WASHINGTON – Leaders in the House of Representatives have written a letter to US President Barack Obama suggesting a pact with Iran restricted to its nuclear program is not enough for the chamber to lift sanctions on the country.
The leading Democrat and Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), wrote the letter intended to remind the White House of Congress’s role in any future nuclear pact forged with Iran: specifically, the legislature’s role in easing, lifting or repealing sanctions levied against the Islamic Republic.
Attained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, the letter outlines what Engel has referred to in the past as the “minimum requirements for a good deal,” noting that any deal “demands congressional approval.”
“The concept of an exclusively defined ‘nuclear-related’ sanction on Iran does not exist in US law,” the letter reads. “Almost all sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program are also related to Tehran’s advancing ballistic missile program, intensifying support for international terrorism, and other unconventional weapons programs.”
An interim deal reached in November with Iran, temporarily freezing the international impasse, requires Congress to refrain from passing any new “nuclear-related sanctions” as world powers attempt to negotiate a comprehensive solution to the crisis.
“Iran’s permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities — not just some — is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally- mandated sanctions,” the letter continues.
The Obama administration acknowledges the importance of Congress’s role on Iran, and says any future nuclear deal will likely involve sanctions relief requiring both legislative and executive action.
The time-frame for that action, however, is still undefined, as is the nuclear deal in its entirety. Drafting was set to begin in May towards completion on July 20, and yet the writing process has yet to begin.
The international community, represented at the table by the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany, suspect Iran’s vast nuclear program has military dimensions.
The letter notes that, in recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged any deal with sanctions relief would require Congress’s consent “by law.”
The lawmakers “urge greater consultation with Congress on a potential sanctions relief package,” it reads.
Responding to the Post, administration officials contend sanctions are, indeed, adequately demarcated based on human rights abuses, sponsorship of terrorism, drug trafficking and proliferation of unconventional weapons by the Treasury Department.
On Thursday, at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leadership from both parties weighed the consequences of a bad deal with Iran and its possible repercussions for a region in borderless turmoil.
Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said any deal should include the dismantlement of thousands of centrifuges, the elimination of a majority of Iran’s low-enriched uranium, a closure of its heavy-water plutonium reactor in Arak and a termination of Iran’s vast nuclear research and development program.
A strict deal with constant inspections should last for more than 20 years, Menendez said, “at least as long as Iran has been lying to the world about its program.”
Furthermore, containment of Iran’s ambitions after the signing of a deal will be yet another struggle for the United States, Menendez said, as sanctions relief will enable Iran to enrich terrorist proxies across the region serving its interests.
“I think all of us want to see a diplomatic solution. I don’t think there’s anybody on this dais that wants to see anything different from that,” Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), ranking member of the committee, said. “I think all of us have been pretty stunned, on the other hand, at the terms of the interim agreement and find it difficult for us to get to a good end state.”
Testifying before the committee, Dennis Ross, a former diplomat in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he considered the achievement of a deal unlikely.
“Ali Khamenei either is not prepared to roll back Iran’s nuclear program or doesn’t believe he will have to do so in order to produce a serious roll-back in the sanctions regime,” Ross said, adding, “the Iranian negotiators at this point have given no indication of being able to accept such a roll-back.”