After Iran Seizes Ship, Senate Republicans Must Act on Nuclear deal

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Yesterday, Iranian forces seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Tigris, while it was traversing the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian forces boarded the ship after firing warning shots across its bridge and diverted it to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Iranian officials have not explained why the ship was seized.

The Pentagon revealed yesterday that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy vessels surrounded a U.S.-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Kensington, last Friday as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. No shots were fired, the Iranian vessels broke off contact, and the cargo ship proceeded without further incident.

Both actions by Iranian forces violated international agreements allowing for innocent passage of ships through the Strait of Hormuz.

Despite these serious Iranian provocations, the Obama administration is pushing ahead with a nuclear agreement with Iran that will lift crippling trade sanctions.

These are the latest belligerent incidents by the Iranian government since the nuclear talks began in January 2014. Other incidents include:

  • Iran has precipitated a civil war in Yemen by arming the Shiite Houthi rebels.
  • Iran continues to hold four American citizens prisoner, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who was charged last week with espionage and other serious crimes.
  • Iranian leaders remain dedicated to the destruction of the United States and Israel. Last November, Supreme leader Khamenei released a nine-point plan to destroy the state of Israel. On March 21, the day after President Obama’s Persian New Year message to the Iranian people, Khamenei said “death to America.”
  • In February, Iranian naval units destroyed a mock U.S. aircraft carrier as part of a military exercise.
  • The Times of Israel reported this week that Iran is spending $35 billion a year to prop up Syrian President Assad.
  • Iran continues to support the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups. The Jerusalem Post reported this week that Hezbollah has constructed an airstrip in Lebanon for Iranian-made drones.

And now Iran is seizing and harassing ships on the high seas, including an U.S.-flagged ship.

If the Iranian government is behaving this way before it gets a nuclear deal and sanctions relief, how will it behave after it gets a deal that the Center for Security Policy and many other experts believe will be extremely weak and will do nothing to stop Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

It has been clear since Barack Obama became president that he is so desperate for a legacy nuclear agreement with Iran that his administration will give Iran anything it wants and overlook any Iranian bad behavior to get a nuclear deal.

The American people have had enough. They are counting on Congress to impose adult supervision on the Obama administration’s foolhardy nuclear diplomacy with Iran. This means Senate Republicans must pass amendments to toughen the Corker-Cardin bill, a piece of legislation recently approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that supposedly would give Congress a chance to reject a nuclear deal with Iran. This bill has been strongly criticized as turning the Constitution on its head since instead of requiring a nuclear agreement be submitted to the Senate for ratification as a treaty (which would require a 2/3 vote), this bill would require a vote of disapproval get veto-proof and filibuster-proof majorities. (To learn more, see this article by Andrew McCarthy.)

The best option to amend the Corker-Cardin bill would be to require the president submit it as a treaty. Unfortunately, 11 Republican senators voted with their Democratic counterparts yesterday to reject such an amendment submitted by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).

But the fight to toughen the Corker-Cardin bill is far from over. Almost two dozen amendments to the bill have been submitted by Republican senators, most of which require a nuclear agreement with Iran be linked to an improvement in its behavior. Given Iran’s recent actions against ships in the Strait of Hormuz, passage of such amendments is vital.

Democratic senators and some Republicans oppose any amendments to the Corker-Cardin bill because they want a “clean” bill and are worried that amendments will draw a presidential veto.

What these legislators and the president are really worried about is having to take a public stand against amendments mandating that a nuclear deal be linked to the release of U.S. citizens being held by Iran, Tehran’s support for terrorism, its meddling in Yemen, Iranian threats to destroy Israel, harassing and seizing ships, etc.

It is crucial to force votes on these amendments which will put members of Congress and the president on the record on how they are prepared to support a nuclear agreement with Iran that ignores its increasingly threatening behavior.

It probably is not possible to stop President Obama from concluding a foolhardy nuclear agreement with Iran. However, the amendments to the Corker-Cardin bill clarify how dangerous this deal is and will identify members of Congress who helped facilitate it.

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