WASHINGTON — As early as next week the U.S. Congress could approve tough new sanctions on Iran, a move the White House warns may undermine diplomatic efforts to curb the country’s controversial nuclear program.
It was smiles in Geneva when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers congratulated each other over last month’s interim accord on Iran’s nuclear program.
Tough economic sanctions drove Iran to the bargaining table.
And now some members of Congress want to put even more economic pressure on Tehran by approving a new round of sanctions.
“The Congress believes that sanctions, along with the threat of credible military force by the United States and Israel, has gotten us to this point, that if you back off now, you're sending the worst possible signals,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Some members of Congress are concerned the interim nuclear deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, says that’s a mistake.
“I think enrichment for a country especially like Iran that is shown to have secret programs, has been seen to be a rogue nation, their ability to enrich really throws into disarray, if you will, all the other agreements that we're negotiating around the world,” he said.
The Obama administration says new sanctions will violate the interim agreement with Iran and could possibly divide the U.S. from its international partners.
President Barack Obama says more time is needed for diplomacy.
“If it turns out six months from now that they are not serious, we can crank, we can dial those sanctions right back up," he said.
The interim agreement calls for daily inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Former State Department adviser for non-proliferation Robert Einhorn says that is a must.
“You can't base this on trust," he said. "You have to base it on strong monitoring measures, strong verification measures.”
Once the interim accord is implemented, negotiators will have six months to hammer out a final agreement designed to guarantee Iran’s nuclear program can be used solely for peaceful purposes.
Analysts like James Phillips of The Heritage Foundation remain skeptical.
“As we have seen with Iran, it frequently has violated its own pledges in the past so this deal could go up in smoke in the course of the next six months,” he said.
Next week Kerry is scheduled to testify before members of Congress in an effort to address concerns about the interim nuclear deal. He will try to convince members not to approve any new sanctions while negotiations with Iran are continuing.