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Administration Seeks Support for Iran Deal in Contentious Hearing

Secretaries Kerry and Moniz testify. Photo courtesy of AP.

With only seven weeks left until the September 17th deadline for Congress to vote to approve or reject the Iran deal, it is increasingly looking like a deal will rest on the support of a handful of key Democrats. Last week, in a contentious hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that stretched into a fifth hour, senior Obama administration officials mounted a spirited defense of the Iran deal in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew all testified in their first public appearance before Congress since the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) set the tone for Republican attacks by accusing Sec. Kerry of being “fleeced” by the Iranians. He was later followed by his colleague Sen. James Risch (R-ID) who declared “you guys have been bamboozled.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican Presidential candidate, charged that the agreement was “fundamentally flawed” and left the hearing shortly thereafter. Other Republican members of the committee were equally, if not more combative, with the exception of Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

While Sen. Isakson was not as aggressive as his Republican colleagues, only inquiring as to why American nationals are not allowed to be part of the IAEA inspection teams, his previous statements have caused some to put him in the “No” camp.

Sen. Flake, on the other hand, is one of the lone Republicans in the Senate that is neither outright opposed nor leaning in opposition to the Iran deal. He reiterated his support for the negotiations and indicated he wasn’t looking to ask any “gotcha” questions. “I understand the problem of having 535 secretaries of state,” Flake said of the Congressional push to have a say on the Iran deal, but in order to have a lasting deal he added “it is best to have Congress involved.”

With Republicans largely united in opposition, the administration is forced to pin its hopes on convincing Congressional Democrats to block a possible vote of disapproval during the 60 day review period.

Outside of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a longtime opponent of the administration’s negotiations with Iran, the rest of the Democrats on the committee asked largely helpful questions about specific parts of the deal. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chastised her Republican colleagues for personal attacks on Sec. Kerry and the other witnesses, calling it “ridiculous and unfair and wrong” to say that they had been “bamboozled” or “fleeced.” The United Nations Security Council had earlier in the week unanimously passed a resolution approving the Iran Deal. Sen. Boxer alluded to this when she remarked “so my colleagues think you [Sec. Kerry] were fleeced and bamboozled, and that means everybody was fleeced and bamboozled, everybody, almost everybody in the world.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee and one of the key swing votes in the Senate, claimed “our negotiators got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front,” adding that many areas “have been strengthened since the April framework,” though he was noncommittal on how he would ultimately vote.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) did indicate that he was worried about what happens as the most intrusive elements of the agreement expire but he struck a supportive note when he said “this is a deal that produces a dramatically better position for 15 years than the status quo.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) was another supportive voice on the committee, adding that he trusted the expertise of the nuclear scientists at the national labs in New Mexico who helped craft the inspection and verification regime. On the question of ensuring timely access to suspicious non-nuclear sites under the deal, which has emerged as a key point of debate, Udall asked, “do you believe we have the technical capabilities to determine if enrichment is being done outside the JCPOA?” Sec. Moniz answered affirmatively, pointing to the example of an Iranian site in 2003 where traces of uranium were detected after six months, “despite major efforts to disguise it.”

In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will continue to defend the Iran deal during the Congressional review period while shoring up support among Democrats and any fence-sitting Republicans to stave off Congressional rejection. Sec. Kerry and Sec. Moniz will head to the House Foreign Relations Committee today in what is expected to be a similarly contentious hearing.

  • 9 July 2015
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

War is Only Alternative to Iran Deal, Warns Top Lawmaker

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Washington, DC – Congress must “come to grips” with the reality that failing to seal an Iran nuclear deal would mean war, according to the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As Secretary of State John Kerry announced that negotiations with Iran would continue past today’s deadline, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) put the prospect of diplomatic failure into stark context at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

“The alternative to a deal would surely mean some kind of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear plant,” said Engel, who has given the Obama administration room to negotiate but has also been skeptical of the negotiations and a strong supporter of Israel.

“We have to look at the choices that we have, and the way I see it right now, we have a choice to accept the deal that the administration negotiates, or we don’t,” Engel observed. “And if we don’t, then we need to look at the alternatives.”

His comments suggested that, despite some misgivings about the negotiations, some of the more hawkish Members of Congress acknowledge the imperative of reaching a deal as a matter of war and peace.

“It’s not just accepting the deal or nothing,” Engel said at the hearing. “There are things we’re going to have to come to grips with, and I believe one of them is bombing the nuclear reactor.”

Some in Congress have bristled at the notion that opposing a deal is the equivalent of pushing for war, but critics of the talks have largely avoided discussing what alternatives would look like if not military action. The public debate has thus regularly focused on areas of perceived weakness in the envisioned agreement, raising concerns that Congress may avoid debating the far greater costs of the alternatives.

“If we are able to sustain the sanctions regime and have a bombing of their plant that sets them back two years or three years, is that really a viable alternative?” Engel asked panelists at the hearing.

The willingness of the committee’s ranking Democrat to discuss the negotiations in such stark terms contrasted with the overall tone of the hearing which, like past hearings in the House and Senate on the Iran talks, featured witnesses that were almost exclusively opposed to a deal.

Three of the panelists served under the Bush Administration when the decision was made to invade Iraq and one–Stephen Rademaker–implored lawmakers to recognize that “any deal is a bad deal.”

Congress will now have 60 days to review a deal if an agreement is secured, and to decide whether to approve it or reject it. A rejection would almost certainly nullify the deal–freeing Iran from nuclear constraints under the agreement and likely unraveling international enforcement of the U.S.-led sanctions regime.

>> Take Action: Urge your lawmakers to support a deal and Vote For Peace

  • 2 July 2015
  • Posted By Ala Hasemi-Haeri
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

A Comedy of Errors

Senator Cotton Keeps Repeating the Same Erroneous Iran Arguments at Security Conference

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“With all due respect Senator,” said the Center for a New American Security’s (CNAS) Ilan Goldenberg addressing Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, “I don’t think the president’s objective is to give the Iranian regime nuclear weapons,” a retort which drew a huge applause from the capacity crowd present at the CNAS conference in downtown DC.

The conference titled A World in Turmoil: Charting America’s Course, evoked in the attendees a sense of the chaos around them by displaying pictures of war and blight everywhere from Ferguson to the Gaza Strip. However, amidst these images of havoc, a rational and pragmatic discussion about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a nuclear deal with Iran was taking place, ably moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

Well, relatively rational.

While most of the panelists were discussing the deal in terms of US strategic goals and interests and negotiating tactics, Sen. Cotton kept repeating his talking points from the past two years with little regard for the actual facts.

When David Ignatius asked him about the appropriateness of the letter the Arkansas Senator and forty six of his Republican colleagues sent the Iranians, Cotton repeated his condescending assertion that he wrote his now infamous letter because the Iranian leadership “doesn’t understand our constitutional system.” This despite the fact that the Rouhani administration has more cabinet members with doctorates from American universities than any other government in the world.

The Senator also insisted his letter was meant to bolster the administration’s bargaining position, despite his many past acknowledgments that his efforts are intended to kill a deal. Senator Cotton finally said that our goal should be regime change, and not negotiation, something Amb. Burns, a fellow Republican vehemently disagreed with.

Cotton also stated that 70% of Americans oppose the deal when in reality surveys show consistent support for the negotiations, often by a 60-70% margin or a 2:1 ratio. He then went on to repeat his maximalist demand that the only acceptable deal is one where Iran dismantles its nuclear industry completely, an unrealistic stance to say the least that even our closest allies don’t support.

Senator Cotton chastised the Obama administration for not supporting the 2009 Green Movement in Iran even though the leaders of that movement did not want any outside interference because it would have given the regime an excuse to crack down even harder.  Or that regardless of political affiliation, Iranians view having a civilian nuclear industry as their right.

He said we shouldn’t trust Iran because it is run by “crazy Ayatollahs” (a comment that drew a derisive chuckle from the audience). However, even the most hardline elements of the Iranian regime have proven again and again that they are willing to act rationally to preserve and enhance its position in the region, even cutting deals with its worst enemies.

