Further sanctions would torpedo a deal—even though there's logic to the callby Mark Fitzpatrick / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since the United States Congress opened for business in January under the singular leadership of the Republican Party, its top foreign policy initiative is to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. The logic is that since sanctions had forced Iran to the negotiating table, more sanctions would force Iran to give up the capability to become nuclear-armed. But economic pressure was only part of the reason that diplomacy resumed, and piling on more pressure while talks are on-going could lose all the progress made so far.
Any imposition of new sanctions would torpedo diplomatic efforts. President Barack Obama and serious statesmen around the world know this. David Cameron opined against new penalties, as did the foreign ministers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Hillary Clinton, who had been holding her fire on the Iran issue, came out in January against new sanctions, as did Brent Scowcroft, the Republican former National Security Advisor. Even the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, agreed that new sanctions now would be “like throwing a grenade into the process,” although he later clarified that stopping the talks would be advisable, so that they could restart on different terms.
Obama’s determination to veto any new congressional sanctions on Iran means that the talks are safe for now. If all 54 Republicans in the Senate held together, they would need 13 Democratic votes as well to override a presidential veto. Neither part of this equation appears likely. Libertarian Republican senators Rand Paul and Jeff Flake have distanced themselves from such legislation and so far few Democratic senators have signalled support. Several of the Democrats who a year ago backed new sanctions have accepted Obama’s call to hold fire. Whether or not they owe loyalty to the president, none of them liked it when the congressional Republican leaders broke protocol by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to speak to a joint session of Congress in March without checking with the Democrats or the White House.