Back off on new Iran sanctions

January 14, 2014 6:40PM

Lead story image
Updated: February 16, 2014 6:28AM

The Iranians must be enjoying the show here in the U.S.

Just as the U.S. and world powers are to begin highly sensitive nuclear talks with Iran, President Barack Obama is trying to beat back a revolt in Congress, with a growing number of senators, including some Democrats, going toe-to-toe with the president and his supporters over a bill that threatens new sanctions for Iran. Illinois’ Mark Kirk is one of the senators leading the charge.

Not helpful. Not helpful at all.

Obama is adamantly opposed to the legislation, saying any bill that threatens additional sanctions at this critical moment could undercut these unprecedented negotiations with Iran.

He’s right. To suggest, as the bill’s sponsors have, that their bill somehow endorses and advances Obama’s efforts is absurd. If that were the case, Obama would not be threatening to veto it.

On Sunday, a six-month interim agreement to begin Jan. 20 was signed that temporarily freezes Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. This is a starting point for broader negotiations aimed at permanently curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranians have made it clear they will walk away from negotiations if the U.S. imposes any new sanctions during the negotiations.

The crush of sanctions is what brought the Iranians to the table. The Iranians don’t need legislation that promises new sanctions if talks fail to remind them what they already know: Legislation or not, the U.S. will ratchet up sanctions if this rare attempt at diplomacy fails. Of that, there is little doubt.

Even worse, the bill tries to meddle directly in the negotiations by setting unreachable conditions for a final deal. Like it or not, Iran has made clear that it must retain the right to enrich uranium for energy production. But if the bill passes as is, the goal is the dismantling of Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.”

Kirk’s office argues this doesn’t necessarily mean an end of all enrichment, that Obama will make that call. But that is the goal in the preamble of the bill and has been the clear intent of the bill’s proponents.

The bill also says that sanctions would be re-imposed during the six-month period if Iran launched a long-range missile or directly or indirectly supported terrorist activity against the U.S. or any U.S. citizens. Iran’s ongoing affiliation with terrorist group Hezbollah, of course, is well known.

Kirk’s office says they’ve bent over backward to meet the administration’s concerns and points out that this is a bipartisan bill, with at least 16 Democrats on board who aren’t interested in hurting the president. We don’t doubt they’ve made accommodations and have tried to be reasonable.

But that misses the point.

No matter the final product, any bill that threatens to clamp down further on Iran dramatically decreases the odds of reaching a deal with Iran.

And not just any deal, but a good deal.

It’s worth repeating that the interim agreement with Iran and the world powers is groundbreaking and unthinkable a year ago.

Now is the time to clear the field and let the diplomats do their work.

Return to Top Back to Top