Will GOP Congress block an Obama Iran Nuclear Deal?

By Carl Schreck and Luke Johnson (RFE/RL) | —-

WASHINGTON — With the deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program looming, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is under increased pressure to bring home a deal that is acceptable to a skeptical Congress.

If he cannot do so by November 24, he faces an even tighter deadline to hammer out an agreement before a new, Republican-controlled, Congress convenes in January.

“Already there was a tight deadline, and now a new political factor has emerged that even reduces the window further,” National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi said of recent elections that put Republicans in control of both the House and Senate.

The ascendant Republicans have warned of new legislative action that would impose new sanctions on Iran unless a deal to their liking is struck.

And even in the event of a deal, Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expects a bigger role for the incoming Senate in working out the details.

“My guess is that there’s still going to be an appropriate opportunity for the Senate to weigh in, whether the White House wishes that to occur or not,” Corker told RFE/RL after a November 18 classified administration briefing on the talks.

Corker was among 43 Republican senators this week who wrote a letter to Obama expressing “alarm” at the White House’s “reported plans to circumvent Congress” in the event of a deal.

Such plans, they wrote, “suggest that your negotiators may be concluding a weak and dangerous deal which will prove unacceptable to the American people.”

“We will continue to seek to impose additional pressure on Iran in the months ahead unless Tehran abandons its nuclear ambitions and pursues a genuinely constructive path in its relations with the world,” the senators wrote in the November 19 letter.

‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’

Proponents of Congressional pressure say the threat of new sanctions legislation could result in greater concessions from Tehran in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Others, however, say a push for new sanctions by U.S. lawmakers could scuttle a deal altogether.

“It’s a very dangerous game for Congress to be playing, to be throwing out additional threats of sanctions that could derail a deal before they’ve really even had a chance to see how it might play out,” John Bradshaw, executive director of the National Security Network, a Washington-based think tank, told RFE/RL.

A “good-cop-bad-cop” routine in which Congress plays the role of the volatile enforcer threatening harsher measures is unlikely to improve the United States’ negotiating position, said Parsi, author of the 2012 book “A Single Roll Of The Dice — Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran.”

“The person on the opposite side needs to be convinced that the good cop is in a position to control the bad cop,” Parsi said. “When you get the opposite impression, and you feel like the good cop has little say, then there is no reason to negotiate with the good cop.”

Fresh sanctions legislation may, in fact, be welcomed by Iranian hard-liners who “would be delighted to see Congress sabotage these talks and take the blame for it,” Parsi added.

Power Shift

Republicans captured control of the Senate earlier this month, giving them a 53-47 majority in the chamber when it convenes for a new session in January and control of both houses of Congress.

The power shift has increased the likelihood that U.S. lawmakers could pass bills slapping Iran with new sanctions, though it remains unclear if the legislation could reach the two-thirds threshold in both chambers of Congress to override a presidential veto.

Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois) and Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) introduced a bill late last year with 59 co-sponsors — including 16 Democrats — that would impose tough sanctions on Iran if a deal failed.

The bill stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate last spring amid intense opposition from the Obama administration, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) has refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Kirk told the “The Hill,” a newspaper that covers U.S. politics, that he will “definitely” introduce the bill in the upcoming Congressional session and that he is working on building enough support in the House to protect the legislation from a presidential veto.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman, Representative Ed Royce (Republican-California), and ranking Democrat, Eliot Engel of New York, released a toughly worded joint statement on November 20 saying that “conceding” enrichment of uranium to Iran “is a fundamental and risky departure from decades of U.S. non-proliferation policy.”

Tehran’s refusal to significantly reduce the size and output of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to levels sufficient for use in nuclear warheads had been a key sticking point in negotiations since an interim agreement was reached between Tehran and the six world powers in November 2013.

Any final agreement “must foreclose any pathway for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability” and “require Iran to come clean on its past work to develop a bomb,” Royce and Engel wrote in their statement.

Room To Move?

Obama does have some leeway when dealing with the deluge of sanctions first imposed by Washington after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

While the current sanctions regime is “arguably the most complex the United States and the international community have ever imposed on a rogue state,” the president “retains, in varying degrees, the authority to tighten and relax restrictions” under the laws that make up its “statutory basis,” according to a Congressional Research Service report published in February.

But the threat of additional legislation to sanctions Iran could lead to a response by Tehran that could ratchet up tensions further and ultimately tie Obama’s hands in negotiations, analysts say.

Even if the proposed U.S. sanctions and Iranian countermeasures are not overtly linked to nuclear issues to avoid being accused of torpedoing the negotiations, the end result could be the same, said Parsi.

“Ultimately you’re going to have a negotiation surrounded by escalation on all matters that are not directly related to the nuclear question,” he told RFE/RL. “What that ultimately does, of course, is that it fundamentally decreases the likelihood of any negotiation success.”

Erich Ferrari, a Washington-based lawyer who practices in the field of economic sanctions, said a drive by U.S. lawmakers for new sanctions could poison negotiations regardless of whether they become law.

“[It] would send a really bad message to the Iranians,” Ferrari said. “I’m not sure if those laws would get passed or not. I think the president would veto it. I don’t know if they’d be able to override the veto. But I don’t think it sends a good message one way or the other.”

Golnaz Esfandiari contributed to this report from Washington

Mirrored from RFE/ RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Iran and the West scramble to strike deal before deadline”

8 Responses

  1. While the congress critters keep rattling their paper sabre, in REALITY there is NOTHING they can do. The US has no other tools to use.

    – The US has already imposed all the direct sanctions it can on US and Iran trade, and Iran has successfully ignored them. Just this month, it was revealed that Iran successfully purchased four US made helicopters.

    – The US has already imposed all the third-party sanctions that other nations will allow and those sanctions are completely falling apart. Any attempt by congress to impose any further third-party sanctions will be met with very FIERCE opposition from every country on earth. Other countries will gleefully use congressional sanctions as an excuse to cripple US companies and remove them as competitors on the global stage (Hint: Germany is trying to cripple Google right now).

    – Money laundering is a hugely profitable business, so any attempt by congress critters to further restrict the global banking system will simply be ignored. Not only that but China wants to remove the US dollar as the global trading currency and any further meddling in global finance by the congress critters will just make China’s job easier.

    The bottom line is the congress critters can rant and rave all they want and make all the threats they want, but their gun is out of bullets.

    I suspect that many in Iran realize the US has “shot its wad” and will bargain hard at the negotiating table. The US will NOT get anywhere close to what congress wants and the congress critters are going to have to swallow that bitter drink.

    • China ranting about shifting from the dollar is vacuous noise. They say this periodically because they are highly invested in US government securities and the US Dollar–they can’t avoid it as a matter of trade imbalances. Thus, their wealth is highly subject to US monetary policy. We could simply inflate away all our debts to China. It isn’t a likely scenario simply because it would be bad for those few Americans and related Europeans who presently hold the majority of wealth at this point. So, occasionally China makes empty threats but you do have a way with stringing along the metaphors. Not sure I get the Congress critters with one gun out of bullets though. The “shot wad” theory I do believe was disproven by Pascal some time ago.

      Money laundering might be a police problem but your paranoia is way out of balance if you think it is even noticeable in the currency markets or can impact foreign policy.

      • In the long term it is to China’s advantage to come up with an alternative to the US dollar. While China would like to control the base trading currency, they will settle for depriving the US of that power. It is important to remember that China’s culture is over 5000 years old and they have had massive power for much of that time. They have learned a thing or two that the US has not even thought about yet, so it would be a mistake to discount China.

        As for money laundering, it simply makes all the US manipulation of the financial system worthless and ineffective.

        The bottom line I was trying to convey is while the congress critters can wastes hours of TV time spewing hot air, they will not be able to accomplish anything and some of the things they might try, would end up hurting the US far more than they will hurt Iran.

        basically the US has reached the limits of its power and life in Iran will get better each day no matter what the congress critters do short of war.

        While the congress critters can legally start a war anytime they want, the results of that war will very probably be extremely damaging to the US future.

  2. MP Silveira

    @clancycnn Obama did not fix health with Obama Care or immigration with exec order do u think he’ll solve Iran’s Nuclear desires??

    • The US can not “solve Iran’s Nuclear desires.” The only thing the US can do is get the best deal they can with Iran and then go away. This has nothing to do with Obama, but everything to do with the extreme hubris the US has displayed since WW2.

  3. MP Silveira

    @clancycnn Obama did not fix health with Obama Care or immigration with exec order do u think he’ll solve Iran’s Nuclear desires??

  4. The GOP will introduce as many inane bills to force the President to repeatedly exercise his veto. They will then spin this to do a few things: To pigeon hole the Democrats, to push the image of the Democrats (President) toward tyranny, and to siderail the real Democratic agenda by causing them to defend the long-line of vetoes. It won’t seem to matter that most of the Bills will be noise and nonsense. So, of course they will pass bills to block a settlement of the Iran issue. They’ll pass bills to prevent State Department dinners on Friday nights if it suits them.

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