Citing Iran’s destabilizing activities, he said “you don’t cooperate with the world’s leading sponsor of State terrorism, you don’t cooperate with the government with the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands. You confront it in at every effort it makes to challenge the West.” But Goldenberg pointed out that we were more than willing to negotiate with the “Soviet Union which was sponsoring proxy wars which killed thousands of Americans at the time, was trying to subvert many of our allies” because it was in our national interest.

Quoting Yitzhak Rabin, Amb. Nicholas Burns said that “you don’t negotiate with your best friends, you negotiate with your worst enemy.” Ilan Goldenberg added that even though the Iranian regime is a “nasty regime” and we shouldn’t “bank on this agreement on changing that,” we should pursue the American interest of “preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon” by negotiating the same way we did with the Soviet Union.

Instead of focusing on the merits of an emerging deal, like the more reasonable critics of the Iran negotiations, Sen. Cotton keeps regurgitating his tired talking points about regime change. If a deal fails because of intransigence by the likes of Sen. Cotton, it would be very hard to keep the sanctions regime intact and Iran will have a free hand to pursue whatever nuclear technology it wants.

Cotton’s repetitive, almost robotic delivery of these fallacious talking points makes it difficult to tell if he actually believes what he is saying or if he is just trying to score political points. Either way, the fact that he might be able to derail a deal with Iran, and drag the US into another needless conflict, is a prospect more frightening than any of the horrifying pictures of war and devastation that were on display outside the conference hall.

 

  • 1 July 2015
  • Posted By Behbod Negahban
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, Nuclear file

An Ideological Echo-Chamber in the House of Representatives

Photo via Miami Herald

Photo via Miami Herald

WASHINGTON, DC — The final round of the Iran nuclear negotiations is underway, and public opinion across the United States is emphatically favorable—with the latest polling, from NBC, showing that Americans support a deal by a 2 to 1 margin.

But sooner or later, it’s Congress that will have to decide whether to approve the agreement. The stakes are high, and what the Hill needs now is an edifying discussion to ensure that its members make an informed, prudential decision.

Yet that’s not the discussion they’ve been having, at least in the House. Over the past two months, the Committee on Foreign Affairs has held almost weekly hearings discussing Iran. Of the fifteen expert witnesses they’ve heard from, twelve have been ardent opponents of any negotiations— skewing debate decisively towards the hawks.

One witness, General Michael T. Flynn, actually plagiarized entire sections of his testimony from a report issued by the Washington Institute of Near-East Policy, a think-tank offshoot of the powerful anti-deal lobby AIPAC. Flynn actually argued that regime change, like we tried with Saddam, was the only way to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Another “expert” that has been featured was Maryam Rajavi—the “president-elect” of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, a “cult-like” Marxist organization that, until 2012, was actually considered a terrorist-group by the United States for its attacks against Iran; hardly an objective or reliable source for analysis.

And just like that, they’ve turned the hearings into tax-payer purchased stick to beat the agreement with— creating the appearance that supporters of an agreement are a radical minority, when in reality the opposite is true. No, this doesn’t mean that lawmakers should only hear from the deal’s supporters, but democratic discourse is only fruitful when it hears from both sides. By hearing only one side of the argument, the debate has taken place in a vacuum in which any potential flaw in a deal has been magnetized, the benefits have been disregarded, and the consequences of rejecting a deal have been completely ignored.

These are consequences that few lawmakers have bothered to raise in their questioning of witnesses, with one exception. Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) is one of the only committee members to defend the nuclear talks during the hearings—and also happens to be one of the only lawmakers from the Democratic minority who have decided to actually attend these events and confront the heavily slanted panels.

“What is the probability,” Connolly asked at one of the hearings, “that pulling the plug and imposing more sanctions will lead to Iranians concluding that it is not beneficial to negotiate with the West?”  Dissatisfied with the panel’s noncommittal response, Connolly suggested that doing so would blow up a deal, lift constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and push its rivals to respond with nuclear programs of their own. Connolly implored the panel, and his colleagues, “to examine whether your approach will lead precisely to the end result that you want to avoid, which is massive proliferation.”

Debating the deal on its actual merits, seriously addressing the viability of alternatives, digging into the most pressing issues— only when we hear more statements like Connolly’s will we have productive discussion on the Iran nuclear deal. Everything up to then will be exactly as it has been so far: nothing but sound and fury.

  • 23 June 2015
  • Posted By Maria Hardman
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress

Nuclear deal would alleviate, not exacerbate, Iranian threat

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

Last week, as lawmakers convened a hearing with top administration officials to discuss US strategy in the Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met in Tehran to discuss Iraq’s crumbling security. Rouhani pledged Iranian support for Iraq’s fight against ISIL, noting that Iraqi security is intertwined with that of Iran.

On the Hill, however, the message was one in which the US must simultaneously counter a dual threat from both ISIL and Iran. “Iranian malign influence in the region is the other major challenge in our strategy in the Middle East, besides ISIL,” according Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. The strategy outlined seemed to be one at cross purposes with itself: the US would counter ISIL while at the same time countering Iran–the one country that is, arguably, most committed to defeating ISIL.

Iran already has a palpable presence in Iraq. Not only can Tehran’s influence be felt in Baghdad’s political arena, but the US and others have known of Iran’s support for Shia militia in terms of ammunitions, training, aircraft, and leadership for quite some time. Though often seen as an insurmountable challenge, Iran’s presence in Iraq has been a detriment to ISIL, and many of their interests in the country overlap with our own. Though collaboration on issues important to both Iran and the US has been a non-starter, the imminent nuclear deal could pave the way towards cooperation on issues of mutual importance, and lead to the establishment of diplomatic channels to address areas of challenge.

The dominance of the Iran-backed Shia militia within the security apparatus of the Iraqi state has likely lead to a marginalization of the Sunni, in such a way that the US now feels that empowering Sunni tribesmen is the only way to win back Iraq’s security. “The reality is that some of our Sunni partners both within and outside of Iraq are more worried about the Shia and Iranian hegemony than they are about ISIL,” said General Dempsey. Secretary Carter and General Dempsey explained the advancements in current US plans to recruit Sunni tribesmen in Iraq at the new installation at Taqaddum in Anbar province, and stressed that fresh Sunni recruits would be “essential” and “vital” to the effort to ultimately eliminate ISIL. But Carter admitted that the US had fallen short in its recruitment efforts, having trained just 7,000 Sunni Iraqi tribesmen, as opposed to the 24,000 it had hoped for.

Regardless of whether this effort proves effective, merely attempting to prop up Sunni forces is not a sufficient strategy for long term stability. For that, Iran will need to be brought into discussions on a path forward. Dr. Paul Pillar, of Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic Studies, has outlined for Politico how engaging Iran on regional issues could lead to gains over ISIL territory in Iraq, increased security over sea trade in the Persian Gulf, and a decrease in the volatility of the region overall. Ambassadors Ryan Crocker, William Luers, and Thomas Pickering outlined in a piece last year for the Washington Post that a deal on the nuclear issue could open up “a new strategic relationship between the United States and Iran [that] may seem impossible and risky, yet it is also necessary and in the interests of both.” Continuing to ostracize Iran will limit strategic cooperation on regional issues that could be paramount to slowing the “deteriorating trend” in the region lamented by committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX).

While opponents of a nuclear deal in congress are many, a deal with Tehran would undoubtedly open diplomatic channels that could be leveraged to increase coordination on a host of geostrategic issues. Allowing a deal to go forward would improve diplomatic relations, open up avenues for further discussions on issues such as human rights, combating narcotics trafficking and extremism, as well as mediating Iran’s perceived destabilizing influence in the region. By including Iran in a solution to the region’s problems, the US can address any “long-term threat” posed by current Iranian posturing and work with Iran to counter ISIS, combat narcotics trafficking and organized crime, and secure a more stable Persian Gulf region. While some in Congress may be keen to focus only on opposing a nuclear deal, true strategic thinking suggests that a nuclear deal can be a gateway to actually beginning to resolve the challenges in the region.

  • 22 July 2014
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Strong Support for Iran Talk Extension

Extension

This weekend, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to extend the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement beyond July 20 to November 24, 2014. The new deadline, which falls on the one year anniversary of the P5+1 and Iran agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva, provides four more months for negotiators to bridge remaining gaps at the negotiating table.

Thus far, support for an extension has been strong among members of Congress, non-governmental organizations and editorial boards. Below, you can find a compilation of both positive and negative reactions to the extension.

Support for Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)“The P5+1 negotiations with Iran represent our best chance to peacefully ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and I very much hope they are successful. While significant progress has been made, it is clear more time is needed to reach a final agreement. I strongly support an extension of these talks because a diplomatic agreement is far better than any alternative.”

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)“It’s unclear what the alternative is right now. And I think there has been small but important progress made in the first round of negotiations…Clearly the request for an extension is going to provide room for those that want a new round of sanctions. That was a bad idea six months ago and it’s just as bad an idea today.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – “I think we should, on Iranian sanctions, let the dust settle. I think we should all feel good that an agreement was reached to move further. Now, I don’t know if there’s going to be a final agreement. I certainly hope so, but I don’t know…But before we start talking about additional sanctions, let’s just let the dust settle for a little while.”

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) – “The temporary agreement reached last year has yielded real benefits for the US and the broader world. The choice is whether we continue to build on this success or return to mutually destructive confrontation. Americans know that we must give diplomacy a full opportunity to succeed so we can direct our limited resources towards urgently-needed rebuilding here at home.”

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) – “With continued careful monitoring and more tough negotiating, this extension offers an opportunity to advance our security objectives by finalizing a solid alternative to war. Congress must not impede the progress.”

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) – “We are on the edge of a significant moment in the history of diplomacy. If negotiators need more time to reach a comprehensive agreement, we should support them, not make it harder for them to do their jobs by passing more sanctions. It is in America’s best interest to continue on the path of diplomacy.”

Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) – “I believe that the Joint Plan of Action up until now has worked. Iran is adhering to its commitments. And the sanctions architecture continues to pressure the regime. And that’s why I’m prepared to support an extension if the negotiators need more time because the 20th is just this weekend.”

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) – “It means peaceful and normalized relations are well within the scope of possibility. I am encouraged to see all parties involved continue the momentum towards that goal, and encourage them to take the time, space, and steps needed to succeed where others have failed.”

Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) -“Today’s agreement to keep negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will permit the Administration to continue its two-track approach to dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and ensuring robust and aggressive verification of any agreement.”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) “This extension will continue to restrict Iran’s nuclear capability while creating the diplomatic space and time for a long-term deal that supports U.S. national security interests and a more peaceful and secure world.”

Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) – “It is critical that Congress take no action that undermines the Administration’s diplomatic efforts during this extension which was provided for under the Joint Plan of Action.”

Support for Extension: Organizations

National Iranian American Council (NIAC) – “It is clear that major progress has been made, creative solutions exist and a final agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran and averts war is within reach.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC) – “A limited extension of the negotiations makes sense. The preferred option to relieve the Middle East and the world of the threat of Iranian nuclear capability is a diplomatic one.”

American Security Project – [Former Senator Gary Hart, Lieutenant General Norman Seip, USAF (Retired), Brigadier General John Adams, USA (Retired), Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Retired)] – “The P5+1 negotiations with Iran have made significant progress…We should make every effort to make sure it is successful for the sake of our national security and the security of our friends in the Middle East.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – “We support the U.S. effort, along with the other nations of the P5+1, to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A negotiated agreement is the best solution for all parties and is worth the significant effort the U.S. and its partners are investing. Progress has been made…”

Arms Control Association – “It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.”

Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation – “You don’t leave the game during overtime. We may not yet have this issue resolved, but negotiators are working hard to ensure that we will. And as it stands we’re far better off than we were six months ago.”

CREDO – “Extending negotiations with Iran is the right thing to do. CREDO applauds President Obama for standing up to the reckless saber-rattlers in both parties and continuing to pursue the path of diplomacy.”

The Iran Project -“We are encouraged by the sense of optimism implicit in the agreement to continue these talks. Success would represent a victory of America’s 35-year bipartisan policy toward Iran, be a triumph of America’s commitment to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and eliminate one of most serious potential threats to the security of our friends in the region.”

J Street – “It’s far better to give our negotiators the time they need to secure a good deal than to let the interim agreement expire and allow Iran to unfreeze its nuclear program.”

MoveOn.org – “President Obama made the right call: continue diplomacy to secure a final deal with Iran and keep America off the path to war. Diplomacy must be given every opportunity to work, so while negotiations continue, Congress needs to avoid any new sanctions or other measures that would undermine President Obama’s diplomacy.”

National Security Network – “This will allow negotiators to continue to build on the progress that has been made toward a comprehensive agreement that could ensure Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful. The extension is a good deal, and those who have voiced opposition to it fail to understand the issues at hand.”

Ploughshares Fund – “Diplomatic efforts have made more progress on Iran’s nuclear program in the last six months than we have in the past 35 years. The finish line is within our sights. It’s time to let diplomacy work.”

Truman National Security Project – “Today’s announcement is a win for American security. Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen for six months and today’s extension keeps us on the path to a deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and prevents another war in the Middle East. The only good outcome will be won at the negotiating table.”

Win Without War – “Negotiations between the international community and Iran have already made more progress in six months than a decade of sanctions and the threat of military action. We are pleased to see that negotiators are going to stay at the table and finish the job of peacefully solving one of America’s most pressing national security threats.”

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “After decades of hostility between Iran and the West, the first step agreement and nuclear negotiations have been welcome developments. While the initial six-month deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement was a laudable goal, it was also an arbitrary time frame. All parties to these talks understand the implications of getting them wrong – without diplomacy, a path to war becomes much more likely.”

Support for Extension: Editorial Boards

The Baltimore Sun – “It is essential that they [extend current talks] and that hard-line voices on both sides continue to give negotiators the space they need to find a mutually acceptable deal that offers long-term assurances that Iran will not and cannot develop nuclear weapons…The risks of continued negotiations are minimal, but the potential benefits — both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and opening the door for cooperation on other issues — are tremendous.”

Bloomberg – “So, are the negotiations worth extending? That’s an easy call. Even though the two sides remain far apart, its valuable to keep the talks going for a few more months to keep working toward a deal.”

Los Angeles Times – “An extension of the arrangement past Sunday is amply justified both by the progress that has been made in the negotiations and by Iran’s adherence to the terms of the interim deal.”

New York Times – “The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps…There are risks in any deal. But there are many more if there is no deal, Iran’s nuclear program resumes unchecked and an opportunity to work with Iran on other regional challenges slips away.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – “It was not an ideal outcome that the two sides had been unable during the five months they had been talking to reach an agreement. On the other hand, throwing in the towel on efforts to reach accord would have been a very bad outcome and extending talks by four months, to seek to mend a rift that has existed for 35 years, was certainly not a bad thing to do.”

USA Today – “Diplomats working for a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear program say they need a little more time. We should give it to them. Talking longer to close the remaining gaps and secure a lasting deal is certainly better than letting the talks collapse.”

The Washington Post – “In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond.”

Neutral on Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) – “Every diplomatic effort should be pursued vigorously to reach an acceptable conclusion and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) – “If the nuclear talks are to be extended, I would have a difficult time accepting this as progress because Iran continues to unjustly imprison my constituent, Amir Hekmati.”

Opposed to Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – “The Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapon, not peaceful nuclear power. The last thing the world needs is an agreement with Iran that allows them to maintain their nuclear breakout capability. This agreement should be sent to the Congress for review and Congress should have the ability to vote it down.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)  – “We should immediately reinstate the full sanctions — and consider additional sanctions — and I have supported legislation to do just that.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) – “We can’t let Iran buy more time to make a nuclear bomb…It’s time for expanded non-military pressure to back up our diplomatic outreach to Iran. It’s time to support the Menendez-Kirk bill for more non-military pressure on Iran.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – “We need to increase pressure on Iran on all fronts. This means increasing, not halting, sanctions, including those related to terrorism and human-rights abuses.”

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA)– “I don’t see an extension of funding to Iran as progress.  It looks like the Iranians won extra time with a good cop-bad cop routine, backing off the Supreme Leader’s absurd claim for 190,000 centrifuges. This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side.”

