Congress considers bills that would slap Iran for missile tests
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Congress considers bills that would slap Iran for missile tests

WASHINGTON (JTA) — At least two congressional initiatives would penalize Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests, signs of growing unease in both parties with the Obama administration’s perceived inaction.

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday approved, largely on partisan lines, a Republican-sponsored bill that would restrict the president’s ability to waive existing sanctions on Iran. Democrats separately introduced a bill that would introduce more narrowly cast sanctions.

Iran has in recent months tested ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead; such tests do not directly contravene the sanctions relief-for-nuclear restrictions deal achieved last summer between Iran and six major powers. However, they appear to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions cited in the deal.

Democrats rejected the GOP-led bill, saying it effectively would kill the Iran deal; President Barack Obama plans to abide by the deal, once Iran fulfills its commitments to roll back its nuclear capability, by exercising his waiver on existing sanctions.

“I believe it doesn’t serve any purpose to have bills like this that are designed to kill the deal,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., one of a minority of Democrats who opposed the deal and who is the senior Democrat on the committee.

Obama vetoed an earlier attempt to kill the deal, and Republicans were unable to muster the votes necessary to override his veto.

“Congress has spoken, and it’s done,” Engel said. “And I think that we have to work together on bipartisan legislation that will hold Iran’s feet to the fire on its nuclear program, and hold the regime accountable for its support of terrorism and other nefarious activities. And also to help our ally Israel with her legitimate security needs.”

Democrats, nonetheless, are frustrated with what they perceive as administration inaction in the wake of the missile tests. The Obama administration says it prefers to garner international support before advancing punitive measures through the U.N. Security Council.

Reps. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., who backed the deal, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who is Jewish and who opposed the deal, on Thursday introduced legislation that would allow Congress to re-impose sanctions quickly should Iran be shown to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions or to back terrorism. The Deutch-Kennedy bill has some GOP backing.

Separately, some of the top Jewish Democrats in Congress – Engel, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee — were among seven signatories to a letter this week to Obama urging him to reintroduce sanctions against Iran.

“We understand the administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay,” said the letter.

Also signing were Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y; Susan Davis, D-Calif.; Gerald Connolly, D-Va. and Albio Sires, D-N.J. Davis and Nadler also are Jewish.