The Boehner-Obama Struggle over Iran Nuclear Talks has gone International

By Jasmin Ramsey | (WASHINGTON (IPS) – While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole

CBS This Morning: “Boehner clashes with Obama over Iran, Israel”

5 Responses

  1. Perhaps it is time to make sure the next time a Security Council vote important to Israel arises our UN ambassador has a bad cold.

  2. In reality, even if the congress critters can over-ride a POTUS veto, the sanctions will be worthless and ignored by everyone on earth except the Iranian right wing who will be able to force the Iranian president to walk away from the talks while putting the whole blame on the US, and pretty much everyone on earth will agree with that reason.

    Do congress critters understand the ONLY alternatives to negotiations are to ignore Iran completely or war? Do the congress critters really want war? Do they understand what war would be like? Do they understand that Iran is a lot more powerful then they imagine? Iran will NOT start the war, they will simply wait for the US and/or Israel to start the war then make everyone in the USA and Israel extremely miserable

    I think the congress critters have a HUGE over-estimation of the real world power of the USA and think the rest of the world will salute and do as the congress critters say. That is NOT how it works and the congress critters are going to be shocked when the rest of the world laughs at them and refuses to OK another war.

    There is close to zero chance the US can get the votes in the UN to authorize a war on Iran and in fact the USA might have to use its veto to keep the UN from putting sanctions on the US for even thinking about war.

    This is NOT going to turn out good for the USA, congress critters nor Israel. This could be the final stupidity that causes Americans to throw Israel under the bus.

    If Israelis think they are isolated now, just wait until the USA stops protecting Israel. If they think the cost of living in Israel is high now, just wait until the Israeli economy slows to a halt. Contrary to the popular myth that Israelis have invented the whole world, the REALITY is Israel produces NOTHING that the world needs and can’t get someplace else on earth (often cheaper).

    So the bottom lines are:

    – Congress critter are going to be shown to be incompetent and impotent (driving their poll numbers close to zero)

    – Obama is going to look like a real leader.(and probably picking up some poll numbers)

    – Iran will win in the end.

    – Israel will lose big time.

    • It would be prudent to consider more alarming possibilities – because those are exactly what the GOP is planning. They still face the problem of having nothing to offer in 2016 but old-school oligarchs like J. Bush and Romney, at a time when we are assured by the media that Tea Partiers are anti-oligarchy libertarians who are not knee-jerk racist imperialists. Well, let’s get a fairly Warm War going with Iran and those folks will start to feel very nostalgic for these Neocon scions and the glory of 2003.

      If the war goes as badly under Bush/Romney as we expect, all the police state measures we and the Tea Partiers complain about will be applied – overwhelmingly against leftists, pacifists & minorities – and you will not hear a complaint from the Right except the token one from Rand Paul.

      Because “wartime” changes everything for “patriots”. Because it’s not Big Government if it’s “wartime”. Because duty instantly annuls liberty in “wartime”. Because martial law is a fantastic opportunity to destroy the traitors for good while the National Guard looks the other way.

      Every time we underestimate how far the GOP is willing to go is when the worst happens. And boy, Netanyahu can give it plenty of training on how to use a permanent state of war to turn a left-leaning society into a new Rhodesia.

  3. According to Iran experts, Flynt and Hillary Leverett: “The world has…seen what happens when America and its European partners demonstrate bad faith in nuclear diplomacy with Tehran — Iran expands its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. When Iran broke its nearly two-year enrichment suspension in 2005, it could run less than a thousand centrifuges; today, it has installed 12,000 centrifuges, more than 9,000 of which process uranium gas to produce enriched uranium. In February 2010, Iran began enriching uranium to the near-20 percent level needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) after the US and its partners refused to sell the fuel; Iran consistently offered to suspend near-20 percent enrichment if it could obtain an adequate fuel supply for the TRR. After Obama torpedoed the Tehran Declaration, Iran accelerated production of near-20 percent uranium and began indigenously manufacturing fuel plates for the TRR.” link to

  4. Nuclear reactors which use uranium enriched in U235 can be smaller hence safer than reactors which use non-enriched U235.

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