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New Iran Sanctions Could Derail Upcoming Negotiations

As experts and former officials warned that new sanctions and inflexibility could undermine upcoming negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran, Congress passed new sanctions and sent a letter warning the President against flexibility in negotiations.

Capitol Hill

Washington, DC - “The time is ripe for a deal, and wrong for more sanctions,” according to analysis last week from former Representative Lee Hamilton, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and General Anthony Zinni. The trio cautioned American leaders against attaching further sanctions to a “must-pass” defense bill on the cusp of a new round of negotiations expected in the coming weeks involving the U.S. and Iran.

Their counsel stems from a new report, “Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Sanctions on Iran”, endorsed by thirty-eight American diplomatic, political, military, and business leaders. The report warns that “Inflexibly imposed, escalating sanctions begin to lose their value as leverage to elicit change in Iranian policy, including on nuclear issues.”

Congress, however, agreed last night to include a new round of sanctions on Iran in the defense bill, and will vote to send the measure to the President in the coming days. 

Additionally, a letter sent yesterday by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), warned the President against flexibility on sanctions in any upcoming negotiations with Iran. The letter garnered fifty-seven signatures.

The Iran Project report aims to provide “a fact based analysis that we hope will provide Americans sufficient understanding to weigh the balance between the benefits and costs of using international sanctions against Iran—and the wisdom to find the right time to negotiate.” The previous report assessed the consequences of military strikes by the U.S. or Israel against Iran.

The report’s authors cautioned that sanctions were complicating potential diplomatic solutions because “so many of the U.S. sanctions against Iran have been enacted into law limits the President’s discretion” and that in some cases “easing sanctions would require coordination with other nations and the UN Security Council.” Ambassador William Luers, speaking at the report’s release event, noted that it took Congress to repeal sanctions against Uganda following Idi Amin’s ouster.

Luers also voiced concern that sanctions are not achieving policy objectives in part due to the multiplicity of US objectives – from bringing Iran back to the table to forcing regime change, as some in Congress have posited. According to the report, this lack of unity in Washington suggests a serious roadblock to potential talks. “Absent a calibrated, positive response from the West,” reads the report, “Iran’s leaders would have little incentive to move forward with negotiations.”

After some delay, the European Union has sent an invitation to Iran to enter a new round of negotiations with the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) regarding the nuclear dispute. Those talks are expected to happen in January, though it is not clear if the U.S. and P5+1 will be flexible on the issue of trading sanctions relief for Iranian concessions, and what concessions Iran is willing to make.

 

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