In an interview with TIME published yesterday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif let it be known that, should Congress impose a new round of sanctions (even if they don’t go into effect for six months, because why put a timeline on a sanctions pause you can hopefully drag out indefinitely?), “the entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States.” …A sentiment that, really, makes absolute sense, seeing as how Iran’s endgame here has always been to get the world to back off on the sanctions without actually having to do anything real to back that up themselves.
Quite a few members of Congress, however, remain unconvinced by either Iran’s transparent posturing or the Obama administration’s puerile struggle for a foreign-policy win, and a bipartisan group of senators is fixing to add a freshly minted round of sanctions onto the defense authorization bill — if, that is, Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow it. NRO reports:
The aide says that the agreement, brokered by Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), will impose new and stricter sanctions if talks between Iran, the U.S., and other nations fail to produce a long-term bargain by the end of the six-month period set out by the temporary Geneva deal reached a couple weeks ago. These higher sanctions could reduce Iran’s oil exports by at least 30 percent, as well as blacklist additional sectors of the country’s economy (such as mining, engineering, construction, and any other sector that the president deems to be “of strategic importance to the Iranian economy”). The proposed sanctions will also freeze all remaining Iranian foreign-exchange reserves.
This would add up to a stricter sanctions regime than the one the U.S. just agreed to relax — if the sanctions before the Geneva agreement were a 7, the aide says, the new sanctions that will kick in would be an 8.5.
I don’t think the exact details have come out just yet, but the Obama administration, of course, is not partial to this plan. Ergo, it’s back to their pre-Geneva position of trying to convince Congress to hold off, via the LA Times:
The Obama administration will launch a lobbying push Tuesday to stop Congress from approving harsh new penalties for Iran, a move the White House warns could sink international negotiations aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program. …
Secretary of State John F. Kerry is expected to argue against the proposal when he testifies Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator with Iran, and David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s sanctions chief, will appear later this week. …
“Sanctions during the course of negotiations would be seriously counterproductive,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor, told reporters Monday.
Or, perhaps, sanctions during the course of negotiations could be seriously productive, as Krauthammer pointed out last night:
That statement shows how fatuous is the president’s statement that we just heard, that we mustn’t assume that a regime can’t change its behavior. All the evidence is that the Iranian regime is not changing its behavior. … Because, what the Congress is thinking of doing, what this resolution would do, is nothing except outline and enforce the provisions. Number one: Six months. It says, OK, in six months, if negotiations are a failure, we’re going to go back and reintroduce sanctions. And it says, ‘what is the end game that we want?’ Very simple: Dismantle the plutonium facility, number one. Number two, take away the enriched uranium under the interim agreement. It’s simply changed into a uranium oxide, which can be chemically reversed. And third, it has to dismantle the machines that spin the uranium and enrich them. That’s simple. One, two, three points, and that would end the program and create a new era of peace between the West and Iran. Either it’s done, or it’s not. That’s exactly what we want, and why would the administration reject a resolution which would enforce every element of the plan it says it already has?