Iran nuclear debate takes partisan shape, as Democrats resist

Democrats introduce "alternative" to Iran sanctions bill; State Department official reacts to Dermer address.

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January 26, 2015 21:48
3 minute read.
United States Capitol building in Washington, DC

United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON -- Democrats on Capitol Hill have introduced a plan that would endorse international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program while vowing to sanction Iran if the effort fails.

The resolution, introduced by ten Democratic senators, is non-binding and does not formally codify new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, in the event of a breakdown in the talks or a violation of negotiating terms.

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That makes all the difference, according to Obama administration officials, who say a bill that "triggers" new sanctions would be interpreted by Iran and the international community as a subterfuge in the diplomatic effort.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) introduced the resolution with eight additional co-sponsors but with no Republican support. The bill they cast as a "counterproductive" alternative, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, was authored by Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois).

"Enacting new sanctions before the end of the negotiating period would gravely undermine our efforts to reach an agreement with Iran," Feinstein said in a statement. "For those who agree that the sanctions bill in the Banking Committee is detrimental, this resolution provides an option in support of diplomacy."

Her resolution states that future new sanctions may target Iran's energy and financial sectors, similar to what is already written into the Menendez-Kirk legislation.

In recent months, the Israeli government has expressed dismay over the negotiating position of the US-led team in the talks. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has said he favors more pressure on Iran over less, suggesting support for new sanctions legislation in the US Congress.



Western diplomats have granted Iran the right to retain an enrichment program, Israel says, and have soften demands that Tehran dismantle large swaths of its infrastructure. 

Israel fears that a deal will be generous; that inspections will be weak; and that an agreement will sunset in a decade, allowing Iran to walk into the nuclear club shortly thereafter. 

"Today, the international community stands at the precipice of forging an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program," Dermer told a Florida crowd on Sunday night. "The agreement that is being discussed today is not an agreement that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, but rather one that could leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state." 

"That is an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the state of Israel," he said.

But any comprehensive deal reached by world powers and Iran over its nuclear program will show the world "with clarity" that Iran cannot obtain the bomb, according to one State Department official, responding to Dermer's speech.

"The key to our negotiations is to make certain that whatever is agreed upon will show people with clarity that Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon are cut off," the official told The Jerusalem Post, reiterating the administration's "unshakeable" commitment to Israeli security.

Dermer defended Netanyahu's decision to accept an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address a joint session of Congress next month. The nature of the speech – expected to be a repudiation of President Barack Obama's approach to Iran – and its timing, so close to an Israeli election, have been controversial in Washington and Jerusalem.

The US official, speaking on background, said that Israel's leaders have been kept abreast of the talks through consultations in Washington and Israel "at the highest levels."

"The P5+1‎ talks offer the best hope for a diplomatic solution that ensures Israel, and others in the region, will not be faced with an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon," he said. "And at every step of the way through these talks, we have closely consulted with our partners, including Israel."

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