As Jason Ditz highlights in the news section today, congressional support for heaping additional sanctions on Iran, even as the interim deal plays out ahead of further negotiations on a final deal, is picking up in the Senate. Up to 58 senators have committed to voting yes on new sanctions, an action the Obama administration and Iranian negotiators have said would kill good faith negotiations.
But the Obama White House seems to be stepping up the rhetoric in opposition to the new sanctions bill. The Huffington Post: White House Dares Democratic Senators Pushing Iran Sanctions To Admit They Want War…
“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”
The “certain members” the White House is referring to are led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is pushing legislation, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that would tighten sanctions on the Iranian regime despite the ongoing negotiations.
Let’s remember that Iran and the P5+1 came to an historic deal in November which freezes or rolls back the entirety of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for meager sanctions relief and unfrozen assets. That deal lasts for 6-months while negotiators work to hammer out a more comprehensive and permanent agreement. This interim period is critical and new sanctions on Iran could destroy any chance for success, giving credibility to hardliners in Iran pushing to terminate talks.
“The threat of additional sanctions, at this critical juncture, could derail negotiations toward a peaceful solution,” writes Colin Kahl, associate professor in Georgetown University and former Obama administration official, in a recent piece for The National Interest.
In the piece, Kahl also mentions the underreported fact that this sanctions legislation “also defines congressionally acceptable parameters for a final deal that Iran experts almost universally believe are unachievable, namely the requirement that Iran completely dismantle its uranium enrichment program.”
Rouhani’s ability to forge elite consensus for the additional concessions required for a final nuclear deal hinges on his ability to deliver meaningful sanctions relief, not just avoid an increase in sanctions. Yet by imposing demands that Iran completely dismantle its enrichment program—which Khamenei, hardliners and the majority of the Iranian public view as unacceptable capitulation—prior to lifting U.S. sanctions, the proposed Senate legislation will make it extremely difficult for Rouhani to build a coalition in favor of further compromise.
The Obama White House, it pains me to say it, is exactly right on this one. Those members of Congress pushing for additional sanctions at this particularly sensitive time are rather transparently trying to sabotage the negotiations and set the U.S. back on the war path with Iran.