- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2016

President Obama allowed a bill extending sanctions against Iran for 10 years to become law without his signature early Thursday, backing away from earlier indications by the White House that he would sign the measure.

The White House said the law will not affect implementation of the international deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

“This administration has made clear that an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, while unnecessary, is entirely consistent with our commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “Consistent with this long-standing position, the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is becoming law without the president’s signature.”

In response to the U.S. sanctions move, Iran ordered its scientists on Tuesday to start developing systems for nuclear-powered marine vessels.

That action by Tehran is expected to stoke tensions with Washington, already heightened by President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to scrap the deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear fuel production activities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

The White House had said previously that Mr. Obama would likely sign the bill, but the midnight deadline came and went Thursday with no approval from the president. Mr. Obama’s move doesn’t prevent the sanctions renewal from going into effect, although it was apparently meant to signal his disapproval for lawmakers’ actions.

The White House has argued that the renewal isn’t needed because the administration retains other authorities to punish Iran, if it violates the terms of the deal. The administration has expressed concern that the renewal may undermine the nuclear deal.

“The administration has, and continues to use, all of the necessary authorities to waive the relevant sanctions” lifted as part of the nuclear deal, Mr. Earnest said.

Mr. Earnest said the president intended his action partly as a warning to Congress not to unravel the nuclear deal after he leaves office.

“This is part of a message we’re sending to Congress, and it’s simply this: If Congress does blow up the deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, they’re going to have to deal with the consequences, and the consequences are grave,” Mr. Earnest said.

Under the Constitution, the president has 10 days after Congress passes a bill to sign it, veto it or do nothing. If Congress has adjourned, failing to sign it is a “pocket veto” that prevents the bill from becoming law. But if Congress is still in session, the bill becomes law with no signature. Although lawmakers have returned home for the holidays, Congress technically is still in session and holding “pro-forma” sessions this week.

Iran had vowed to respond if the sanctions were renewed, arguing they violate the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s government has complained to the United Nations about the renewal, and on Tuesday, Iran’s president ordered up plans to build nuclear-powered ships and to formally accuse the U.S. of violating the terms of the deal.

Lawmakers argued that renewing the law, first passed in 1996 and renewed several times since, was critical to maintaining pressure on Iran to abide by the deal and to pushing back on Tehran’s other troubling behavior in the region. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by an overwhelming margin.

The Obama administration stressed that Iran would be unaffected by the renewal, as long as it continues honoring the nuclear deal. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he had told his Iranian counterpart that “to ensure maximum clarity,” he had issued new, redundant waivers exempting Iran from sanctions lifted under the deal.

“Extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not affect in any way the scope of the sanctions relief Iran is receiving under the deal or the ability of companies to do business in Iran consistent with the JCPOA,” Mr. Kerry said, using an acronym for the nuclear deal.

Mr. Trump has criticized the nuclear deal and has promised to try to renegotiate it, and Israel’s prime minister has said he plans to lobby Mr. Trump to undo the deal. Republican supporters of the sanctions had argued that renewing them would ensure that Mr. Trump would have the authority to reinstate penalties that Mr. Obama eased.

Under the nuclear deal, the U.S. and world powers suspended sweeping oil, trade and other financial sanctions that had devastated Iran’s economy. In exchange, Tehran agreed to roll back its nuclear program, though the deal’s critics say the agreement is flawed because it didn’t halt all Iranian activity and because key restrictions eventually expire.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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