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Senator Lankford Talks Iran Sanctions on Senate Floor

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WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today discussed Iran sanctions waiver authority in the Iran sanctions bill. Lankford made the case for requiring congressional review prior to waiving sanctions for the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism in Iran. While the bill included new sanctions on both Iran and Russia, only the Russia piece requires a congressional review to lift sanctions.

Lankford introduced today an amendment that would require congressional approval before the president can lift sanctions on Iran. 


We have a lot of issues that are moving right now, and a lot of things we’re discussing. Currently, we’re discussing sanctions, sanctions with Russia, which are entirely appropriate. I have no question in my mind that Russia has tried to interfere with our elections. I have no question in my mind that Russia has worked to interfere with the elections across Europe, especially Eastern Europe. There are individuals in Russia that mean to do our nation economic harm, political harm, and to cause turmoil. For whatever reason, they believe that they can strengthen their nation by just trying to cause chaos everywhere else. 

We as Americans believe we strengthen our nation by strengthening our nation and by helping others to succeed. For whatever reason, the Russians believe they strengthen their nation by trying to cause others to fall. It reminds me of bullies on playgrounds in middle school, but for whatever reason, they’ve not advanced to the level that they find great joy in helping others. They find their pleasure in trying to diminish others. There is an appropriate response that we can have back to that as a nation. That is the continued sanctions and to be able to press that. 

With the sanctions conversation we have about Russia, we also have an ongoing conversation about sanctions with Iran. It is one of the reasons that I want to be able to visit with this body today and to put this word out. For whatever reason and the way that the sanctions are being organized right now against Russia and Iran, there are two different platforms for how you unwind those sanctions. The way that this bill and this is currently authored, the sanctions against Russia cannot be unwound except by congressional actions. But not so against Iran. And I’m trying to figure out why. 

As this Congress came to this floor just about a year and a half ago with a bill called ‘the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act’ that passed 98-1 in this body, it was to take authority back to be able to say Congress should be able to vote on sanctions being lifted in case there is ever a time that any president wants to be able to lift sanctions. Now, obviously, in that debate, it was circling around the Iran nuclear negotiation at that time, and this body voted 98-1 that there should be accountability on any president, regardless of who it is, in the lifting of sanctions with the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world that is Iran. So we added in those sanctions. But for whatever reason in this particular vote, those aren’t there, and I have an issue with that. I would say to this body, can we learn our lesson that when Congress creates sanctions on nation-states and on individuals, we should also have the authority to determine whether they’re lifted or not lifted. Because of that, I’ve filed simple language to be able to take the bill that we have currently and to be able to add in simple language that says something very straightforward: The president can for national security reasons lift sanctions on the nation or on individuals for 120 days but cannot renew that until it comes back to Congress. And if it is truly for national security reasons, there won’t be any problem convincing this Congress, either body, that it’s essential to be able to do that. But if you can’t convince this body that it’s for national security reasons, you’re certainly not convincing the American people of that. It’s very simple, straightforward language that I believe we should have in all of our sanctions bills, whether it is North Korea, whether it is Iran, whether it is Russia, whatever it may be, to simply say that when the American people, through their elected representatives, say this group of individuals should be sanctioned, no individual can go pull that back unilaterally without it having to come back through the American people again to be able to turn it off. That’s how we’ve worked as a nation. I believe that’s how we should work in the days ahead. 

This is not a hostile amendment. This is an amendment saying we’ve learned our lesson as a body. We should actually apply this. This is not a partisan issue. Whether it is a Republican or Democrat president is irrelevant in this issue. If Congress creates sanctions, Congress should not release the authority to make decisions on and off. What we turned on, we should be able to turn off. That’s the way our system works. So I look forward to the open debate on this simple issue and I look forward to us, as a body, determining how we handle sanctions for any nation, for any group in the days ahead. With that, I yield back.