Cardin Draft Iran Bill: Undermining White House, Diplomacy and Opportunity to Head off Iranian Nuclear Capacity

Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, is a serious and diligent legislator. After spending weeks studying the Iran nuclear agreement, he has come out in opposition to the deal. Yet at the same time, he announced his intention to introduce a bill under the guise of strengthening the deal but that could well undermine it.

It is a bit Shakespearean: “I have come to bury the Iran agreement, not to praise it.”

Senator Cardin’s preferred option is to defeat the agreement, thereby eliminating a host of carefully negotiated provisions that limits Iran’s ability to move towards a nuclear weapons capacity. It would also risk blowing up the international coalition that has imposed effective sanctions on Iran and that came together for these negotiations. Knowing he does not have the votes to kill the agreement, might Senator Cardin be hoping to achieve the same outcome by other means?

There are some useful provisions that if stripped out of Cardin’s “Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015” could produce a worthwhile measure. The draft bill endorses an additional $10.6 million to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to fulfill its verification responsibilities, promotes the creation of a special coordinator for implementation of the agreement and mandates increased Executive Branch reporting to Congress.

Some objectionable provisions of the draft Cardin bill:

Sense of Congress that any Iranian production of highly enriched uranium would violate the agreement. This provision, while only a sense of Congress, could be perceived as a unilateral measure that contravenes the terms of the agreement. Under the deal, Iran’s enrichment is restricted for 15 years. After that period, the U.S. and its allies should work to extend this limitation. But if Cardin gets his way, the agreement with Iran could be jeopardized and there would be no limitation on Iranian enrichment for the next 15 years. [Sec. 3, #4]

Requiring a presidential report on past military dimensions (PMD’s) of Iran’s nuclear program. The negotiated agreement provides the IAEA the responsibility for determining this information and then reporting the results to the negotiating partners. This Cardin provision requires “complete information” on the methods and results of any environmental sampling and information on the technical-expert meetings. The legislation could require the IAEA to violate its confidentiality agreements with member countries, a process that enables the international body to gain reliable information.   [Sec. 8, #1]

Iran’s ratification of the Additional Protocol, The agreement provides Iran with eight years to ratify the Additional Protocol, the IAEA agreement with countries to strengthen nuclear safeguards in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the meantime, the Additional Protocol must be implemented before current sanctions on Iran’s nuclear activities are waived. The sense of the Cardin bill would be to block permanent waiving of sanctions even if Iran is living up to the terms of the agreement before year eight. [Sec. 3, #7]

Imposition of new U.S. sanctions. The bill provides an expedited procedure for imposing new sanctions on Iran in response to Iranian terrorism, human rights violations and ballistic missile work. While the United States maintains this ability under the negotiated agreement, this procedure could easily be interpreted in Tehran as a threat to levy new sanctions on Iran replacing nuclear-related sanctions waived by this agreement. [Sec. 4, #2 & 3]

Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs). The bill authorizes the delivery of the huge bunker buster bombs clearly designed to enable Israel to attack Iranian nuclear sites. This provision is very provocative. It is saying that while the U.S. will not attack at this time because of the deal, it is willing to subcontract an attack to Israel. Moreover, the language authorizes “the means to deploy” these weapons, which presumably means strategic bombers such as the B-52 bomber or the B-2 bomber. Such a transfer would clearly violate the New START treaty commitments. [Sec. 10, #1 & 2]


Bottom line: the Cardin bill is a complex 35-page compendium of provisions that should be thoroughly vetted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rather than tossed on the Senate floor with little chance to study it. Passage of the bill could easily lead to charges of bad faith and jeopardize the painstakingly negotiated compromises. The U.S. Congress would be justified to react with outrage if the Iranian parliament tried to renegotiate through legislation.