Great divide over Iran sanctions
Orange County Register -- By ELIZABETH HELD
WASHINGTON – Iran and its nuclear development was the focal point of two very different events on Capitol Hill Wednesday – one promoted a kind of détente with the Islamic Republic, the other featured members who are deeply troubled by the approach President Barack Obama’s administration has taken.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with members of the Senate Banking Committee behind closed doors to argue that now is not the time for the U.S. to impose additional sanctions against Iran.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday on Syria.
In contrast, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing where he argued the opposite. He urged the Senate to immediately pass the tough sanctions the House approved in July.
The contrasting meetings illuminate the tough spot the Obama administration is in. It’s trying to negotiate a deal with Iran and convince Congress to get on board with its plan. But, Democrats and Republicans from both chambers are criticizing the president’s approach.
Congress and the president have three main areas of disagreement:
Q. More sanctions or fewer?
A.The Obama administration has indicated it’s willing to lift sanctions in exchange for modifications to Iran’s nuclear program. In contrast, the House of Representatives passed a tough sanctions bill in July and members of the Senate have said they’d like to pass more sanctions as well.
Prior to meeting with the Senate Banking Committee, Kerry told reporters that if new sanctions were put in place, “They (the Iranians) would bolt and they will say, ‘That's not the deal.'”
Royce, and other members of the House and the Senate, though, think Iran is willing to negotiate only because of the sanctions.
Q. What should a deal look like?
A.The tentative deal from last weekend was not made public, but reports suggest that Iran would turn its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium into reactor fuel in exchange for western nations unfreezing billions of dollars of Iran’s assets they hold.
The administration believes this deal would be the first step in a larger negotiation process, said Colin Kahl, a Georgetown University professor who previously served in the Obama defense department. He testified at the Royce hearing.
But Royce, and other members of Congress, say no deal should be accepted unless it halts all Iranian nuclear enrichment. “Congress generally is of the mind that it would be a big mistake to allow Iran to obtain nuclear enrichment capabilities,” Royce said in an interview Tuesday.
Kerry pushed back on that notion Wednesday. “If (the deal) weren't strong, why wouldn't Iran have accepted it yet?” he asked.
Q. Can America trust the Iranian president?
A.Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, took office in August. Administration supporters say that Rouhani is genuinely interested in negotiating with the west.
“Rouhani is serious … he believes he has room from the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei),” Kahl said.
Royce told the Register that Khamenei recently condoned the use of “Death to America” at a protest marking the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. That, he said, does not give him a lot of optimism for negotiation.
Q. What’s next?
A.Following Wednesday’s hearing, Royce told reporters he is working with his counterparts in the Senate to bring sanctions legislation to a vote.
“We feel the legislation will bring additional pressure on the regime in Iran in order to force that regime to comply with the basic strategy necessary to stop the centrifuges from spinning,” he said.
Kerry said that if the negotiations fail, “we reserve the right to dial back up the sanctions. I will be up here on the Hill asking for increased sanctions and we always reserve the military option.”