Iran Sanctions

01.08.14

Conservatives Push Congress On Iran

A number of prominent conservatives urged Congress on Wednesday to act on Iran.

As Congress contemplates passing new Iran sanctions over the objections of the White House, over five dozen conservative experts and former officials called on Congressional leaders to set out tough parameters for any potential deal with Iran according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast.

61 senior figures, including some Democrats, wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, asking them to take variety of steps to ensure Iranian compliance with the Joint Plan of Action that the P5+1 countries agreed to with Iran in November and ensure that any final deal meets tough standards.

The letter, signed by former elected officials and diplomats associated with a hawkish foreign policy, including former Sen. Joe Lieberman, former Sen. Norm Coleman and former Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams, states, “Congress has a chance to play an important role in making clear the consequences of Iranian violations of the interim nuclear deal, in clarifying expectations with respect to future nuclear talks with Tehran, and in creating incentives for Iran to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement that protects the national security interests of the United States and its allies." 

The signatories state they support the push for diplomacy backed by the threat of military force, but they called on Congress to ensure that any deal includes forcing Iran “to comply with numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions and verifiably abandon its efforts to get nuclear weapons-making capability.”

Such conditions would not allow Iran to maintain any domestic uranium enrichment capability. According to the Obama administration, Iran could be allowed a limited enrichment program as part of a final deal with the West.

The letter does not explicitly call for the Congress to pass the new Iran sanctions bill sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), but it does set out goals for the negotiations that closely mirror those in the Menendez-Kirk legislation.

The Menendez-Kirk bill, which would close loopholes in the current sanctions regime regarding Iran’s economy and sets conditions for a final deal with Iran, is gaining support in the Senate. The bill now has 48 co-sponsors from both parties.

Menendez told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he wanted to press forward with his legislation while still giving the Obama administration some room to negotiate with Iran

“Our bill is gaining support. I still support moving on it. I’m also looking at how the negotiations are going on with Iran, which hasn’t even concluded an interim agreement. So we’ll see how that goes,” the New Jersey senator said.

Asked if the Senate would need to vote to approve any final nuclear deal with Iran, Menendez said, “It seems to me that Congress is going to have some voice on that no matter what, whether it’s our bill or not.”

The administration is still negotiating the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, which is meant to be an interim agreement that would allow six months for the P5+1 countries and Iran to work towards a comprehensive final agreement. The six month clock would start ticking when the interim agreement is finalized; State Department officials said they expected that to occur by the end of this month.

The experts and former officials want Congress take immediate action and don’t trust the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement with Iran that meets their standards. The signatories note that the administration largely opposed several rounds of Iran sanctions over the past years that Congress passed above President Obama’s objections.

“Congressional leadership has been indispensable in creating the framework of U.S.-led international sanctions that brought Iran back to the negotiating table.  However, given Tehran’s long history of violating its international nuclear obligations—and the lack of any explicit enforcement mechanisms in the Joint Plan of Action’s text—congressional leadership is once again required to set clear standards for enforcing Iranian compliance with the interim nuclear deal,” they wrote.

Noting that Iran has a poor track record of keeping its word and that President Hassan Rouhani previously bragged about using negotiations as a ruse to allow Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program, the officials and experts are calling on Congress to demand Iran meet several conditions in any final deal: ending uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, submitting to full transparency regarding its nuclear program, and permitting extraordinary and intrusive inspections. Congressional action is needed to spell out the consequences for Iran if those things don’t occur, they wrote, a nod to additional sanctions.

Besides Lieberman, Coleman and Abrams, other notable signatories include former Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim, former Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph, former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, and Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The letter was organized with the help of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative-leaning foreign policy organization in Washington.