Germany, France, UK tell Congress to hold back on Iran legislation

In 'Washington Post' op-ed, group of world leaders say a new bill would give Iranian opponents of a comprehensive nuclear accord "new arguments" for subterfuge.

January 22, 2015 16:29
3 minute read.
Philip Hammond

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L), French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (R) in Paris. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Top diplomats from Germany, France, the UK and the EU have asked Congress to refrain from passing new nuclear-related legislation on Iran, warning a bill could derail negotiations over its atomic program.

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and likely candidate for president in 2016, echoed the Europeans’ position in opposing Congressional sanctions. Clinton announced her opposition to the bill one day after US President Barack Obama renewed his threat to veto the measure in his sixth State of the Union address.

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In an op-ed published Thursday in The Washington Post, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini say another bill would give Iranian opponents of a comprehensive nuclear accord “new arguments” for subterfuge.

“Our responsibility is to make sure diplomacy is given the best possible chance to succeed,” the Europeans wrote. “Maintaining pressure on Iran through our existing sanctions is essential.

But introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts.”

“Rather than strengthening our negotiating position,” they add, “new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Sanctions legislation would violate the Joint Plan of Action, the White House says, an interim agreement reached by world powers and Iran that laid the groundwork for comprehensive talks.

Such a violation would “guarantee that diplomacy fails,” Obama said on Tuesday night – putting the onus of failure on the United States, fraying international sanctions on Tehran and heightening the risks of war.

“Why do we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations?” Clinton asked the crowd, speaking in Winnipeg, Canada, on Wednesday.

“If we’re the reason – through our Congress – that in effect gives Iran and others the excuse not to continue the negotiations, that would be, in my view, a very serious strategic error.”

But speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday afternoon, one senior congressional aide said the train had already left the station on whether the bill would proceed.

A bipartisan group of legislators will mark up a bill today in the Senate Banking Committee that would trigger new sanctions on Iran should negotiations fail to reach a comprehensive agreement. The bill allows for an unlimited number of extensions, but the president would have to seek waivers from Congress every 30 days to extend the talks after June 30.

Authors of the legislation, senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), said the bill falls in line with an interim deal reached by the negotiating powers, prohibiting the imposition of new sanctions before the end of talks.

Addressing the American Jewish Committee in Washington last May, the former cabinet member took partial credit for a policy that, as she said, pressured Iran to the negotiating table.

Depicting a bleak “inheritance” that she and US President Barack Obama faced in 2009, Clinton spoke of a once wealthy Iran, emboldened after its nemesis, Saddam Hussein, was toppled by president George W. Bush.

The Obama administration chose to reach out to the Iranians, believing that such overtures would prove to the world that Iran, not the US, was intransigent, Clinton said. And once Iran rejected those overtures, she personally muscled the international community into a unified sanctions regime.

“I worked for months to round up the votes” at the United Nations, Clinton said, adding that her “personal mission” was to force Iran’s oil customers to diversify their imports. “In the end, we were successful.”

“After years of division, the international community came together and sent a very strong, unified message to Iran,” she added. “That was no easy sell.”

The United States, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany are working to end international concerns over Iran’s nuclear work. They have set themselves a deadline for a political agreement in March and a comprehensive deal in June.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has advocated increasing pressure on Iran throughout the negotiations, and is expected to express his support for the bill in an address to a joint session of Congress next month.

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