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  • 17 September 2015
  • Posted By Alex Kneib
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Capitalize on the Iran Deal, Double Down on Diplomacy

At a recent House hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, the 30th since the accord was struck, Admiral William Fallon offered an important perspective that has been largely missing from much of the recent debate.

“The suspension of sanctions will increase economic activity and personal travel in the region, boosting interaction with the Iranian population, resulting in pressure to normalize state to state relationships,” said Fallon, who previously served as Commander of U.S. Central Command. “The potential for confidence building, and possibly even trust, between Iran and the international community as implementation proceeds, could initiate a more pragmatic political dynamic inside Iran to address the unrest and frustrations of the population, the majority under age 30.”

Admiral Fallon’s testimony stood apart not only due to its support of the deal—Congress has largely only invited opponents of the agreement to testify—but also because his optimism about the opportunities afforded by the JCPOA to engage Iran beyond the nuclear issue.

At a time when even some supporters of the agreement have couched their endorsement behind new calls for countering Iran militarily or with more sanctions, Fallon’s comments are a welcome movement towards doubling down on diplomacy. Although the JCPOA was a result of diplomacy that stemmed from necessity on both negotiating sides, it served and will hopefully continue to serve as a reminder to each side that cooperation is possible. As noted in one of Trita Parsi’s recent op-ed pieces, the conditions for strong cooperation are present. “Iranian society is overwhelmingly moderate, educated and forward-looking; despite the existence of a small but highly vocal element of religious radicals.” Furthermore, the coming reintegration of Iran into the global economy will increase the incentives for economic cooperation between Iran and the U.S. although for now the U.S. maintains a near total embargo.

To achieve and sustain cooperation, U.S. and Iran must seek a greater sense of mutual understanding, while setting reasonable aspirations for cooperation. For example, as noted by Professor Shireen T. Hunter, “the Middle East crisis cannot be resolved by a single country.” Upon further cooperation with Iran, the U.S. must understand that cooperation contributes to stability in the region but does not outright solve it. Moreover, to maintain cooperation, the U.S. must seek to understand Iran’s regional and geopolitical interests and concerns. As each country traded concessions in the JCPOA, they should mimic such action to pursue mutually beneficial solutions to the significant challenges that remain between the two countries, as well as within the broader region.

Unfortunately, most of the discussion of what comes after the nuclear has focused on how to contain and sanction Iran. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) even has legislation in the works to combat the success of the JCPOA.  The outline for his legislation, contained in a Washington Post op-ed, puts forth veiled threats and measures designed to kill the deal and return to a posture of containment towards Iran. In regards to veiled threats, he and others argue for further arming of Israel and putting a military option on the table. One of the many ineffective policies towards Iran during the George W. Bush administration was to keep all military options on the table and use military threats to garner leverage. Returning to this policy would put the U.S. back on a path of escalation towards conflict rather than a path towards diplomatic solutions. Rather than going back to the old policy tool kit, which hasn’t yielded U.S. foreign policy objectives, we should use what has worked: diplomatic engagement. In turn, building upon the JCPOA offers a route to address further bilateral issues such as Iran’s conventional weapons program, ballistic missile program, and terrorism support.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader has alluded to an openness for further engagement between Iran and the U.S. outside of the nuclear issue. “If the counterpart [the United States] stops its bad behavior, one could expand this experience to other issues,” he said of the diplomatic process, following the announcement of the framework nuclear agreement in April. However, the potential for further progress on this front seems to have deteriorated amidst the rhetorical back and forth that officials in Iran and the U.S. have engaged in as they have sought to sell the deal to their domestic audiences. Khamenei has since changed his public stance and announced that Iran will not hold further talks with the US outside of the nuclear issue. This is problematic if we want to see the deal as a gateway to a brighter future. Although implementation of the JCPOA will be a difficult process due to the complexity of the 159-page agreement and of the political environment, the sides should utilize the milestone of the JCPOA to capitalize on the positive momentum for Iran-US engagement and avoid a return to provocation.

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
  • 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
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

A Comedy of Errors

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

20150702_101649-1_Anne (2)

“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 Parsa Ghahramani
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Top Books to Read Before the July 7th Deadline for an Agreement with Iran

Top Books to Read Ahead of the July 7th Deadline for an Agreement with Iran

A day doesn’t go by that Iran is not mentioned in the news. But for the majority of Americans, U.S.-Iran relations remain a mystery. With the deadline on a nuclear deal fast approaching, I’ve compiled a list of books that I find most useful in explaining the major sticking points in relations, and point out opportunities in moving forward.


iran and  us

 Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the      Failed Past and the Road to Peace, by Seyed Hossein  Mousavian

There is no book that tells the troubled story of U.S.-Iran relations from the Iranian perspective better than this insightful  account by Seyyed Hossein Mousavian. An Iranian diplomat  with over 30 years of experience in U.S.-Iran relations,  Moussavian offers a thought-provoking account of missed  opportunities and mutual mistrust. His own experiences add a  rich and personal dimension, and Mousavian remains hopeful  that the two countries can bury the hatchet. Clearly outlining what each side stands to gain from an improvement of relations, Mousavian prescribes a way forward.


iran in world politics Iran in World Politics: The Question of the  Islamic  Republic, by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

If we are to understand the worldview of Iran’s leaders, the environment that informs their relationship with the west, and  their sense of Iran’s role in the world, Adib-Moghaddam’s book  is  a critically important one. This in-depth analysis warns the  reader against dangerous simplifications and caricatures of  Iran, and goes beyond the surface in explaining Iranian foreign policy. This book is central to any productive discussion of U.S.-Iran relations.



treacherous alliance Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of  Israel,  Iran, and the U.S., by Trita Parsi

The history of cooperation, alliances, and sabotage between  Iran,  Israel,  and the U.S. are exhaustively examined in this book by  Trita Parsi. In  order to understand  Washington’s antagonistic relationship  with Tehran,  it’s important to cut through to the important  Iran-Israeli rivalry for dominance in the region. Parsi argues  that antagonism between Iran and Israel is not ideological but a  practical one regarding dominance of the Middle East. This book is important in showing that cooperation between the two countries is not only eminently plausible, but to the benefit of both.


all the shahs men  All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots  of  Middle Eastern Terror, by Stephen Kinzer

The United States’ support for authoritarianism has landed it in  trouble across the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in  Iran. The U.S.-orchestrated coup that overthrew democratically  elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, and its  subsequent support for the Shah planted the seeds of mistrust between the two nations. The revolution that overthrew the Shah brought about a government that took as its rallying cry independence from foreign intervention. This episode haunts U.S.-Iran relations to this day, and contains the roots of current hostilities. America’s role in Iranian politics during the coup and its support for the Shah’s authoritarianism is critical in understanding the relationship between the two countries. Kinzer’s authoritative account illuminates this critical period of relations between the two countries.


manufactured crisis Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iranian  Nuclear Scare, by Gareth Porter

This book addresses the elephant in the room regarding U.S.-  Iran  relations: Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Porter  does an  important job in this book of examining the veracity of allegations that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon,  providing detailed documentation to the contrary. Anyone who advocates for war with Iran because of its nuclear program must read this book.


  • 1 July 2015
  • Posted By Behbod Negahban
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions

U.S. Companies Could Lose Out on Lucrative Business Opportunities in Iran, Report Finds

Iran stock exchange wsj

Photo via Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON, DC — In a recent piece for Politico, Chris Schroeder describes an exciting new generation of Iranian entrepreneurs who are ambitious, highly educated and already “see the world outside of Iran every day—often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups.” As the Iranian economy prepares to open up to the world as part of an anticipated nuclear agreement, US companies could profit tremendously from engaging with this staggering trove of human capital.

But in a report issued by the Center for a New American Security, former Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department, Elizabeth Rosenberg, suggests that U.S. companies may still miss out on these opportunities, even if nuclear-related sanctions are lifted with an agreement. They will remain bound by “a comprehensive trade and investment embargo, the architecture of which is not widely viewed as nuclear-related.”

Absent U.S. commercial competition, the report claims, European, Asian, and Middle-Eastern businesses, “less deterred by the prospect of violating sanctions,” will be poised to fill that void.

The report recommends that the Treasury department allow U.S. companies to bypass these non-nuclear restrictions, putting them “on an equal footing with global businesses” to compete for “lucrative business opportunities.”

It also notes that “creating opportunities for U.S. companies to engage in Iran” by easing these restrictions “would constitute a form of constructive, commercial diplomacy.” This, according to the report, would encourage “productive engagement between Iran and the United States on areas of continuing security concern.”

The report also emphasizes the need to keep “the incentives for Iran’s continued adherence in place” by intensifying the economic benefit Iran receives through compliance. Even without nuclear sanctions, the report explains, international businesses may avoid engagement with Iran to avoid unknowingly falling into the tangled nets of the U.S. sanctions regime. American and European officials should mitigate this confusion by offering “an unprecedented level of specific detail on the degree of continuing exposure to U.S. sanctions for non-U.S. banks and companies,” thereby minimizing confusion and maximizing clarity.

To address the “substantial new requirements associated with the removal of sanctions,” the report also recommends that the US Congress give both the State and Treasury Departments the resources they need to “create a robust group of officials” dedicated to “engaging the public and the private sector about the changes in Iran sanctions.” This work would also include enforcing remaining sanctions imposed on Iran and issuing license authorization for parties to trade with Iran when it fell within the U.S.’s foreign policy interest.

Preserving the deal is a matter of making the benefits of cooperation startlingly vivid, and the consequences of defiance even more so. With that in mind, the report concludes, “the lifting of sanctions may be the best insurance policy in nuclear diplomacy.”

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

New Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Iran Nuclear Deal


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
  • 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
  • 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.