WASHINGTON — Amid delicate international negotiations seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration is trying to convince skeptical U.S. Senators not to impose additional sanctions against Iran.
The financial and economic sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy. Inflation and unemployment have increased substantially and the value of Iran’s currency has plummeted.
Over the years, the United Nations Security Council, along with the United States and the European Union, imposed sanctions to pressure Iran to end its uranium enrichment program, which can be used for civilian or military purposes.
Tehran has steadfastly denied that it is developing nuclear weapons, but the United States and the European Union believe otherwise.
Some experts believe that the sanctions have forced Iran back to the negotiating table.
As a result, an interim agreement was signed between Tehran and world powers that freezes for six months Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, Tehran received modest relief from the international sanctions, though the U.S. this.
Call for more sanctions
Several U.S. senators want to impose additional measures - a move opposed by the Obama administration.
But with the U.S. Congress adjourning for the end of year holiday break, the opportunity for congressional action this year has all but passed. And any new sanctions measure that might be approved would face a near-certain veto by President Barack Obama.
Still, wary Iran watchers like Emmanuel Ottolenghi with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says additional tougher sanctions have merit. He said the senators would be placing a sword of Damocles over the head of the Iranian government.
“They are basically saying let us legislate sanctions that will kick in, in case there is no compliance or there is no final agreement that meets certain standards,” he said.
Ottolenghi said there is a chance that the interim agreement may become the final accord which he sees as a bad outcome.
“You need to have something that incentivizes the administration to reach the best possible agreement that meets international demands and legal obligations for the Iranian regime,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said recently that new sanctions would undermine the current negotiations. He described the situation as “a very delicate diplomatic moment.” And the Iranian government has threatened to boycott the talks if new sanctions are put in place.
The six-month agreement between Iran and the world powers stipulates no new sanctions by the United Nations, the European Union or the United States.
New sanctions could backfire
Joel Rubin, an expert on sanctions with the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, said “if the United States moves on sanctions during this six-month period, it will be perceived by the other parties to the agreement, the other members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany as well - [as] the U.S. ... violating the agreement.
“That could have dire consequences for their willingness to support global sanctions - the same sanctions we are relying on for pressure on Iran,” Rubin said. “So it would be imprudent to move on sanctions right now when the pressure is on. New sanctions could unravel that pressure.”
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, said there is no choice but to negotiate.
“The alternative is clearly far worse," he said. "The alternative is that they don’t reach an agreement, Iran’s program is unfrozen, further sanctions are imposed, tensions rise and the risk of war increases.”
So far, the United States has been firm in enforcing existing sanctions, targeting more than a dozen companies and individuals for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Tehran's nuclear program.
The U.S. Treasury and State departments announced in recent days they are freezing assets and banning transactions of the entities they say are involved in proliferating material used for weapons of mass destruction and are attempting to evade sanctions against Iran.