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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid