By Harvey Wasserman
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The U.S.-Iran nuclear deal may be imperiled by armchair hawks in the U.S. Senate.
Even as the nuclear accord is set to go into effect, there is a parallel effort going on in the Senate chambers that may sabotage the whole effort. So much so that the Obama Administration has publicly lambasted those backing the efforts, including members of the Democratic Party.
"If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so," said National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan. "Otherwise, it's not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran's nuclear program to proceed."
The bill at issue aims to impose new sanctions on Iran. The sanctions are proposed to go into effect unless Iran completely halts its uranium enrichment. The Iranian government has indicated that if passed, the bill will be a deal-breaker.
"With respect to the Iranians, they have communicated publicly in that Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif has said that new sanctions would cause them to leave the negotiation," an Obama Administration official told reporters. "Our intelligence community has assessed that new sanctions enacted during the negotiations are likely to derail that negotiation."
Worryingly, the bill has strong bipartisan support. As many as fifty-nine Senators back the bill. To add to the pressure, scores of neocon foreign policy mavens have signed an open letter to Congress urging passage of the bill. The more well-known names on the list include Joe Lieberman and Bill Kristol.
Supporters of the bill claim that it goes into effect down the road only if Iran violates the nuclear deal.
But Professor Colin Kahl, a former Obama Administration official, says that the timing of the bill makes that claim disingenuous.
"Enshrining new economic threats in law now runs counter to the spirit of the Geneva pledge of no new sanctions during negotiations, and risks empowering Iranian forces hoping to scuttle nuclear talks," he writes in the National Interest. "The legislation also defines congressionally acceptable parameters for a final deal that Iran experts almost universally believe are unachievable, namely the requirement that Iran completely dismantle its uranium enrichment program."
As Kahl points out, the reformists in the Iranian government, led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, are engaged in a fierce battle with hard-liners in the ruling apparatus. Passage of the sanctions bill would give the conservative faction a cause to point to the perfidy of the United States.
The neocons still want our war with Iran. We can't let them get away with this wish.
Photo: Flickr user Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, creative commons licensed.