Lawmakers hammered the Obama administration anew over the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, accusing the White House of continuing to ignore Iranian ballistic missile tests that many say violate not only the spirt of the deal but U.N. resolutions aimed at deterring such tests.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon faced skeptical questioning throughout a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, with even some Democrats suggesting the nuclear deal has opened the way for defiant Iranian posturing on other fronts.
The ballistic missile tests — the most recent of which came on March 9 — “demonstrate that the nuclear deal will not change Iran’s behavior, at least in the short run,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat.
Sen. Robert Menendez went further and seemed to align himself with Republican senators who proposed legislation last month to require the Obama administration to impose harsh new sanctions on every sector of Iran’s economy that supports the ballistic missile program.
“Sanctioning individuals … is like playing ‘whack-a-mole,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “If we wanted to pull no punches and make it very clear … we would sanction financial institutions that are helping to finance the ballistic missiles and other activities.”
“I think that the administration is not doing all that it can,” added Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.
Mr. Shannon defended the deal and said administration officials had no illusions about the regime in Tehran. He said the administration has been as “appalled” as everyone else by Iran’s actions since the nuclear deal was reached last summer.
“We are not going to caveat that and we are not going to soft-pedal that,” said Mr. Shannon, who noted that the White House has leveled new sanctions against 11 Iranian individuals and two companies since January — despite following through with billions of dollars’ worth of other sanctions relief for Tehran during the same period.
He insisted the nuclear deal is effectively preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and “this has made the United States, Israel, the Middle East and the world safer and more secure.”
“Iran has taken significant, irreversible steps that have fundamentally changed the trajectory of its nuclear program,” Mr. Shannon said. “Simply put, [the deal] is working.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made headlines with his own defiant posture on the missile tests last week. “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” the supreme leader’s official website reportedly quoted him as saying.
Missile tests were not the only contentious issue at Tuesday’s hearing. Sparks also flew over recent reports that the White House wants to provide Iran access to U.S. dollars as part of the sanctions relief granted to Tehran in exchange for its curtailing its nuclear program.
The Associated Press reported last week that the administration is considering easing financial restrictions that prohibit U.S. dollars from being used in transactions with Iran, greatly facilitating deals with other nations. That could prove significant for the sanctions-battered economy in Iran, where some leaders are claiming their nation hasn’t benefited to the extent they envisioned under the nuclear deal — and also blamed Washington for trying to deter U.S. companies from investing in Iran.
Mr. Shannon appeared to surprise some lawmakers when he said the AP report was false and there are no plans to allow Iran access to dollars.
“So the dollarizing issue is bogus?” asked Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.
“As of this moment, as far as I know, yes,” said Mr. Shannon.
But Mr. Corker said Secretary of State John F. Kerry had appeared to indicate otherwise on a television appearance earlier in the day.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.