With exquisitely bad timing, a group of House members is urging the Senate to approve new sanctions against Iran in the middle of negotiations on a deal in which the Islamic Republic would suspend its nuclear program.
On Thursday, 63 members, led by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), sent a letter to Senate leaders urging action on the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which passed the House in July. The legislation would stiffen sanctions against some Iranian officials and penalize governments that might divert U.S. goods, services or technology to Iran. It also includes an expression of support for "freedom, human rights, civil liberties, free elections and the rule of law in Iran," which, while unobjectionable in and of itself, can be read as a veiled call for regime change.
The House members argue that because existing sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, "the threat of enhanced sanctions holds the promise of compelling Iran to give up its ambitions." But that threat will exist whether this legislation is enacted or not. The question is whether rushing to institute new sanctions at this time would undermine the delicate negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1 — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has been overseeing those negotiations for the U.S., has no doubt that new sanctions would have that effect. This week he warned that "if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith with those negotiations and actually stop them and break them apart."
At his news conference Thursday, President Obama also cautioned against precipitous action by Congress. He noted that "there is no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them [to the] table in the first place. Now, if it turns out they can't deliver, they can't come to the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the sanctions can be ramped back up."
There is no guarantee that the current negotiations will bear fruit. After feverish speculation about an imminent agreement, high-level talks in Geneva adjourned a week ago without a deal. Still, there are strong indications that the government of President Hassan Rouhani is serious about an arrangement in which Iran would abandon any ambitions to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from existing sanctions. This week the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran's new government has slowed expansion of its nuclear program almost to a halt since August.
As Kerry put it, Congress should "calm down" and let the negotiations continue.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times