Opposed to Extension: Organizations

American Israel Public Affairs Committee – “We are concerned that rather than coming into compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran will try to use the recently announced extension of talks to break the international coalition and advance its nuclear weapons program.”

The Foreign Policy Initiative – “As the July 20 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is delayed four months, the United States should expand non-military pressure on Iran to boost the chances of a breakthrough…With Iran unwilling to make significant nuclear concessions, the Obama administration has decided to put more time on the clock for a deal. But if that’s all it does, it’s almost certain to fail.”

United Against A Nuclear Iran – “The course of the negotiations has revealed a clear gap on the most important issue – the number and type of centrifuges.”

Opposed to Extension: Editorial Boards

Chicago Tribune – “Iran’s nuclear negotiators, skilled at stalling for time, seem only too happy to talk and talk…while their nuclear program gains momentum and their march to the bomb acquires an aura of inevitability. The U.S. and its partners should make it clear: This extension won’t be open-ended, and it will come with a price: tougher economic sanctions.”

The Post and Courier – “So now the tough question for the Obama administration is how much longer Iran can be allowed to benefit from relaxed economic sanctions while playing the West for time. Because as long as Iran’s stall game keeps working, it can keep advancing toward its longtime goal of a nuclear arsenal.”

The Wall Street Journal – “Negotiating with Tehran is often compared to haggling in a Mideast bazaar, and after Friday’s decision to extend talks over the country’s nuclear program we’re reminded why…the administration was right in January when it said that six months was more than enough time to test Iran’s sincerity. The main point of the extension seems to be to give the U.S. and Europe more time to dress up the concessions that Iran is demanding to continue its program while claiming it isn’t.”

  • 16 July 2014
  • Posted By Nishaat Shaik
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

New Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Iran Nuclear Deal

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A wide majority of Americans favor a nuclear deal with Iran that limits Iran’s nuclear enrichment in return for phased sanctions relief, according to a new poll conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International & Security Studies at the University of Maryland.

Following extensive briefing on the arguments for and against a nuclear deal with Iran, 61% of those polled – including 62% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats – signaled “support [for] a U.S. decision to reach a long-term [nuclear] deal” with Iran.” Such a deal would include limits to Iran’s uranium enrichment; an intrusive inspections regime of Iran’s nuclear program; and the gradual easement of U.S. sanctions on Iran. The United States and Iran are in the midst of marathon talks to reach such a nuclear deal right now.

Far fewer Americans – 35% — favored the imposition of “additional sanctions” at this time and an end to negotiations that would permit limited enrichment in Iran. This position is endorsed by hawks in Congress, who have long favored to cut off the present negotiations and impose new sanctions on Iran. The White House has so far been successful in blocking the push for new sanctions.

Beyond the nuclear issue, the poll also highlighted how Americans favor greater outreach and increased ties to Iran. Asked whether they would support the “U.S. government engag[ing] in direct talks with Iran on issues of mutual concern,” 82% of those polled favored such engagement. Moreover, 61% of Americans favored increased cooperation with Iran in Iraq, especially to fight back against the gains of the Islamic extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams.

According to the poll, Americans also support increased trade and cultural ties with Iran. Despite a two-decade-old trade embargo with Iran, 55% of Americans favored “greater trade” between the two countries, and 71% of Americans supported “greater cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges” with Iran. Increasing trade and expanding cultural and educational ties have long been contemplated as a means to bridge the divide that has separated the US and Iran these past three-plus decades.

The poll comes at a timely moment in US-Iran relations. As the July 20 deadline for P5+1 and Iran talks rapidly approaches, the White House will need to sell any prospect nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress. Based on this polling data, that sell might be a lot easier than imagined.

  • 25 April 2014
  • Posted By Tyler Cullis
  • 1 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Don’t Let Congress’ Inaction Kill a Peaceful Iran Deal

Obama-CongressTo get a final deal with Iran, Washington is going to have to be ready to trade in nuclear-related sanctions in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions. But unless Congress gives the President the authority to lift sanctions, the President will be limited to extending temporary waivers for the sanctions for successive four-to-six month periods ad infinitum.

To see why this is a problem, just read this piece in the New York Times this morning showing just what happens in negotiations when the President does not have the appropriate authority from Congress. The Times discusses President Obama’s failed attempt to procure a trade deal with Japan on his recent trip there because he does not have necessary authorities from Congress to conclude an agreement:

“…analysts faulted Mr. Obama, saying his decision not to fight for the legislative authority at home to pass major trade deals had robbed him of leverage with the Japanese, who are reluctant to make concessions for a deal that may not survive Congress.

“‘Their strategy was to get the Japanese to do the deal, then go to Congress and say, ‘Look what a great deal we got, now give us the authority,’’ said Michael J. Green, an Asia adviser to President George W. Bush. ‘He made a decision to go into this with one hand tied behind his back.’”

In other words, President Obama entered trade negotiations with Japan hobbled by a Congress reluctant to delegate to him the requisite trade authorities. And instead of pushing Congress to grant him such powers, the President figured to reverse the order and first get a good deal with Japan and then leverage that deal to get a similar one with Congress.

Regardless of the merits of a trade deal, this is a priority for Obama. And the problem is this: Without authority from Congress, the President lacked leverage to get an agreement with Japan to deliver on this priority. As soon as Japan’s negotiators understood the limits of the President’s ability to make good on promises he offered during negotiations, they chose not to show their hand in trade talks absent a more concrete indication that America would follow-thru on its promises. Thus, no deal.

Here, the parallel to another major priority for Obama–getting a strong nuclear deal with Iran– should be obvious. Just as the President entered talks with Japan hamstrung, so he has entered negotiations with Iran lacking the authorities to provide Iran the kind of sanctions relief that they will expect should a final deal be reached. Unless there is confidence that the President will get the necessary authorities from Congress to implement sanctions relief as promised, the US side has far less leverage to put sanctions on the table to get strong concessions from Iran.

This is not the position in which the United States should find itself, especially on the eve of a potential historic diplomatic win over Iran’s nuclear program.

While it is likely infeasible for the President to get Congress to provide him the requisite authorities to lift sanctions before an Iran deal is struck, there must to be a viable plan in place to get Congress to do so once a deal is agreed. That plan must also be signalled at the negotiating table, so as to inject confidence between the negotiating parties and to bolster the US hand in the talks.

Instead of playing the perpetual “bad cop” and threatening to scuttle any final deal, Congress could improve the position of US negotiators dramatically if it signals its preparedness to give the President the power to relieve sanctions in order to implement a strong nuclear agreement. And the President can strengthen his negotiators’ hands by ensuring that the groundwork to get a deal is laid now, rather than waiting until we get a deal with Iran only to see it blocked by Congress.

  • 27 February 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Partisanship at Its Worst

Less than a month ago, Senator Menendez [D-NJ] conceded in a floor speech that his new Iran sanctions bill, S. 1881, should not be brought to the floor after 42 Republican Senators demanded a vote. “I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on this national security matter before its appropriate time,” said Menendez at the time.

This is a good thing considering that we now know that one of the key claims of AIPAC and other supporters was not true. They said that the bill would  require sanctions be imposed, in violation of the preliminary nuclear deal with Iran, only if Iran first violated the deal. But in reality, the bill would have imposed sanctions for a variety of actions beyond what was required in that deal. And Republican staffer  recently admitted as much, telling Wall Street Journal, “Had our bill been in law, the latest [Iranian ballistic missile] tests would have triggered a re-imposition of sanctions.” So Republicans are beginning to acknowledge that the mantra of “the sanctions will be imposed only if the talks fail” was thoroughly misleading.

One would think that the discussion was finally put to rest, that sanctions were not the answer, and that we could now focus our attention to achieving a pragmatic, realistic, and concrete deal with Iran.

However, just this past Monday, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) blocked a bid to vote on bills to combat sexual assault in the military, demanding a vote on S. 1881 in return for allowing the Senate to debate an issue which affects about 26,000 men and women in the military per year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated it most diplomatically when he said, “I’m terribly disappointed that my Republican friends are trying to turn this vital national security concern into a partisan issue by trying to inject [it] into a setting where it’s clearly not relevant.”

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.