News / USA

Congress Avoids Clash on Iran Sanctions But Road Ahead Uncertain

John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dec. 10, 2013.
John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dec. 10, 2013.
Congress appears poised to give the Barack Obama administration some early Christmas gifts as it finishes its work for the year.
 
A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate on Tuesday reached a budget compromise that, if passed by both bodies, would avert the threat of another government shutdown in early 2014. Meanwhile, a must-pass Pentagon spending bill put together in another Capitol Hill backroom omits new sanctions against Iran, which could torpedo the Nov. 24 nuclear agreement reached in Geneva.
 
Judging from comments in Congress this week, however, the Obama administration faces serious domestic hurdles to concluding a comprehensive agreement trading significant restraints on Iran’s nuclear program for lifting nuclear-related sanctions. The gap between what Iran and Congress might accept is wide.
 
Before leaving for the Middle East again to apply his seemingly endless energy to another intractable issue – Palestinian-Israeli peace – Secretary of State John Kerry gave a spirited defense of the Geneva deal to the House Foreign Relations Committee. The House voted last summer 400-20 to apply new sanctions against Iran, but no bill has been passed by the Senate.
 
Kerry argued that now is not the time for new sanctions against Iran, even with a delayed trigger.
 
“We’re asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs, and that includes asking you, while we negotiate, that you hold off imposing new sanctions,” he said. “Now, I’m not saying ‘never.’ I just told you a few minutes ago, if this doesn’t work, we're coming back and asking you for more. I'm just saying not right now.”
 
Under the terms of the Geneva accord, which has a six-month duration but can be renewed, the United States, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1) offered limited sanctions relief to Iran and promised not to pass any new nuclear-related sanctions while negotiations proceed on a comprehensive agreement. In return, Iran agreed to a series of temporary constraints, including suspending 20 percent enrichment of uranium, which is dangerously close to weapons grade. Iranian officials have warned that new U.S. sanctions – even with delayed implementation – would kill the November accord.
 
Kerry explained that it was not just an American decision to withhold new penalties against Iran and that unilateral Congressional action would undercut unprecedented multinational support for a deal. If “Congress goes its own way,” other members of the P5+1 might “get squirrely on the whole idea of sanctions” and not follow suit, he said. New sanctions could also “give the Iranians a public excuse to flout the agreement.”
 
“This is a very delicate diplomatic moment, and we have a chance to address peacefully one of the most pressing national security concerns that the world faces today,” Kerry added. “We’re at one of those hinge points in history. One path could lead to an enduring resolution in international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program. The other path could lead to continued hostility and potentially to conflict.”
 
Both Democrats and Republicans on the House committee expressed skepticism about the agreement, which allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium to low levels – but not increase its stockpile of uranium gas – for the duration of the accord. There were also clear signs that the administration will have trouble selling a comprehensive deal that includes even a limited enrichment program – which is Iran’s bottom line.
 
Committee chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, said that in his view Iran “simply can’t be trusted with enrichment technology because verification efforts can never be foolproof with respect to their ability to get undetectable nuclear breakout.” 
 
The Obama administration has not yet defined its end game for the Iranian nuclear program but some hints emerged from Kerry’s testimony.
 
While Kerry said that uranium enrichment was not “locked in” to a final accord, he said in response to a question from Rep. Michael McCaul, that Iran might have a thousand or 500 centrifuges spinning as part of a comprehensive deal but under “severe restraints – a mutually-defined program with mutually-agreed parameters, consistent with practical needs.” Such needs would include medical research and fueling “a legitimate power program, which may be done in consortium with other people with intrusive knowledge of what’s going on.” Kerry said.

“So the answer is, at the end of this I can’t tell you they might not have some enrichment, but I can tell you to a certainty it will not be possible for them to be able to turn that into a weapons program without our knowing it so far in advance that all the options that are available to us today to stop it,” he said.
 
Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges installed, of which about 9,000 are operating. For it to be willing to scale back to only a thousand centrifuges would be a major concession from its point of view.
 
For now, skeptical congressmen lack a legislative vehicle to torpedo the Geneva accord.
 
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat, on Tuesday released the text of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014 which they hammered out with the senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee while Congress was on Thanksgiving recess.
 
Included are provisions to deal with sexual harassment in the military, detainees at Guantanamo and missile defense. But the only mention of Iran is a provision to expand an annual assessment of Iran’s military to include examining Iran-backed “terrorist and criminal groups.” The bill also requires a report on U.S. military partnerships with Iran’s Arab rivals in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and authorizes integrated air and missile defense with GCC members.
 
Other avenues to passing sanctions are also closing. Senate Banking Committee chairman Tim Johnson said Tuesday his committee would not act on a sanctions bill this year. That leaves it up to Senate majority leader Harry Reid to decide whether to bypass committee action and allow a vote on the floor on a sanctions bill sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democrat Robert Menendez,  and Republican Mark Kirk. With the White House lobbying so hard against it and Congress due to recess for the year on Friday, passage appears doubtful this week.
 
Still, the threat of more sanctions in the future will play a role as negotiations continue. Iranian officials were undoubtedly watching the hearing, Kerry told the House committee. “And [when it comes to more sanctions] they know you’re yearning to go do it.”

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: alex
December 12, 2013 12:56 PM
you are stupid government. Iran accepts monitoring, why do you want to enforce a new sanction.?!


by: Cranksy from: USA
December 12, 2013 12:49 PM
Sanctions cause ONLY collateral damage.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid