(By Juan Cole)
In his end-of-the-year press conference, President Obama had to defend his Iran negotiations in the face of a revolt within his own party.
Thirteen Democratic senators and thirteen Republican senators banded together to try to derail President Obama’s negotiations with Iran by slapping new sanctions on that country in the middle of delicate negotiations. This behavior is no surprise coming from the GOP, but the thirteen Democratic senators involved are traitors to the party. They are acting at the behest of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other American supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who actively wants to torpedo Obama’s Iran talks. They are attempting to make the leader of their party, their president, fail in one of his major diplomatic initiatives. They are disloyal and the Democratic National Committee should pull their funding. They include most prominently Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). If we could trace the money involved it would go back to billionaire American Likudniks.
The bill they crafted includes $55 bn in new sanctions on Iran and requires the United States to support Netanyahu in any war he launches on Iran. (President Obama and his officials have in the past have hinted broadly that Israel is welcome to attack Iran but is on its own if it does so.)
The proposed new sanctions split the Israel lobbies in the senate, being opposed by Sens. Diane Feinstein, Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer and seven other committee chairs, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As Democratic Party committee chairs, they had no choice but to maintain party discipline (and some of them probably don’t like Netanyahu or the prospect of more Middle East wars).
According to the transcript, this is what Obama said about the Senate rebellion:
“And so I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions — I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office. But as President of the United States right now, who’s been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate — what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community, and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now is the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.
And I’ve heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we’re supportive of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales. We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that.
I’ve heard arguments, well, but this way we can be assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a day, on a dime. But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. And we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of action. ”
Obama in his gentlemanly way excused the senators on the grounds that they might have tough reelection fights coming up in which hawkish posturing on Iran might be useful for fundraising and vote-getting. Nevertheless, the White House had earlier made clear that Obama would veto any such sanctions bill.
In fact, the vast majority of Americans approve of Obama’s Iran negotiations in polling and only a minority is opposed. So the rebel senators aren’t playing to the voters, but rather to determined and very wealthy special interests in the Northeast.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that a major new round of sanctions would kill the negotiations.
The government of President Hassan Rouhani, elected this past summer, faces its own hard line hawks who want to cause the talks with the US to fail. Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Jaafari, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, criticized Rouhani for being infected with Western ideas.
The question is if Jaafari from his side and Menendez and Schumer from their side can succeed in sinking the talks and ensuring we march off to war instead.
Reuters on Obama’s defense of his Iran negotiations on Friday :