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Hawks in Congress can play ‘bad cop’ to Obama’s ‘good cop’: Sweet

Updated: December 26, 2013 6:34AM

WASHINGTON — Congress does not get a vote on the new six-month deal where Iran will suspend part of its nuclear program in return for some relief from crippling economic sanctions. But skeptical lawmakers do have a powerful tool at their disposal — the very real threat of even tougher sanctions down the road.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a Senate leader when it comes to imposing increasingly tougher sanctions on Iran, is one of the lawmakers who wants a so-called “Sword of Damocles” hanging over the White House and Iran in case Iran cheats on the interim agreement with the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China.

President Barack Obama is trying to prevent Congress from adding more sanctions on Iran and a few weeks ago phoned Kirk to try to head him off. That’s because the agreement hammered out in Geneva over the weekend specifically says the U.S., United Nations and European Union will not impose any nuclear-related sanctions during the life of the agreement — which is subject to renewal.

Kirk listened to Obama but is not changing course. Despite Geneva, this week Kirk will work with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., his main Iran partner, on drafting legislation to make sanctions even stronger six months from now.

Just in case.

In a sense, lawmakers who are most hawkish on Iran — who doubt Iran will really dismantle its nuclear program and reduce its uranium stock — are pursuing a course that will make Congress the bad cop to the good cop Obama.

In the Illinois delegation, besides Kirk, the leading Iran hawks are Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat, and Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican.

“Iran must completely abandon its nuclear weapons programs before receiving sanctions relief,” Schneider said in a statement.

The Illinois delegation has two Jewish members — Schneider and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also a Democrat. They are split in their approaches to Iran.

Schneider has been calling for additional sanctions. Schakowsky backs the Obama Geneva accord, calling it in a statement, “an important step toward preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability, and a major win for U.S. national security.”

The Geneva skeptics in Congress including Republicans and Democrats, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., worry, as does the Israeli government, that the deal tilts too much in favor of Iran. Iran will get up to $7 billion in financial relief; critics argue Iran should have been forced to make more concessions upfront.

At a press conference, Schumer said the “disproportionality” of the agreement “makes it more likely” Republicans and Democrats will pass more sanctions in December.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in Sunday show interviews he doesn’t trust Iran either. The difference is Kerry has faith that Iran will be caught if it cheats.

“You know, we did arms-control agreements with the great enemy, the Soviet Union. We’ve done arms-control agreements in other parts of the world. You don’t trust. It’s not based on trust, it’s based on verification. It’s based on your ability to know what is happening,” Kerry told CBS. “So you don’t have to trust the people you’re dealing with. You have to have a mechanism put in place whereby you know exactly what you’re getting and you know exactly what they’re doing.”

Iran hawks will find the GOP-controlled House more fertile territory than the Democratic-controlled Senate — where Democrats will hesitate more before voting for more sanctions, a move that would embarrass Obama and their former colleague, Kerry.

With Israel’s strong objections to Geneva, the White House on Sunday worked to shore up — or to at least mute for now — concerns from leading U.S. Jewish organizations. Matt Nosanchuk, the White House liaison to the Jewish community, led a late-afternoon briefing call with leaders of U.S. Jewish groups.

Obama has the power to waiver portions of the Iran sanctions, in the name of the “national interest.” He does have to officially notify Congress, and that is when the six-month countdown starts. Some Iran sanctions are also in place as a result of presidential executive orders. Obama has the power to temporarily suspend those provisions.

Congress doesn’t vote right now when it comes to the Geneva deal. But if the House and Senate move toward more sanctions later next year, Congress will add fire to Obama’s heat.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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