Since their big meeting with Iranian officials earlier this month apparently showed some promise, the White House has continued to insist that they would much rather that Congress hold off on passing any further economic sanctions on Iran for the time being — but a bipartisan group of Congressmen have been equally insistent that now is the precisely the right time to demonstrate the United States’ resolve on the issue by continuing to lay even more sanctions on the line. The Obama administration is meeting with the Iranian officials again in Geneva next week, and they’re asking the Senate not to move forward on a new bill (even less harsh than the one passed by the House last summer that would roughly halve Iran’s already curtailed oil exports) so that they can massage what they see as a “diplomatic opening,” via Reuters:
Fresh U.S. sanctions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program being debated behind closed doors in the Senate aim to slash the country’s oil sales in half within a year of the plan being signed into law, an influential senator said this week.
Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in New York on Monday that a package of sanctions ready to move in his chamber has a goal of cutting Iran’s current oil exports to no more than 500,000 barrels per day. …
Since the beginning of 2012, U.S. and European sanctions have already cut Iran’s oil exports to about 1 million bpd from about 2.5 million bpd, costing the Islamic Republic crude sales worth billions of dollars a month, and helping to spike inflation and unemployment.
House leaders are running out of patience with their Senate counterparts over Iran sanctions.
The lower chamber voted 400-20 in July to tighten the noose on Iran’s energy sector and have been waiting for three months for the upper chamber to follow suit. The Senate Banking Committee had been expected to introduce and mark up its own sanctions bill this week but that timeframe has slipped after the Obama administration urged senators to hold off while U.S. diplomats test Iran’s recent overtures.
“The Senate should act,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a Jewish Democrat who’s close to leadership. “We ought to pass these increased sanctions, and make sure that the Iranians don’t think that they can charm their way out of this situation. Act now.”
The White House, as I said, is trying to delay that exact scenario, and put together a big top-secret meeting with the Senate Banking Committee today to try and dissuade them from moving forward, reports Politico:
Vice President Joe Biden will join with other top Obama administration officials on Thursday in lobbying Senate Democrats against new sanctions for Iran, according to Democratic sources.
Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other senior Democrats as the White House tries to convince them not impose additional punitive measures against Iran at this time.
Kerry and Lew are also scheduled to hold a top-secret briefing for the Senate Banking Committee on the impact of U.S.-led sanctions on Iran.
I’m not convinced that the White House’s sanctions-timeout argument is going to fly, though; Iran has used negotiations to extract concessions and play for time in the past, and the idea that the threat of force and harsh penalties are the best method to discourage any Iranian retrenchment is enjoying a lot of bipartisan support.