Rep. Jeff Flake's evolution on Iran since declaring a Senate bid continued on Tuesday after the Senate voted for tougher sanctions.
The Arizona Republican had been a staunch opponent of sanctions against Iran for years, repeatedly voting against sanctions on Ron Paul-like grounds that the United States should mind its own business. Several times he, like Paul, was among a dozen or two members of Congress to oppose such action.
Then in February of last year Flake declared his candidacy for a Senate seat; in May he signed onto an Iran sanctions bill, voting for it in December.
After the Senate passed the measure on Tuesday, Flake hailed it in a statement.
“Limiting the Iranian regime’s access to the capital it needs to produce nuclear weapons is a necessary action to be taken,” Flake said. “We need to send a strong signal to Iran in advance of the Baghdad negotiations tomorrow that their actions to develop nuclear weapons won’t be tolerated. Putting a choke hold on Iran’s financial resources could avert disaster for Israel and the rest of the Middle East.”
His statement cited a November 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that found Iran had been trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky said his new postions were principled, in an emailed statement:
Congressman Flake has long opposed unilateral economic sanctions, but has supported multilateral sanctions or sanctions targeting a regime. The bills that he has supported regarding Iran sanctions (H.R. 3508 and H.R 1905) are targeted to the Iranian regime, and Congressman Flake believes they are justified actions to deter the development of nuclear weapons by Iran.
Flake's Iran votes have emerged as an issue in the campaign recently as Democrats and his Republican primary opponent, businessman Wil Cardon, have pointed out that he once worked as a lobbyist representing Namibia and a uranium mine there partially owned by Iran.
The congressman has missed one chance to oppose Iranian interests since last spring.
Last October he voted for a 2,300-acre land swap in Arizona that would give the mining firm Rio Tinto access to copper there. Rio Tinto is the majority owner of the Namibian uranium mine in which Iran has a 15 percent stake. Flake voted against a Democratic measure that would have barred firms doing business with Iran from access to the U.S. copper.
UPDATE: 4:50 p.m.
Rozansky added later, "That was a Democrat Motion to Recommit and bore no relation to sanctions or Congressman Flake’s policy on sanctions."
And she insisted the two Iran bills backed by Flake were different: "H.R. 3508 imposed new sanctions targeting the Central Bank of Iran and are not similar to those in any bill Congressman Flake voted on beforehand. HR 1905 expanded already existing sanctions for the [Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps] and included new sanctions targeting the IRGC."