Monthly Archives: January 2014

Get Congress Out of the Way

Co-authored with the National Iranian American Council’s Policy Director, Jamal Abdi, I have a post over at CNN regarding how Congress is getting in the way of a strong and secure deal with Iran.

The basic point is this: If, as Iran hawks claim, the goal of the new Iran sanctions bill is to empower the President to get as best a deal as possible during the upcoming talks with Iran, then the bill poorly serves that purpose. Rather than empowering the President, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act undercuts the President by both forcing on him the terms of a final deal with Iran and significantly limiting his ability to waive the sanctions should that deal be reached. This makes so little sense, in fact, that one need question whether the stated goal is not merely a ruse meant to hide ulterior motives (e.g., barring rapprochement with Iran altogether).

As we argue instead, if Congress wants to empower the President, it has ample room to do so. For one, it can signal trust in U.S. negotiators by allowing them free reign to work out the terms of a final deal with Iran. As Nicholas Burns, the chief U.S. negotiator with Iran during the Bush II administration, recently noted, it is far better to have one person negotiating on behalf of the United States than 525. Congress needs to get out of the business of conducting foreign policy and instead leave that to the branch of government most suited for it: the Executive. It has become an increasingly unseemly sight for Congress to run roughshod of each and every of Obama’s diplomatic victories.

Second, Congress can provide the White House the ability not merely to waive sanctions on a time-limited basis should a deal be reached with Iran, but also to lift the sanctions permanently. As we note, the fact that the best the President can offer Iran right now are limited waivers of existing sanctions crimps Obama’s leverage during negotiations. If Iran has serious concerns about the ability of the White House to follow through on any deal reached, then Iran will be able to extract better terms from the United States than would otherwise be possible. Such an outcome makes no sense if the ultimate goal of negotiations is to secure a strong deal that puts serious constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. The less the White House has to offer, the less Iran will be willing to give up at the negotiating table.

But things are topsy-turvy in Washington. Congress speaks of empowering the President by limiting his authority to negotiate a deal and lift sanctions once a deal is secured. Meanwhile, those who advocate for Congress to extend plenary power to the White House to secure a final and comprehensive deal with Iran and to use sanctions relief as a leverage point are most often labeled as appeasers for the Iranians. It is increasingly difficult to find a coherent and principled discussion of U.S. policy towards Iran in Congress. Why, then, should these people be handling a matter as critical as nuclear proliferation?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Senate’s Dangerous Games

This week, an A-list of former U.S. diplomats and national security experts signed and delivered a publicly-available letter to Senator Robert Menendez, the author of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, asking him to withdraw his new sanctions bill and to allow negotiations to proceed. The letter warned that the Act would force Iran to withdraw from the negotiations and ‘could lead to an unraveling of the sanctions regime,’ as international partners accuse the U.S. of bad-faith in the nuclear dispute and end the close cooperation they have so far provided the United States.

This repeated the warnings of the White House and involved diplomats, all of which have, in conference with the Congress, noted that a new sanctions bill would ‘threaten [international] unity’ in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program and provide ‘Iranians a public excuse to flout the [Joint Plan of Action reached in Geneva, November 24].’ To reporters, the White House has called the bill ‘damaging and destructive to the diplomatic efforts’, and the U.S.’s chief negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, has repeatedly asked for a ‘pause’ in any new legislation to allow the negotiations to continue on their (so far) fruitful course.

Furthermore, in a letter dated December 18, 10 Senate committee chairs requested Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to consult with them prior to considering any legislation on the floor. Interestingly, the letter quoted a December 10, 2013 intelligence assessment, holding that ‘new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.’ That provided credence to the claims of the White House and U.S. diplomats that the U.S. intelligence community was in full agreement with its concerns that any new sanctions legislation would quickly bring to an end any opportunity for a nuclear agreement with Iran.

It seems clear, then, that there is unanimity in Washington, at least among the White House, the U.S. diplomatic corps, and the U.S. intelligence community. All believe that the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 would stamp out the possibility for resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran in a peaceful way. The sole dissents to this view exist in the Congress, where 53 Senators have signed on as co-sponsors to the new sanctions bill and have chosen to ignore the advice of their diplomats and their intelligence agencies to attend to that infamous U.S. proclivity for overreach. Their game is a dangerous one, and despite their frantic cries when the White House accuses them of wanting war, it is proving increasingly difficult to see what other interest is being served by their consistent actions aimed at hampering a diplomatic settlement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized