Before Thanksgiving it seemed that certain key players on both sides of the Senate aisle were skeptical of the latest deal with Iran, which pulls back economic sanctions in exchange for concessions to Iran’s nuclear program. Now it appears that both parties in both houses of Congress are ready to issue additional sanctions at the first hint that Iran is faltering in its agreement.
In what the Washington Examiner calls “rare bipartisan support,” key Democrat and Republican leaders are prepared to undermine President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to negotiate with Iran. Even members of Congress who support negotiation over sanctions, such as Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, argue that sanctions should be in place in case Iran does not make good on its nuclear promises.
President Obama, who has at times praised economic sanctions against Iran—particularly during the 2012 presidential campaign—is now soliciting lawmakers to back away from sanctions and instead support the results of the Geneva negotiations. “Our view is that passing these sanctions during the life of the negotiations would complicate the negotiations in a number of ways,” said an administration official to the Washington Post. According to the Daily Beast, the Obama administration has been subtly relaxing sanctions since the election of Hassan Rouhani, the current Iranian head of state. “For five months, since Rouhani’s election, the United States has offered…major forms of sanctions relief…there’s been a significant slowdown in the pace of designations while the Iranians are proliferating the number of front companies and cutouts to bust sanctions,” said Mark Dubowitz, of Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The president is invested in the idea of easing sanctions.
Congress would be an almost impossible obstacle for the president. While he may have been successful in diminishing the efficacy of current economic blocks against Iran, a new round of sanctions with support from the majority of Congress would nullify any gains Obama can claim to have made in his latest efforts to broker stability in the Middle East. And Obama would have little recourse against a united Congress: The Washington Post cited Senator Bob Menendez, who intimated that sanctions might be attached to the next defense appropriations bill.