GOP calls for Iran sanctions get louder as nuclear talks drag on


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Republican calls for Congress to impose sanctions on Iran got louder Wednesday, as talks aimed at rolling back the nation’s nuclear program appeared likely to stretch into another day.

After the State Department announced the talks would continue past a Tuesday deadline, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called for Congress to “act immediately to impose new sanctions.”

He was not alone.

“Is anyone surprised by another missed deadline in the #IranTalks? We should move forward with crippling sanctions,” tweeted Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) on Tuesday.

The calls mounted Wednesday, after reports of a “breakthrough” on crucial principles with Iran that were not followed by any formal agreement.

“#IranDeal deadline was yesterday. April Fools! Sec. Kerry asked for another extension. Time for increased sanctions,” tweeted Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) on Wednesday.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, did not call for sanctions Wednesday morning but repeated a Republican critique that the administration was cutting Congress out of the negotiations.

”The administration seems to be kind of just going around the Congress on this and, more recently, talking about actually going to the U.N., which I think is crazy, and cutting Congress out,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”  

Although the State Department announced talks would be extended one more day until Wednesday, there were suggestions they could be extended for another day.

”What I’m hearing now is that they may not have a statement today. It may not come until tomorrow, perhaps to avoid the unfortunate name ‘April Fool’s agreement,’ ” said Barbara Slavin, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Slavin said it appeared that the U.S. and international negotiators have convinced Iran to agree to a 15-year deal, and that Iran has agreed to “various measures” to cut off four pathways to a nuclear weapon. 

She said sticking points include how much Iran would initially reveal about the deal.

Iran wants to keep details secret until the talks conclude on June 30, but the Obama administration wants to put out an interim report to stave off sanctions legislation, she said. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed that the basic parameters of the deal have to be made public if the White House wanted to hold Congress back from passing legislation on Iran. 

“They have to be fairly specific if the administration is going to get us to June 30th, and that’s the challenge that they face,” he said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is poised to vote on an Iran bill on April 14, when they return from recess in two weeks. 

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a non-binding resolution that called for sanctions on Iran the administration could not certify that it was complying with any deal, which some Republicans have pointed to as a bellwether for support in the chamber. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated over the weekend that, regardless of what happens, Congress will move on legislation of some kind. 

Schiff downplayed the importance of the March 31 deadline.

”I don’t think that we need to press on any particular date,” he said. “The real date that makes all the difference is at the end of June.” 

”If we put too much pressure on ourselves to get a deal within 12 hours or 24 hours, that works in Iran’s favor.”  

Indeed, some Republicans have hedged in recent days over concerns that too much pressure could cause the administration to rush into a reckless deal. 

However, Schiff also acknowledged that political stakes are still high if the White House fails to reach a framework agreement.

“A lot will depend on whether this is part of a deal that Congress views as a good deal. I think if Congress comes to the conclusion this is not a good deal — the administration has given too much, Iran has given too little — then you will see additional legislation that attempts to tie the president’s hands,” he said. 

He said if critical issues are not ironed out, “then the president will have a hard time holding Congress back from additional action.” 

The White House insisted Wednesday the talks continued to be “productive,” but would not say whether there was a set deadline to reach a deal and reiterated the threat that the U.S. could walk away from talks if they hit a standstill.

But Republicans are mocking the administration’s credibility, making references to a “red line” President Obama drew in 2012 on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. 

“Today marks another missed redline and another unachievable promise that has weakened the United States’ position on the global stage,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) tweeted Wednesday.  

“It seems deadlines are about as firm as redlines in the Obama Administration,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

Former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) did not make things easier for the administration by joining Republican calls for the U.S. to walk away from talks. 

“Obama is right to try to get a deal,” Dean said Wednesday on “Morning Joe.” “[But] I’m worried about how these negotiations have gone.”

In the meantime, Republicans are framing the extension as helpful to Iran.

”It only suits their purpose just to continue with the negotiations. What’s the downside for Iran right now?” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), an Army National Guard brigadier general, Wednesday on Fox News Radio. 

Perry also accused the administration of agreeing to “containment” of an Iranian nuclear weapon program versus the prevention.

“The longer the Obama Administration stays at the negotiating table with Iran, the more concessions it makes,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a statement Wednesday.

“Enough is enough. The Obama Administration’s bad deal is only getting worse with time. Iran’s nuclear build-up profoundly endangers the security of America and our allies,” he said.


— Updated 10:11 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Barack Obama Iran John Thune Mitch McConnell Roger Williams Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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