- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2016

Sen. Christopher A. Coons added his voice Monday to a chorus of other Democrats who have called on the Obama administration to quit waffling and punish Iran for testing a pair of ballistic missiles this fall, flouting international sanctions even as Tehran began to implement the nuclear deal it struck with the U.S. and other leading nations.

Mr. Coons, who represents Delaware and serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the agreement clearly allows for U.S. sanctions to continue if Tehran continues its bad behavior, even as other countries rush to re-establish ties with Iran.

“It has continued. We should take action,” Mr. Coons said in a conference call with reporters after a trip to the Middle East to take the temperature of other regional powers.

Congressional Republicans and a growing number of Democrats have implored the administration to designate sanctions, arguing that the Islamic republic will be tempted to renege on the nuclear deal if it thinks it can get away with weapons testing or other acts of malfeasance.

The White House has condemned the missile tests and prepared the sanctions but hasn’t set a firm timeline for moving forward. It said any punishment should not affect the nuclear deal.

“I don’t know why the administration has hesitated, but I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with those designations,” Mr. Coons said.

He said U.S. partners in the region are nervous about Iran’s growing influence in the volatile Middle East, both in terms of compliance with the nuclear pact and its sponsorship of militant groups such as the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah out of Lebanon.

“I think we have to use our influence in the region,” he said. “We have to continue to hold Iran’s feet to the fire.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland is another top Democrat losing patience with the White House. He said this month that he was disappointed with administration’s delay.

Democrats with large Jewish constituencies were fretting over the implications for Israel, which sharply criticized the nuclear deal, and Mr. Obama’s aides said they heard the complaints.

“We will issue those sanctioning and those designations at the appropriate time. There’s no question about it,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told “Fox News Sunday.”

While conducting the ballistic missile tests, Iran has been steadily checking off its to-do list to comply with the nuclear agreement and obtain an easing of international sanctions, including shipping out its nuclear fuel stockpiles and removing centrifuges.

Iran’s Fars news agency reported Monday that officials also had removed the core of its Arak plutonium reactor. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini predicted that it was “just a matter of time” before European and Asian countries began repealing their sanctions against Tehran.

The Iran pact, negotiated by the U.S. and five international partners, has been controversial from the start. Republicans issued vocal opposition, and some Democrats broke with the White House over the pact. The House voted to reject the deal in the fall, but Senate Democrats filibustered similar attempts across the Capitol, allowing Mr. Obama to implement the agreement.

Mr. Coons said Monday that he backed the deal with a healthy skepticism, calling it the “least bad option” to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“My support for the deal was married to a public commitment to insist on aggressive, thorough oversight and enforcement, and I’m keeping that commitment,” he said.

Republican leaders said the House will vote this week on legislation that limits Mr. Obama’s ability to lift sanctions against Iran as long as it “continues to engage in illicit activities.”

They said they cannot wait for the White House to act.

Mr. Coons said the bill doesn’t sound objectionable on the surface, but he would have to read the text before he could gauge Democratic support for it in the Senate.

The administration vowed Monday not to release any of the funds frozen in international bank accounts until Iran proves it is living up to its end of the bargain.

“We’re not going to provide relief from sanctions to the Iranians until they have taken the steps that are described in the agreement to dismantle large portions of their nuclear program,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“In addition, we’re not just going to take their word for it,” he said. “We actually will have international inspectors who can verify that Iran has followed through in carrying out the actions that they’ve committed to carry out.”

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