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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid