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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Audio Top 5 Songs for Week Ending May 23

This week's lineup can be summed up like this: 'It's The Same Old Song' - but they're great songs - featuring Walk The Moon, The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs