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.

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