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January 26, 2015
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made clear his commitment to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Meanwhile, new Iran sanctions legislation that would threaten ongoing negotiations is expected to be introduced in the Senate any day. I am writing to urge you to stand with President Obama in support of the diplomatic talks. With the clock ticking down to the end of negotiations in July, diplomacy must be given every possible chance to succeed.
As the president said, “There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But 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 program again.” The president also promised to veto any sanctions legislation that is passed prior to the end of negotiations.
In addition, the Washington Post published an op-ed by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on January 21, in which the ministers urge “Maintaining pressure on Iran through our existing sanctions is essential. But introducing 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.”
On January 16, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said, “It’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 has allowed the United States and other countries to present a united front in dealing with Iran].”
Thus, we strongly oppose any legislation that might undermine negotiations or reverse the progress that’s already been made under the Joint Plan of Action.
Further, the anticipated sanctions legislation is in no way benign. There are several troubling provisions in the draft “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015,” reportedly to be introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill essentially creates another deadline outside of the agreement with our P5+1 partners—a unilateral deadline that would severely undermine our ability to implement any deal in consort with our European allies. It also sets the stage for unrealistic demands for an agreement and implies a threat of military action if those demands are not met. There are provisions that would strip the president of his executive powers and that therefore raise constitutional questions. Perhaps most troubling, the bill would suspend the ability of the U.S. to take critical actions to prevent Iran from racing to produce a nuclear bomb.
The following provisions of the draft “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” would do the most to undermine, if not outright kill diplomacy:
- Making unreasonable demands and setting the stage for failure: Section 3 undermines the negotiations in a number of ways. Implied demands for the suspension of uranium enrichment and dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would likely be read by both the Iranians and our P5+1 partners as a signal that the U.S. cannot be trusted to fulfill its commitments in any agreement that does not meet the wholly unrealistic demands set forth. Further, any senator signing on to this “sense of Congress” would be calling for the impossible—to deny Iran “nuclear weapon capability.” This is a cleverly undefined term that could easily mean that no deal would ever meet this standard—even one that would verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
- Setting unrealistic timelines: Section 101 puts forth an unrealistic timeline for the administration to provide a substantive verification assessment report to Congress.
- Barring efforts to prevent Iran from producing a bomb: Section 102(a) would prevent the U.S. from taking critical action to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb—for a period of two months or more after a deal is struck—while Congress “reviews” the deal. It prevents the U.S. from taking action related to the implementation of a long-term comprehensive agreement during this period. This would include barring the U.S. from participating in the verification of Iran’s compliance with an agreement, and from assisting with the dismantlement of nuclear facilities or removal of nuclear material from Iran.
- Preventing the president from suspending sanctions: Section 102(a) also would be a death knell for the negotiations. The unilateral ban on lifting or suspending sanctions would very likely derail the talks because it would signal to the Iranians and our P5+1 partners that the president may be unable to live up to a signed agreement.
- Threatening unilateral sanctions: Section 202 would be seen, rightly or wrongly, as violating the U.S. pledge to “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” under the Joint Plan of Action. Should negotiations end without a verifiable deal, there is nothing preventing Congress and the Obama Administration from quickly re-visiting the full range of policy responses, including additional sanctions.
Given the extraordinary stakes, now is the time for the U.S. Congress to support the efforts of President Obama and our allies to achieve a negotiated final agreement that ends the Iranian march toward a nuclear bomb. We urge you to oppose the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” and any other legislation that might undermine diplomacy, thereby allowing Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, and hurling us into another war in the Middle East.