Key US Senate Republican Mark Kirk slammed the White House's push to delay new sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, comparing the Obama administration's actions to Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement” of Nazi Germany before World War II.
Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials visited Capitol Hill Wednesday to warn senators that implementing the new measures could scuttle delicate talks between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
“I do think we ought to accelerate sanctions,” Politico quoted Kirk, a leading Israel supporter in the Senate as saying. “The pitch was very unconvincing. It was fairly anti-Israeli.”
Politico quoted Kirk as saying that he’d met with Israeli officials earlier Wednesday who said the proposed deal with Iran would only set back its nuclear research effort by “24 days.”
“This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding a large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons, which will now be part of our children’s future,” Kirk stated.
Additional senior US lawmakers expressed sharp frustration with the Obama administration's call to delay new sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, underscoring the difficult sales job the Democratic president has as he pursues a rapprochement with Tehran.
Kerry told reporters before the closed-door briefing that "the risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions it could break faith in those negotiations and actually stop them and break them apart."
But some key lawmakers said after the meeting that they had not been convinced.
"It was a very unsatisfying briefing," said Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, Corker, also a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the sanctions measures, said he had not yet made up his mind about whether they should go ahead now.
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the banking committee's chairman, said he was still undecided about whether to go ahead.
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat who is chairman of the foreign relations committee and a member of the banking committee, still wants the new sanctions, a spokesman said after the briefing.
President Barack Obama's administration wants a "temporary pause" on new sanctions on Iran to allow diplomats from the United States and five other world powers to negotiate with Tehran and test whether it might be possible to resolve a decade-long standoff over its nuclear program.
"We have the unity of the P5+1, Germany, Great Britain, France ... and Russia, China and the United States are all agreed on this proposal that's on the table," Kerry said.
"If all of a sudden sanctions were to be increased, there are members of that coalition who have put it in place who would think that we are dealing in bad faith, and they would bolt. And then the sanctions would fall apart," he said.
But Obama's diplomacy with Iran has been greeted with skepticism from many quarters, including US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, adding a new element to the White House's diplomatic calculations.
Negotiators failed to reach an agreement during weekend talks in Geneva. A new round of talks starts on November 20.
Western nations fear that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran says it is purely peaceful. But Iran's refusal to halt sensitive nuclear work has drawn tough sanctions targeting the oil exports that are its lifeblood.