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

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs