News / USA

After Syria, US Congress Wary of Obama's Iran Thaw

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani waits to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 24, 2013.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani waits to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 24, 2013.
Reuters
After balking at President Barack Obama's plan to attack Syria, the U.S. Congress is also stirring in opposition to his latest foreign policy goal: an effort to improve relations with Iran.
    
Congress imposed sanctions that are damaging the Iranian economy and, according to U.S. officials, are responsible for a moderate tone from Iran's new leadership, which will restart talks this week over its nuclear program.
    
U.S. lawmakers have the power to lift sanctions if they think Tehran is making concessions and scaling back its nuclear ambitions, but many Republicans and some of Obama's fellow Democrats are skeptical about a charm offensive by new President Hassan Rouhani.
    
"We need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, and we must not allow Iran to use negotiations as a tool of delay and deception," Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte said in a statement.
    
Many U.S. lawmakers are deeply supportive of Israel and suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapons capability, one of the few areas where bitterly divided Republicans and Democrats agree on policy.
    
"Congress has no stake in giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, period. And until they see something quite dramatic on the part of the Iranians, they won't," said Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department official now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
    
The Senate and House of Representatives have passed repeated packages of tough sanctions on Iran. Obama has the legal right to waive most of them for 120 days, and then another 120 days, as an option if nuclear negotiations with Iran, which begin on Thursday, are going well.
    
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama said he was determined to test President Rouhani's recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran's long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
    
"Conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable," Obama told the annual gathering of world leaders in New York.
    
In the event Obama were to temporarily waive sanctions, it could worsen already bad relations with Congress, which pushed back against the administration, expressing serious misgivings earlier this month about a planned U.S. attack on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
    
Lawmakers ended up not taking a vote on Syria, perhaps saving Obama from an embarrassing defeat, but now the White House is at odds with Republican fiscal conservatives in Congress over a possible government shutdown and the debt ceiling.
    
Failure by Obama to rein in sanctions hawks in Congress could hinder talks on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful.
    
"For the Iranians to negotiate with the Obama administration, they have to be convinced that the Obama administration can deliver what they need from Congress," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    
'Consistent Voice' 
    
Rouhani hinted at that problem in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
    
He called for "a consistent voice from Washington" and expressed hope Obama would not be swayed by "war-mongering pressure groups" in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue.
    
The Senate Banking Committee is expected soon to begin debating its version of a new package of sanctions that easily passed the House of Representatives in July. The House bill would cut Iran's crude exports to global customers by an additional 1 million barrels per day in a year, on top of U.S. and European Union sanctions that have about halved Tehran's oil sales since 2011.
    
Deeper cuts in Iran's oil sales could worsen the damage Western sanctions have already done to Iran's economy, which suffered a loss of about $26 billion in petroleum revenue in 2012, soaring inflation, and a devaluation of its currency, the rial.
    
Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a co-author of the new House sanctions bill, dismissed Rouhani's speech as rhetoric.
    
"Through crippling economic sanctions we can continue to increase the pressure on the regime, targeting its ability to pursue a nuclear weapons capability," Royce said in a statement.
    
Two senior Democrats - Senator Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - joined Republican lawmakers on Monday to call on Obama to stay tough on Iran.
    
Menendez was unimpressed with the U.N. speech by Iran's new president.
    
"While I welcome the statement by President Rouhani that Iran is seeking a peaceful and diplomatic path, I was disappointed by the overwhelmingly antagonistic rhetoric that characterized his remarks," he said.
    
On Tuesday, 11 Republicans who opposed Obama's proposal to strike Syria, led by potential 2016 presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio, urged a hard line on Iran.
    
"We all agree that Iran should not perceive any weakness as a result of our differences over Syria policy," they said in a letter released while Obama delivered his address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs