On Tuesday, Undersecretaries William Burns and Stuart Levey testified at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled “Iran Policy in the Aftermath of UN Sanctions.” The hearing focused on the recently passed Resolution 1929, which is intended to address “the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program” and “send an unambiguous signal to Iran that the international community holds it accountable for its actions.”
Overall, Iran sanctions appear to be a nonpartisan issue, where both sides have taken on the view that the harsher the sanctions are, the better, given the nature and seriousness of the Iranian threat.
Chairman Kerry opened the hearing by noting that “a nuclear armed Iran would pose an intolerable threat to our ally Israel, risk igniting an arms race in what is already the world’s most dangerous region, and undermine our global effort to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.”
The two witnesses strongly supported the utility of the sanctions. However, while Burns asserted that they will leave Iran increasingly isolated, weak, and defenseless, he cautioned that “sanctions and pressure are not an end in themselves. They are a complement, not a substitute, for the diplomatic solution to which we and our partners are still committed.”
Levey spoke specifically about the “pressure track” strategy, which is intended to “hold Iran accountable for its continued refusal to address the international community’s concerns regarding its nuclear program, as well as its support for terrorism, suppression of domestic dissent, and abuse of the financial system.” This strategy consists of two parts: government action, which encompasses activity by the United Nations and concerned states of the international community, and private sector action, including steps taken by international private sector firms to protect themselves from Iran’s illicit and deceptive activity. Together, the administration hopes these two tracks will create a dynamic that is mutually reinforcing and powerful. Levey said that this strategy presents Iran with a clear choice between two paths: continued isolation or reintegration into the international community as an upstanding member.
The other Senators on SFRC by and large called for harsher action. Senator Menendez (D-NK) claimed the U.S. has a tendency to “roar like a lion and bite like a puppy,” while Senator Risch (R-ID) asserted that U.S. policy thus far has yielded no clear results, and that a “real wreck” is en route if the U.S. doesn’t take harsher action. Senator Boxer expressed support for the sanctions but said more precise action is needed, including prohibiting U.S. firms for using foreign subsidiaries or setting up shell companies abroad, which can indirectly support Iran.
Senator Kerry stood out as one of the few Senators who believes that “our ability to secure a new resolution at the United Nations and persuade allies to go still further in pressuring Iran is evidence that engagement has paid off.” Kerry asserted that a two-pronged approach of combining pressure and diplomacy will allow this round of sanctions to succeed.
Overall, SFRC emphasized the U.S. failure to contain the Iranian nuclear program thus far and the need to push for harsher action this time around. It is troubling that officials continue to assert that sanctions have to date yielded no real benefit, and then conclude that further sanctions are the solution, some going so far as to add that efforts at engagement should no longer be pursued.
Pursuing the path of further sanctions, today the Senate passed new Iran sanctions legislation 99-0.