US Congress Seeks Strategic Sanctions against Iran to Derail Nuclear Talks

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Strategic and International Analyst

Q: The United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs has approved the new Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill which seeks to further escalate unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. What is your opinion about this development?

A: What we see here is that within the US Senate Committee on Banking, 12 Republican and six Democrat members of the Congress have voted positive for the bill. The important point is that some Democrat members of the Congress had already announced that they would wait on the bill and do nothing until nuclear negotiations with Iran are over. Mr. [Bob] Menendez was one of those Congress members. However, in the aforesaid meeting of the banking committee, we saw that such Democrat Congress member as Menendez, Chuck Schumer, Jon Tester, Mark R. Warner, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly voted positive for the bill. These were Democrat members of the Congress who supported the bill. This issue proves that the Democrat Party still lacks stability and consistency among its ranks to adopt a single position in line with the policies of the US President Barack Obama. Therefore, despite Obama had sent a special message to representatives of the Congress, we still see rifts within the ranks of the Democrat Party. Of course, this issue is also true about other areas of the US party politics. For example, while the Republican Congress members had invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the Congress, Democrat members of the body opposed the decision and Nancy Pelosi had even went as far as making contacts to prevent Netanyahu’s speech. However, when the aforesaid bill was passed through the Congress, the first political current that sent a congratulatory message to the Congress and thanked its members was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In that message, AIPAC expressed its satisfaction about the measure taken by the US Congress; a Congress which is apparently moving in the direction of increasing confrontation between the United States and Iran.

Q: Some believe that such bills, which are purportedly aimed at increasing sanctions against Iran, are actually a tool to mount pressure on Tehran to concede to an agreement under any conditions and give more concessions to the opposite party. What is your opinion?

A: The goal pursued by most members of the Congress is to make Iran backtrack on its positions. In other words, their behavior and efforts are not meant to further bolster negotiations, but are meant to cause the failure of the negotiations and destroy any existing grounds for further talks. The approach followed by the representatives of the US administration gives priority to the negotiations and their success. Therefore, collective policies adopted by the US administration are meant to help that administration achieve this goal. However, the approach taken by the members of the Congress is not oriented toward the success of the negotiations, but is more headed toward amplification of strategic sanctions against Iran. Of course, the bill had been somehow toned down compared to its original version and had been also made conditional. The protagonists have noted that the new sanctions will be only put into gear if negotiations with Iran fail. Of course, during the Congress meeting, a supplement was also discussed according to which the US Department of the Treasury should announce its assessment about the reduction of Iran sanctions within five days after reaching the agreement with Iran. From this point of view, what we see is that approaches taken by Obama administration and the US Congress toward nuclear talks with Iran are at odds and do not follow the same tone. Some people in Iran think this is nothing but a “good cop, bad cop” game, though such analyses are too optimistic. The behavior shown by the members of the US Congress is actually aimed at changing the entire course of the negotiations. For example, when it comes to uranium enrichment by Iran, which has been allowed under the interim Geneva agreement to a limited extent, the path taken by the US administration has been to let continuation of enrichment in Iran and a major concession has been given to the Islamic Republic in this regard. At the same time, Iran has been able to convince the United States to put further sanctions on hold and now, all negotiating parties are working hard to have anti-Iran sanctions annulled. However, they [the Congress members] believe that the rules of this game should change and, in other words, they are following the game and policy of Netanyahu; a policy which seeks to reverse the course of any agreement over Iran's nuclear program.

Q: Mr. Obama has threatened that he would veto any bill on increasing sanctions against Iran. If the bill is actually vetoed by Obama, what would be the consequences and aftershocks of that veto?

A: The objective currently pursued by the US lawmakers is to thwart Obama’s veto by garnering the positive votes of two-thirds of the Senate members. What they are currently seeking is to defuse possible veto of the bill by Obama. Of course, the White House has reiterated that it has no plan to budge from its proclaimed position of vetoing anti-Iran sanctions and has put the veto on its agenda. However, this announcement cannot be taken as a basis for a decision under the present circumstances in the United States. The important issue is the final output of this tug of war in the United States political scene. We hope that Mr. Obama and members of the Congress will be able to manage this issue because what happened in the Senate Committee on Banking did not send a good message to the Obama administration and the Democrat party.

Q: Do you think that this move by Congress may elicit retaliatory measure from the Iranian parliament?

A: The illogical conduct of the Congress will put in jeopardy the previous achievements of the United States National Security Council. When debates started on possible escalation of sanctions against Iran, I said somewhere else that such a measure would be like setting the agreement on fire. The issue of increasing sanctions against Iran is not brought up just as a threat, but should be considered within framework of a plan for strategic erosion of Iran's position. Iran will continue its principled policy because the nuclear issue is the function of a system of consensus and officials in charge of the country’s foreign policy are duty-bound to reach its goals. The issue raised by [Iran’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif is also in line with the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and, cannot be considered as a reciprocal response to the US Congress’ measure within the framework of good cop and bad cop game. The Islamic Republic of Iran is by no means ready to backtrack on its positions while, on the other hand, it is not ready to give in to mounted and continuous pressure. This is not a logical situation and no citizen wants this situation to continue because what we seek is to engage in a new round of interaction with the opposite side based on a win-win game. We are moving on the basis of a balanced proposal and all efforts have been made to reverse to normal the course of Iran's nuclear case, which has been fallaciously defined within a meaningless security framework. It is not acceptable for our diplomatic apparatus that they misinterpret Iran's goodwill at every step of the way and try to change the general atmosphere of the negotiations into a breathtaking marathon.

Q: What is your opinion about the progress of negotiations?

A: There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue with the negotiations and attaches great significance to these talks. However, there are doubts as to how serious the other parties are about the negotiations. Iran's policy to engage in nuclear talks will not continue for good. Negotiations that we are conducting with three European countries and with Russia and China have new features and are purposive. Now, if the US Congress manages to impose its will on the US administration and move toward escalation of sanctions on Iran, it would practically undo all the achievements of the member states of the P5+1 group during past negotiations. The absence of consensus in the United States will not be tolerated by other countries because other countries want to see a progressive policy underlying the negotiations. Therefore, any form of intensification of sanctions against Iran by the US Congress will raise questions about the reason behind such a move and others will wonder why the US has behaved in such a destructive manner. We even saw that [British Prime Minister] David Cameron took an official position on the issue of the intensification of sanctions and similar positions have been taken by Germany and even France in the past. On the whole, the general opinion among European countries does not conform to the approach, which now dominates the US Congress. Any form of intensification of sanctions at the present time would backfire and undermine the true meaning of sanctions. In other words, in parallel to increase in sanctions, the importance of sanctions, which were based on consensus among Western states in the past, will decrease. This is true because the sanctions were justifiable on the basis of past situation while today, both we and some member states of the P5+1 group are experiencing different conditions. Therefore, if the United States chooses to change its final position on this issue, Iran will have a special policy for that case and will give an appropriate answer to Washington in proportion to the new situation. I mean, Iran will focus its efforts on destructive players inside the US Congress and will not remain a spectator in this game, but will appear quite proactive.

Key Words: US Congress, Strategic Sanctions, Iran, Nuclear Talks, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Menendez-Kirk Iran Sanctions Bill, Veto Power, Iranian Parliament, P5+1 Group, Koleini

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

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