuclear deal is a diplomatic milestone, it is going to be implemented in an environment where Iran will continue to test the boundaries of how far it can push.  When Iran launched those ballistic missiles last year, flaunting the very technology that could be used to carry a nuclear weapon beyond its borders, its leaders knowingly violated international law. Yet they chose to move forward with the launches, testing not only their technology but also the world’s willingness to hold them accountable.

The international community met those tests with silence. Congress cannot afford to do the same.

Earlier this month, I introduced the bipartisan Zero Tolerance for Terror Act to ensure that Congress can hold Iran accountable for violations of international law. The bill would do two things. First, it would affirm that non-nuclear sanctions can be imposed at any time for non-nuclear offenses, making clear that nothing in the nuclear deal prevents the United States from applying future sanctions on Iran related to terrorism, human rights, and ballistic missile technology. These new sanctions, like the ones announced last week, would be outside the scope of the nuclear deal and would not give the government of Iran any cause to back away from its commitments under that agreement.

Second, the bill would allow Congress to quickly consider and impose new sanctions without procedural delay if the government of Iran commits acts of terror that threaten American interests, provides support for terrorist organizations that do the same, or acquires ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Introduced with two Democrats and two Republicans, the bill has received continued bipartisan support from members of Congress who both supported and opposed the nuclear deal. 

The ballistic missile sanctions announced by the White House a week ago Sunday demonstrate to Iran, and to our allies around the world, that compliance with international law is not optional. Iran’s leaders answered the new sanctions with defiant claims that it will continue to advance its missile development program, underscoring our need to remain vigilant in the years ahead.

Implementation of the nuclear deal gives Iran an historic opportunity to reap the benefits of sanctions relief and make sorely needed investments in the Iranian people and their potential. If Iranian leaders choose instead to cheat the nuclear deal, support terror, and flaunt an arsenal of ballistic missiles, my bill makes clear that Congress stands ready to respond.

Joseph Kennedy III is the congressman from the 4th District of Massachusetts.