WASHINGTON – Introducing a controversial bill last week long in the works,
Senator Robert Menendez and a bipartisan group of 25 senators sent a clear
message to US President Barack Obama: We don’t trust your administration to
handle Iran on its own.
The bill, called the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act
of 2013, would trigger a new round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic
should a six-month interim agreement, forged last month in Geneva, expire
without a comprehensive deal ending their nuclear program.
deal agreed upon by Iran and the P5+1 powers – the US, United Kingdom, France,
Russia, China and Germany – effectively halts Iran’s nuclear program in exchange
for modest sanctions relief. But the deal includes a provision that was made
available to Senate members well in advance of its signing: that “the US
administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and
the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related
Opponents of the deal in Congress do not believe Treasury
Secretary Jack Lew when he insists, repeatedly, that the core sanctions regime –
passed by Congress itself or independently ordered by the president – will
remain unaffected by the deal.
Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative
The Weekly Standard magazine, called the Geneva agreement “unfortunate” in an
“It’s a bad deal,” Kristol said.
“It gives up the
sanctions in a way that would be very hard to reverse, in return for no real
dismantling or even setback of the Iranian nuclear program.”
conservatives trust US Secretary of State John Kerry when he speaks of alliance
management. Kerry says that China, Russia and the European Union will no longer
believe the US is genuinely working toward a peaceful diplomatic solution to the
Iranian nuclear crisis if it appears interested only in inflicting punishment;
yet the US has already eroded the trust of other allies, namely Saudi Arabia,
Qatar and Israel, opponents retort.
It may be that the standard for these
members of Congress, and the allies they speak of, is a form of Persian
capitulation that will never realistically come to pass.
line from the Iranians has been that they will never forgo their right to a
civilian nuclear program.
And to support diplomacy, a deal must be had;
compromise must be made.
Congress led the way on sanctioning Iran
throughout 2010 and 2011. But if Kerry is correct, then Menendez’s new bill
could risk fraying a coalition put together not by Congress, but by the Obama
“When the president says a major foreign policy priority
would be torpedoed if it acted, it’s very hard for Congress to act,” said
Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East
“I don’t think Democrats want to embarrass the president,”
Clawson added, “and Republicans don’t want to give the president an opportunity
to say that his strategy would have succeeded without Republican
And yet Menendez seems to believe his bill will not
violate the Geneva agreement any more than has the designation of new companies
as sanctions violators, as was done last week by the departments of State and
The Iranians have explicitly said otherwise. Iranian Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that passage of this bill would render
the Geneva agreement “entirely dead.”
No doubt, testing Iran’s threats
and lighting fire under the deal are risks these senators are taking with eyes
Kristol, a leading conservative voice calling for robust
penalties against Iran, sees a “desperate desire” on the part of the Obama
administration “to have a deal to avoid facing real choices” that compel Iran to
end its nuclear program.
The US should “make much clearer that we are
willing to use force,” Kristol said, advocating tougher sanctions
He noted that Iran pulled the plug on its nuclear program
after the US invaded Iraq. “They [Iranians] were scared.”
hitting the fork in the road,” he added.
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