By Jeremy Herb
The argument for delayed Iran sanctions is no longer credible, Republican senators plan to tell the Obama administration this week as they push Democrats to move forward with a new sanctions bill.
The senators say the apparent details of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, and the failure to secure a deal, show that tougher sanctions are needed to force Tehran into abandoning its nuclear program.
The outcome of the talks gives the administration “less credibility now with the senators,” said a Senate GOP aide.
“At the last meeting they were really working on something, and Democrats were willing to give them a round of talks to see where it goes,” the aide said. “And there’s now there’s a significant lack of trust in what the negotiations involve. What was briefed to the senators last time did not match ... what was actually offered.”
The GOP push for new sanctions — which are expected when Kerry briefs the Senate Banking Committee this week — will put Democrats in tricky position.
The Obama administration is pressing Senate Democrats to hold off on new sanctions, forcing Democrats to weigh backing the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts with their skepticism about the chances of success.
Now that those talks have stalled, some Democrats have suggested they might agree to move a new sanctions bill.
“I said that I would wait until this week, and in fact, this week has not produced a result,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“To be very honest with you, I think that the possibility of moving ahead with new sanctions — including wording it in such a way that if there’s a deal that’s acceptable, that those sanctions could cease upon such a deal — is possible,” he said.
Earlier this month, Kerry and Vice President Biden convinced the Senate Banking Committee to hold back the sanctions while the diplomatic negotiations played out.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has not indicated his next move. A committee aide said Johnson would not make any decisions until after Kerry briefed the panel later this week, although he told Reuters last week he planned to move ahead once last week’s negotiating session concluded.
Skepticism about delaying the sanctions is coming from Democratic leaders in the Senate. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was briefed by Biden on Iran Monday, said at an event in New York that he was “dubious” of the deal that was on the table, according to a spokesman.
The Obama administration is facing criticism not only from Congress, but also from Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the emerging framework of the agreement.
“Iran gives practically nothing and it gets a hell of a lot. That’s not a good deal,” Netanyahu said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
French officials also reportedly objected to continued construction of Iran’s heavy-water facility at Arak.
Critics of the proposed deal argue Iran receives sanctions relief without having to fully halt its uranium enrichment.
They’ve also pointed to a report last week from The Daily Beast that said Iran is already seeing some eased sanctions because the Treasury Department slowed the designation of sanctions violators in June, after President Hassan Rouhani was elected.
Republicans argue tough sanctions brought Tehran to the negotiating table, and say now is not the time to stop them.
Kerry has defended the initial deal that was discussed in Geneva, and expressed optimism that a final accord could be reached between Iran and the six world powers.
He said it was Iran, and not France, that stood in the way of an agreement, over Tehran reportedly wanting an initial deal to state Iran had a right to enrich uranium.
“The French signed off on it; we signed off on it. Everybody agreed this was a fair proposal. There was unity,” Kerry said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi. “But Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment; they weren’t able to accept that particular agreement.”
Should Senate Democrats agree to delay new sanctions measures until after the Nov. 20 round of negotiations with Iran and P5+1 group — the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany — Republicans may have other avenues to push sanctions.
Republicans like Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have suggested they might propose new Iran sanctions as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants on the Senate floor before Thanksgiving.
The defense bill was also the vehicle for Kirk and Menendez to get their Iran sanctions measure signed into law in 2011.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that Republicans also have a difficult choice, because they have to be cautious about turning a vote on Iran sanctions into a partisan one.
“Republicans are confronted by a desire on the one hand to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, while on the other hand not losing the bipartisan consensus, which has marked the Iran policy,” Rubin said.
“Even though distrust is the default opinion, many of the Democrats are more likely to abide by Kerry’s desire to have some sanctions relief for the sake of progress even if it goes against their better judgment,” he said.