President Obama’s executive agreement with Iran is enormously controversial for good reason. Negotiated in coordination with Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the deal welcomes Iran as a participant in the world community conditioned only on marginal changes to its nuclear program. It effectively allows Iran to maintain technology that would lead to a nuclear weapon, as well as continue its human-rights abuses, sponsoring of terrorism, imprisoning of American hostages, and threats to American allies, including Israel.
Fortunately, the U.S. states have the power to limit these threats, if they all choose to use it.
President Obama pursued this major international accord as an executive agreement, rather than as a treaty, in order to evade the Constitution’s requirement of two-thirds approval by the U.S. Senate for enactment. The consequence of the president’s decision to skirt the people’s representatives in Congress is that the people, through the states, may come to their own decisions regarding sanctions on Iran.
To date, 25 states have enacted such sanctions against Iran. This is pursuant to the explicit authorization for such sanctions contained in the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, in which Congress found “that the United States should support the decision of any State or local government that for moral, prudential, or reputational reasons divests from, or prohibits the investment of assets of the State or local government in” Iran. These sanctions were bipartisan accomplishments in states from New York to Florida to Texas to California, and they were passed as expressions of those states’ disapproval of a regime that holds American citizens in darkened cells and American allies under threat of annihilation.
Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed during July 28 congressional testimony that President Obama’s deal does not affect the states’ ability to impose sanctions on Iran, but said that the administration “will take steps to urge [the states] not to interfere,” because President Obama had, as part of the deal, agreed to “actively encourage” the states to drop their sanctions.
We urge states to do exactly the opposite. Rather than drop their sanctions against Iran, states should strengthen and expand those sanctions. Regardless of President Obama’s view of Iran, the states certainly have numerous moral and reputational reasons to prohibit the investment of public assets, such as pension funds, into companies doing business with countries that sponsor terrorism, and to prohibit state agencies from doing business with such companies.
First, Iran engages in some of the world’s most severe human-rights abuses, oppressing women and persecuting people of nearly all faiths, including Baha’is, Jews and Christians.
Second, Iran continues to be the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, providing weapons to terrorists, functioning as the central bank for terror, and sheltering members of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups.
Third, Iran continues to hold American hostages, including a journalist, Jason Rezaian; an ex-Marine, Amir Hekmati; and a Christian pastor from Idaho, Saeed Abedini, jailed for sharing his faith. A fourth American, Robert Levinson, held in Iran since 2007, holds the unfortunate record of being the longest-held hostage in U.S. history.
Finally, the controlling regime in Iran continues to call for “death to America” and remains dedicated to the total destruction of our ally Israel and the complete genocide of its people. Regardless of political affiliation, people from all states can agree that none of these stances should be tolerated, much less supported by funds flowing through and from the states.
There also are prudential reasons to avoid the investment of public funds into Iran and other countries that sponsor terrorism. For stewards of public funds, including pension funds and taxpayer dollars in general, the inherent risks of investment into a country like Iran counsel strongly against any state policy of investing public funds in such a manner as to assume those risks.
Because of these moral, reputational and prudential reasons, on Monday we are sending and endorsing a letter and a draft sanctions document to all 50 states, calling on the 25 states with existing sanctions to strictly and aggressively enforce those sanctions, and encouraging the 25 states that have not yet enacted sanctions to take every executive and legislative action available to immediately impose sanctions on Iran.
The Obama administration may call this “interference.” We call it the right thing to do.
Sen. Inhofe is a Republican from Oklahoma. Mr. Pruitt is Oklahoma’s attorney general.