The Obama Administration recently achieved a milestone in its negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; however, the deal is in conflict with proposed congressional legislation that would impose additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The January 12 agreement, reached by the United States and its five partners in the talks ― Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia ― spells out how Iran, in return for some relief from current sanctions, will scale back its uranium enrichment program, suspend progress on a plutonium plant, and open up key sites to daily inspectors. These terms go into effect on January 20, when the clock starts on a six-month interim agreement between Iran and the world powers that will freeze Iran’s nuclear program while negotiators work toward a more comprehensive accord.
In Congress, meanwhile, many lawmakers, believing that the agreement does not go far enough, are pushing for a vote on a measure that would impose additional U.S. sanctions. Fifty-nine senators now back the sanctions bill (S. 1881), which they argue would increase the pressure on Iran to fully dismantle its nuclear program.
S. 1881 would blacklist certain Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with a ban from the U.S. market if they help Iran export more oil. The provisions would go into effect if Tehran violates the six-month deal in any way. The bill also contains language pledging U.S. military support for Israel should the Jewish state take “military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
Senator Mark Kirk (IL-R), the chief Republican sponsor of the legislation, stated:
“Beginning January 20, the Administration will give the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism billions of dollars while allowing the mullahs to keep their illicit nuclear infrastructure in place. I am worried the Administration’s policies will either lead to Iranian nuclear weapons or Israeli air strikes.”
On the other side of the aisle, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein (CA-D) argued:
“Further sanctions now would only hurt negotiations and risk eroding international support for the sanctions that have brought us this far. … I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse.”
President Obama has threatened to veto the Iran sanctions bill, should it pass the House and Senate during the negotiating process, stating:
“Unprecedented sanctions and tough diplomacy helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and I’m grateful to our partners in Congress who share our goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully …”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV-D) has signaled that he does not intend to bring S. 1881 to the floor for a few weeks, at least, a decision that gives Iran an opportunity to make good on its commitment and the bill’s supporters time to try to shore up a veto-proof majority.
Whatever the outcome, the debate is essentially a tactical one over the best means to achieve a shared goal: preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, posing a threat to Israel, and further destabilizing the Middle East.
For background on the Iran sanctions controversy, see the December 2013 issue of International Debates, “Iran’s Nuclear Program.”