Don’t force an irresponsible vote on Iran sanctions
On August 3, Iran will inaugurate its new president, Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on the promise to repair relations with the West and to “pursue a policy of peace and reconciliation.” Rouhani’s election represents what could be the last best hope for serious negations with Iran to produce a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute in which Iran places verifiable constraints on its nuclear program to ensure the international community it cannot develop a nuclear arsenal.
A vote on H.R. 850 before Rouhani is even inaugurated and the U.S. and its partners are able to test whether Iran’s new president can deliver on his promises would send all the wrong signals. Rebuffing Rouhani’s positive words, and preempting him before he has the chance to turn those words into deeds, will undercut the new president and his pledged path of “moderation.” Such a vote will be seized upon by hardliners in Iran who were routed in recent elections in part because of their “resistance-only” approach to negotiations. These hardliners will cite the new sanctions vote as a proof that the U.S. is not interested in negotiating and that professing willingness for compromise only invites further sanctions from the U.S.
The House must not snuff out hopes for Iranian moderation before Rouhani even gets a chance.
Once Rouhani is inaugurated, assuming Congress does not move forward with new sanctions, it is expected that new negotiations will recommence between Iran and the UN Security Council Permanent Members plus Germany (P5+1). There will also be a push for crucial bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Iran–talks that have so far been rebuffed by the Supreme Leader, but which many expect Rouhani to accept and which Khamenei has signaled he will acquiesce to despite his pessimism. Issuing sanctions before we get a chance to propose these critical bilateral negotiations makes no sense unless the objective is to prevent the talks from happening.
The last thing the House should do is vote on a new round of sanctions at this time. If negotiations go badly, there may come a time in which Congress will move forward with new sanctions. However, the bill that would be voted on then would likely need to be changed to reflect what happens in the talks. Furthermore, there are serious concerns that the Committee-approved version of H.R.850 eliminates and weakens important Presidential waivers that could be used in negotiations in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions. The bill now includes a near-total oil embargo that would require the President to sanction our allies and divide the unprecedented international coalition working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Members should not be forced to vote on the bill preemptively, in its current form, and lose the opportunity to fix the bill and update it to reflect the outcome of negotiations.
Members of the House understand the stakes, but many of them are pressured by the politics. However, there is little support among the public for a new military adventure in the Middle East with Iran. Recognizing this, one hundred and thirty-one members of Congress recently sent a letter to the President calling for reinvigorated diplomacy with Iran’s new president. The costs of military action – and the fact that such action could make a nuclear-armed Iran more likely – have been discussed publicly and criticized forcefully by many former and current civilian and military officials. A vote on new sanctions would make war far more likely and rob the U.S. of the opportunity to seize a major potential opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff peacefully.
Hoar is former Commander in Chief of United States Central Command; Wilkerson is former Chief of Staff to General Colin Powell; and Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council.