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 Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora