NIAC Opposes Amendment to Extend Iran Sanctions 10 Years

The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding an effort to extend Congressional sanctions for an additional ten years:

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly opposes a controversial amendment from Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 that would extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 from its current expiration of 2016 through 2026. This amendment would short-circuit Congressional consideration of sanctions relief in a final nuclear agreement and risk complicating ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and derailing negotiations as they reach their endgame. If it comes up for a vote, NIAC strongly urges the Senate to reject it.

With a historic nuclear deal potentially just weeks away, Congress should wait to see the exact parameters of an agreement before considering whether to alter major pieces of Iran sanctions legislation. Given that the Iran Sanctions Act doesn’t expire until the end of 2016, there’s plenty of time to allow for the negotiations to play out and for Congress to review a final deal before considering any action regarding the ISA. Taking action on this matter now, in the middle of negotiations, would be premature and counterproductive.

Extending sanctions for ten years would send a dangerous signal on one of the most sensitive and unresolved areas remaining in the talks. There are legitimate questions about whether the U.S. will be able to deliver on the terms for sanctions relief under a nuclear deal, and the passage of this amendment would give credence to those concerns. Even if Iran acknowledges that U.S. sanctions won’t technically be lifted but rather suspended in the initial years of a deal, extending the ISA well into the future would boost Iranian hardliners and make the sell for difficult nuclear compromises in Iran even tougher.

A key premise of the recently-passed Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) was that it would establish an orderly process for substantive debate by Congress regarding an Iran deal. As several of the bill’s supporters articulated, it ensures Congress will have its chance to weigh in on whether to support or oppose a nuclear deal and on the issue of sanctions, but only once the negotiations are completed. However, the Kirk-Menendez amendment is one of several offered to the NDAA regarding Iran that represent a breach of that bipartisan promise. Those who voted for the INARA and believe in an orderly review process should ensure that the Kirk-Menendez amendment and similar amendments are blocked as negotiators seek to finalize a nuclear deal.

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Fifty Pro-Diplomacy Organizations Urge Senate to Reject Dangerous Iran Legislation

Press Release - For Immediate Release

 

 

 

Washington, DC – On the heels of a series of political stunts on Capitol Hill that have heightened partisanship and threatened to sabotage nuclear negotiations with Iran, 50 organizations sent a letter to the Senate today warning against legislation that would entrust Congress with expanded powers to block an eventual nuclear deal. 

The letter urges Senators to oppose the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (S.615), and was signed by groups including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Win Without War, MoveOn.org, CREDO, and Americans for Peace Now.

“The outrageous political stunts in the Senate have made it clear that some in Congress will stop at nothing to kill nuclear talks with Iran, regardless of the consequences,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “Tom Cotton and his colleagues should not be rewarded with additional powers to sabotage a deal and drag the U.S. into war.”

As detailed in the letter below, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act contains numerous elements that risk disrupting negotiations in their final stage and blocking the President from using existing authorities to implement a prospective deal. The bill would delay implementation of any agreement for 60 days, insert conditions that are outside the scope of the P5+1’s negotiations, and provide Congress with new veto powers over a deal.

A copy of the letter is below:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

To: Members of the U.S. Senate

As organizations representing millions of Americans that support a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, we strongly urge you to oppose S.615, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. By threatening to reject a prospective nuclear deal, inserting conditions outside the scope of negotiations, and delaying the implementation of any agreement for months, this bill risks derailing the best chance to both prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and avert a disastrous war.

We understand that some members of Congress seek additional consultation and oversight regarding a final agreement. This bill is not the means to do so. Instead, this bill risks ensuring that there is no agreement for Congress to oversee in the first place. The politicized manner through which some have attempted to advance this bill, by seeking to bypass regular procedure and pass the bill at such a delicate time in negotiations, should give pause to those members who do not want to subject a potential nuclear deal to a vote that is based on politics rather than substance. If Members of Congress support this bill and it ends up defeating a nuclear deal, they would own the consequences of a diplomatic failure: an expanding Iranian nuclear program, the unraveling of international sanctions on Iran, and an increasing threat of war.

There are appropriate ways to increase Congressional oversight of a nuclear deal with Iran without threatening to scuttle a diplomatic solution. However, in order to give negotiations the best chance to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and avert war, it is important that Congress reject S.615.

Sincerely,

American Friends Service Committee

American Values Network

Americans for Peace Now

Arab American Institute

Arms Control Association

Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Center for Interfaith Engagement of Eastern Mennonite University

Center for International Policy

Citizens for Global Solutions

Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness

CODEPINK

Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Council for a Livable World

CREDO

Daily Kos

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Exchange

Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

The HAND Foundation

Historians Against the War

Institute for Policy Studies

International Civil Society Action Network

Jewish Voice for Peace

Just Foreign Policy

Maryknoll Office of Global Concern

MoveOn.org Civic Action

National Council of Churches

National Iranian American Council

National Security Network

NETWORK

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Pax Christi International

Peace Action

Peace Action West

People Demanding Action

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Progressive Democrats of America

RootsAction.org

Sojourners

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United for Peace and Justice

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

U.S. Labor Against the War

USAction

Veterans for Peace

WarisaCrime.org

Win Without War

Women’s Action for New Directions

World Beyond War

Policy Memo: Analysis of Netanyahu’s Speech

Netanyahu was wrong about the Iraq war, wrong about the interim nuclear deal that has constrained Iran’s nuclear activities, and he is wrong about the President’s negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement with Iran.  Aside from the debate over the breach of protocol and damage to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, this was a full assault on an agreement that would offer the strongest possible safeguards against an Iranian nuclear weapon. Netanyahu came to defeat a historic diplomatic achievement and undermine the U.S. President. 

Netanyahu belittled the prospect of enhanced inspections and verification, stating “inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.” 

Reality: No nation has ever obtained a nuclear weapon under IAEA inspections. 

  • North Korea developed weapons only by leaving the NPT and ejecting inspectors. 
  • A deal would lock in permanent enhanced inspections and ensure Iran remains in the NPT. If Iran cheated and tried to break out, we would catch them. 
  • Netanyahu wants to sacrifice all of this. His approach – killing a nuclear deal – would actually risk having no inspections, no restraints, and no compliance with the NPT.

PM Netanyahu criticized a deal because it would only last “about a decade.”

Reality: The increased transparency, inspections, and verification mechanisms under a deal would be permanent.

  • Under a final agreement Iran would ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol, expanding inspector access to Iran’s nuclear program and suspect nuclear sites on a permanent basis.
  • All of the alternative options to constrain Iran’s nuclear program are far shorter than the 10-15 years of a deal:

– Deal – 10-15 years. The constraints on Iran’s enrichment under a deal are expected to last for 10 years and scale down for approximately 5 years after that – for a total of 15 years. At this point, there would be very strong incentives against Iran violating its permanent obligations and breaking out.

– US military strikes: ~2 years. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would not destroy Iran’s nuclear know how, and military experts expect could only delay Iran from rebuilding for approximately 1-2 years. Strikes would also provide cover for Iran to abandon the NPT and eject inspectors, and would provide strong incentives for Iran to quickly breakout and develop a nuclear deterrent.

– Israeli military strikes: ~6 months. Israel could not destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and could only set it back by approximately 6 months.  

– Sanctions: no constraint. Sanctions may slow Iranian procurement, but in the past decade of sanctions, Iran has gone from <200 centrifuges to >20,000 centrifuges. Only the interim agreement–and the trading-in of sanctions–has arrested this progress. 

Netanyahu urged Congress to pursue a “better deal” that only exists in fantasy. 

Reality: There is no better deal on the table that would dismantle Iran’s entire nuclear program. The alternative to diplomacy is war.

  • Netanyahu made clear he opposes any deal with Iran, yet presented no alternative – that’s because his alternative is war and regime change. Such an approach is bad for the U.S. and bad for Israel.
  • Negotiations with Iran took off when the counterproductive “zero enrichment” demand was dropped. Resurrecting the idea will block any viable agreement.
  • Netanyahu would prefer we sacrifice a deal that would put real constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and instead issue tough talk demands about non-nuclear issues.
  • Sanctions and threats of war would provoke Iran to expand its nuclear program and limit the access of inspectors to Iran’s nuclear program.
  • This would increase the likelihood of both an Iranian nuclear weapon and war. U.S. troops would likely pay the price if Congress helps Netanyahu kill the deal.

Netanyahu warned that Iran is a bad actor stretching its influence across the region. 

Reality: there is strategic convergence between the U.S. and Iran on certain regional issues, including the battle against ISIS. 

  •  Netanyahu listed a long litany of problems that the international community has with Iran’s activities. But that is no reason to reject an agreement that would offer strong assurances against a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • Indeed, Iran’s concerning activities outside of the nuclear sphere are a strong justification for the Obama administration’s continued pursuit of a nuclear agreement. 

A strong nuclear deal is not a threat to the U.S. or Israel, but it could be a threat to Netanyahu’s political future. Congress shouldn’t let this political stunt blow up fruitful negotiations that hold the promise of resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.

NIAC Statement on Netanyahu’s Speech

Trita Press Release

 

 

 

NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before Congress:

“In 2002, Benjamin Netanyahu ‘guaranteed’ Congress that the Iraq war would have ‘enormous positive reverberations on the region.’ Today, he ‘guaranteed’ that the pending nuclear deal with Iran will ensure an Iranian nuclear bomb. Netanyahu was dead wrong on Iraq, and he is dead wrong on Iran. 

“If Congress follows his lead and rejects a deal with Iran that peacefully prevents nuclear weapons, it could be an even greater foreign policy mistake than the Iraq invasion.

“In 2002, Netanyahu was part of a crowd that advocated for a war on false pretenses. Today, he is leading the crowd toward a new war, but this time they have learned to call it otherwise. He presented a fantasy approach and provided no alternative to a nuclear deal. This is a question of securing a deal that places verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, versus a non-strategy of issuing tough talk demands and getting nothing for it but a war.
 
“Netanyahu opposed diplomacy with Iran from the outset. He has sought to prevent it, he has sought to derail it. But now he expects the President of the United States to listen to him on how to conduct it – without offering any realistic alternative.
 
“The conduct of the government in Iran is problematic, to say the least. Its human rights abuses are deplorable, for instance. But citing 35 years of enmity can not be an argument for rejecting an opportunity to end Iran’s problematic policies. Such an argument only serves to ensure that the problems never get resolved.
  
“The reason is clear: There is no alternative to a peaceful, negotiated outcome with Iran.”
 
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Netanyahu’s Dangerous Iran Push

With the U.S. and Iran continuing to narrow gaps toward a nuclear deal that would prevent a disastrous war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is gearing up to play spoiler. As part of his campaign, Netanyahu has ignored all protocol in order to attack the negotiations before a joint session of Congress next month, and has also reportedly leaked information in an effort to distort and undermine the U.S. negotiating position. In so doing, Netanyahu is not just challenging President Obama, but also the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China, who are all working toward the agreement that Netanyahu opposes so vociferously. 

Democratic lawmakers have voiced their frustration with Netanyahu’s open efforts to subvert the President’s Iran policy, to keep the President and Democratic leadership in the dark, and his apparent willingness to weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship for domestic political gain ahead of next month’s election. Yesterday, 23 representatives – led by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Maxine Waters (D-CA) – released a joint letter urging Netanyahu to postpone the speech. More than two dozen Democrats have already stated that they will not attend, and many more are leaving open the possibility of skipping the speech. 

Meanwhile, Republicans have exploited the speech in an attempt to score cheap political points. A resolution welcoming Netanyahu, introduced by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, has garnered 50 cosponsors in the Senate – all Republican. While Netanyahu likely hoped his speech would galvanize bipartisan support for Congress to scuttle the negotiations or veto a forthcoming agreement, it has only deepened the partisan divide.

Netanyahu’s moves have also deepened the mutual distrust between himself and President Obama. Obama has made the case that long-term nuclear limits combined with intrusive inspections offer the best assurances against a potential Iranian nuclear weapon. The President has been clear that new Congressional sanctions pose an unacceptable risk that would increase the likelihood of the U.S. getting dragged into another military conflict. The White House has also issued a veto threat against a rumored Senate Republican push to demand an immediate Congressional vote on any final deal, which would give opponents of diplomacy a last ditch tool to try to scuttle an agreement. 

So far, Netanyahu and groups like AIPAC have been relatively quiet regarding the Congressional vote proposal, but have continued to push Congress to pass sanctions despite Obama’s objection. According to Israel’s own intelligence services, passing new sanctions would be like throwing a grenade into the negotiating process. Such a move would kill negotiations and end the limitations and enhanced inspections brought by the interim nuclear deal. Rather than something to avoid, Netanyahu sees this as a reason to toss the grenade. He believes that by wrecking the negotiations, sanctions and the threat of war could convince Iran to cry uncle and give up all nuclear activities. He is gravely mistaken. As Iran has proven, it would respond to escalation with its own form of escalation, an expanding nuclear program.

Instead of a limited and heavily-monitored Iranian enrichment program, Iran could resume enrichment to the 20% level or even to 60%, as Iran’s hardliners have suggested. With the failure of negotiations, and the collapse of enhanced inspections and restraints, Iran could immediately expand its enrichment capacity by bringing nearly ten thousand additional centrifuges online in short order and dramatically increasing its centrifuge numbers towards the 190,000 envisioned by hardliners. Intrusive, daily inspections of enrichment facilities would end, diminishing our ability to detect either overt nuclear breakout or covert nuclear activities. And if the U.S. is to blame for the collapse of negotiations, international enforcement of the sanctions regime would erode even as Iran’s nuclear program expands. 

The combination of reduced knowledge of Iran’s expanding nuclear program and the burning of diplomatic prospects would put the U.S. in a difficult position. Would the U.S. accept Iran on the cusp of a nuclear weapon threshold? Launch military strikes that would only delay, and likely incentivize, Iran’s nuclear pursuits? Or undertake a decade-long occupation to change regimes and guarantee a non-nuclear Iran? 

The American people appear skeptical of what Netanyahu is selling. In a recent CNN poll, 63% of Americans and 81% of Democrats opposed the decision to secretly invite Netanyahu. And, as NIAC’s ad in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times points out, Americans have good reason to view the speech with a wary eye. Netanyahu promised in Congressional testimony in 2002 that the U.S. invasion would have “enormous, positive reverberations on the region.” Contrast that to Obama, who rightly warned that the invasion would “only fan the flames of the Middle East.”

What is terrible policy for both the U.S. and Israel could still be good politics for Netanyahu. After all, he has cast Iran as the nuclear boogeyman for decades, and to back away could be perceived as weakness by right-wing Israeli voters. But by sticking with the speech as planned, Netanyahu is going to put Congress in the position of having to choose between President Obama and the international community’s efforts to reach a deal and the Israeli Prime Minister’s determination to sabotage it. If they choose Netanyahu’s course, the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear weapon and war will greatly increase, to the extreme detriment of the region – Israel, included.

Originally published in Huffington Post.

Analysis of New Sanctions Legislation: Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015

On January 16, 2015, the Senate Banking Committee circulated the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, “To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes.”

As written, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 would impose an escalating series of economic sanctions, culminating in a de facto economic embargo on Iran by December 2015. According to U.S. government officials, our European partners in the nuclear negotiations, and Iran, these new sanctions would either violate or be perceived to violate our commitment not to impose new ‘nuclear-related’ sanctions on Iran during negotiations. As Deputy Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said at a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “[Any] new sanctions enacted by Congress would be viewed by Iran and the international community as the U.S. breaking out of the understandings of the JPOA.” This could – according to the UK, French, and German foreign ministers – “fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions effective so far.” Already, Iran’s parliament is preparing legislation in response to any new sanctions bill, which would dramatically accelerate the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment. 

The proposed legislation further provides: If the U.S. and Iran agree to a comprehensive nuclear deal before July 1, 2015 and the President submits the text of the agreement to Congress within 5 days, the sanctions would not become effective. However, upon submitting the agreement, the President would lose all existing authorities to waive or suspend sanctions (beyond what has already been suspended under the interim Joint Plan of Action), as well as the ability to otherwise implement the nuclear deal, until Congress has had 30 days of continuous session to consider the agreement.

In computing the 30 days of continuous session of Congress, the count will exclude days on which the Senate or House is not in session because of an adjournment of more than 3 days and would restart if Congress adjourns sine die (i.e., final adjournment). In other words, the review period will last longer than 30 calendar days.

This provision would unnecessarily defer the implementation of a final deal and delay putting in place the necessary constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. It would also provide those committed to opposing any nuclear deal the time required to mobilize against the agreement during the period in which Congress is examining the agreement. Any failure on the part of Congress to support the nuclear deal would risk freeing Iran from its nuclear-related obligations pursuant to a final deal and isolating the U.S. – not Iran – from our allies and partners.

As the U.S., its P5+1 partners, and Iran enter the final stretch in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, new sanctions legislation risks undermining U.S. negotiating leverage. According to a senior U.S. administration official closely involved in the negotiations, “[Sanctions talk] bolsters the hardliners” in Tehran “who don’t believe [the U.S.] will reverse the sanctions no matter what Iran does.” This is not the message of support Congress needs to be sending our negotiators as they work to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful.  

Below, the sanctions to be imposed on Iran pursuant to the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015 are outlined:

JPOA Sanctions Reinstated

July 6, 2015: all sanctions deferred, waived, or suspended pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action will be reinstated

Purchases of Iranian Gas Condensates Included in Determining Whether to Grant Exemption

August 3, 2015: Section 1245(d) of the 2012 NDAA will be amended to prohibit states who have reduced their purchases of Iranian crude oil (and have thus been granted an exemption by the President) to increase purchases of Iranian gas condensate

Embargo on Purchase of Iranian Oil

September. 7, 2015: Section 1245(d) of the 2012 NDAA will be further amended to require countries who purchase Iranian petroleum and who seek an exemption from the President to reduce its purchase of Iranian petroleum to a ‘de minimis level’ by the end of the 240-day period beginning on September 7, 2015.

Expanded List of Blocking Sanctions on Iranian Officials/Persons

October 5, 2015: Section 221 of the TRA would be amended to expand the list of individuals subject to visa restrictions to include:

  • foreign sanctions evaders;
  • individuals acting on behalf of the Government of Iran who are involved in corrupt activities of that Government or the diversion of humanitarian goods;
  • senior officials of an entity designated pursuant to EO 13382 (WMD proliferation) or 13224 (support for global terrorism);
  • and an expanded list of senior officials of the Iranian Government (if involved in Iran’s illicit nuclear activities; support for international terrorism; or human rights abuses).
    • This would include senior officials of:
      • the Office of the Supreme Leader
      • the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
      • the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran
      • the Council of Ministers of Iran
      • the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics of Iran
      • the Ministry of Justice of Iran
      • the Ministry of Interior of Iran
      • the prison system of Iran; or
      • the judicial system of Iran.
    • It would also subject all such persons to blocking sanctions (including family members of such persons if property was transferred to the family member by the designated person), meaning that any property or interests in property of such persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked.

Sanctions on Banks or Persons Engaging in Currency Swaps with Iran

November 2, 2015: the TRA will be amended to add sanctions prohibiting foreign banks or persons from engaging in a “significant transaction” related to the currency of a country other than the country with primary jurisdiction over the bank or person with or on behalf of the Central Bank of Iran or any other Iranian financial institution or with a person identified as part of Iran’s energy, shipping, or shipbuilding sector.

Strategic Sector Sanctions and De Facto Embargo on Iran

December 7, 2015: IFCA will be amended:

  • finding Iran’s automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors as facilitating Iran’s nuclear proliferation activities;
  • designating entities that operate special economic zones or free economic zones in Iran and entities in Iran’s strategic sectors as entities of proliferation concern;
  • blocking the property of any person that is part of the automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors in Iran;
  • imposing ISA-related sanctions (or financial sanctions) on persons (or foreign financial institutions) that sell, supply, or transfer to or from Iran goods or services used in connection with a strategic sector (or facilitate a significant financial transaction for sale, supply, or transfer to Iran of such goods or services); and
  • imposing ISA-related sanctions on a person who provides underwriting services or insurance or reinsurance to or for any person with respect to a strategic sector of Iran.

Presidential Waiver

The President is granted the authority to waive the application of sanctions imposed pursuant to the bill for 30-days periods, provided the President certifies to Congress that:

  • the waiver (or renewal) is in the national security interest;
  • the waiver (or renewal) is necessary to and likely to result in achieving nuclear deal;
  • Iran is not making further progress on a nuclear weapons program and is in compliance with all interim agreements with respect to that program; and

The President is also required to submit to Congress a comprehensive report on the status of negotiations towards a nuclear deal that includes an assessment of the likelihood of reaching that solution and the timeframe anticipated for achieving it.

Bloomberg: Optimism Over Iran Talks Easier To Find in Tehran Than in Washington

Iranians are expressing more optimism than their U.S. and European counterparts as international negotiations resume over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program.

In the final push to reach a deal before a self-imposed Nov. 24 deadline, each side in the negotiations between Iran and six world powers is making the case that an accord is still possible, if only the other side would act reasonably when the talks resume today in Vienna.

Roll Call: Five by Five Friday Q & A, Jamal Abdi, NIAC, Part One

According to a recently published story, a high-ranking Obama administration official declared an Iran nuclear deal his top second term priority, on par with the push for a health care overhaul in his first term. The National Iranian American Council has advocated on behalf of a diplomatic agreement and giving it time to work rather than imposing new sanctions mid-negotiations, in a bid to avert war with Iran.

Can Obama and the Republican Congress Seal an Iran Nuclear Deal?

With the Republicans gaining control of both houses of the U.S. Congress, polarization and partisan gridlock are likely to continue to grip Washington. The grim political outlook has already cast a shadow over nuclear negotiations with Iran, where a diplomatic breakthrough remains within reach as the parties near a November 24 deadline for a comprehensive deal. While the parties have a number of difficult choices left to make, the risks of failing to reach an agreement by the November deadline (or shortly thereafter) are significantly higher than they were in July. Given the landscape of domestic politics in both the U.S. and Iran, there may not be a better chance to ink a durable deal than over the next few weeks.

Since the U.S. and UN powers secured an interim agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program last November, President Obama has worked closely with Congressional allies to prevent any new sanctions from passing that would violate that agreement. Republicans in the minority clamored to vote on new Iran sanctions, but their motivations could have been due to politics rather than policy. An affirmative vote on Iran sanctions would have killed the agreement, likely fracturing international unity on the sanctions and potentially pushing the U.S. and Iran toward military confrontation.

Fortunately, Congress held off, enabling us to test Iran’s intentions. As a result, the interim agreement has been an unmitigated success. Iran has capped enrichment at the 5% level, eliminated its stockpile of uranium enriched to the 20% level, and frozen the number of centrifuges it is operating. Further, Iran has enabled daily access to its enrichment facilities, compared with bimonthly inspections before the deal.

However, the future Republican Senate could tip the scales in favor of Congress passing new Iran sanctions. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sought to avoid such a vote to allow negotiations to proceed. However, with Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Majority Leader, a vote on new Iran sanctions becomes far more likely – regardless of the outcome of talks. McConnell has pursued a policy of obstruction over the past six years, seeking to deny the President any significant policy achievements and then blaming the President for Washington’s dysfunction. Despite the obvious benefits of a nuclear deal and the dire consequences of failure, McConnell could continue his policy of denying the President a share of any policy wins.

Further, based on statements when the Republicans were in the minority, McConnell would be likely to have the near-full backing of his caucus. All but three Republican Senators signed onto a February letter railing against Reid for blocking a vote on new Iran sanctions, and McConnell himself affirmed that he would push for a vote if a final nuclear agreement doesn’t meet his (near impossible) expectations. As a result, the President might be forced to veto new sanctions and ensure that one-third of the House or Senate block an override of the veto — a highly tenuous but potentially defensible position.

However, there is a key factor working in favor of Republicans holding their fire that didn’t exist before the elections. Now that the Republicans are in control of Congress, their choices are no longer cost free. If they ratchet up sanctions, they will own the consequences: the unraveling of the greatest opportunity to resolve the nuclear impasse and prevent war in decades, and one we may not see again. This could greatly diminish the Republicans’ chances in 2016 presidential elections by further tying them to the war-happy neoconservative camp.

Regardless, the longer the President waits to strike an accord, the weaker his hand will be. Given that the President’s strategy will be to utilize executive authority written into Congressional sanctions legislation to temporarily relieve sanctions in the initial phases of the agreement – and delay a Congressional vote to lift sanctions until the later stages of a deal – the negotiating parties would be wise to frontload as much of the agreement as possible. If both sides show that they are upholding their side of the bargain over time, the harder it will be for Congress or the President’s successor to dismantle what will be a very good deal.

President Rouhani, as well, will face diminishing political prospects without an agreement in the near-term. Rouhani has invested the vast majority of his political capital in securing a nuclear deal, which holds the best likelihood of long-term economic relief for Iran’s sanctions-plagued economy. Rather than open up new domestic political fronts that could jeopardize the Supreme Leader’s support for an agreement, Rouhani has ceded many fights to the hardliners. Thus, while Rouhani has maintained the upper hand on the nuclear issue, hardliners have been able to keep the domestic status quo more or less intact. The amplification of executions and other human rights abuses by the hardline Judiciary appear aimed at embarrassing Rouhani as he reaches out to the outside world and weakening popular support for his administration. The longer Rouhani goes without striking a deal, the more the hardliners will escalate their attacks and the longer it will take him to turn to the domestic agenda that helped get him elected. But if Rouhani succeeds and obtains a nuclear deal, he will strengthen his political clout and diminish the threat of war that has underpinned the securitization of the domestic sphere in Iran.

Fortunately, the high stakes should enable the parties to strike and sell an agreement. If the talks collapse, “escalation would be the name of the game,” as Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman stated recently. Under such a scenario, the U.S. would certainly amplify punishing sanctions on Iran, Iran’s nuclear program would expand in response, and there would be a renewed threat of a costly, counterproductive military conflict when the region is already aflame. However, staving off such dire outcomes and securing the mutual benefits of a deal will not get easier. Both Presidents Obama and Rouhani need to seize the moment before their domestic opponents gain the upper hand.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

Direct US-Iran Banking Channel Could Cement Nuclear Deal

As nuclear talks enter a crucial period ahead of the Nov. 24 deadline, one of the incentives the Barack Obama administration is dangling before Iran is a direct banking channel between a US and an Iranian financial institution, Al-Monitor has learned.

If Iran Negotiations Need to Continue, Let Them

Regardless of whether or not negotiators conclude a final Iran nuclear deal by Sunday, the United States and Iran have made steady progress toward resolving a crisis that is decades in the making. It appears that the key hurdle to a diplomatic breakthrough is a surmountable one: defining the size and scale of Iran’s enrichment program throughout the course of an agreement. 

Nobody expected negotiations toward a comprehensive deal with Iran to be a cakewalk, particularly as neither side is incentivized to reveal their ultimate bottom line until the eleventh hour. The potential expiration of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) is a forcing mechanism that could spur last-minute concessions and a diplomatic breakthrough. But an extension appears necessary in order to arrive at a durable agreement that both sides can sell domestically.

If that is the case, we can expect some lawmakers and outside opponents to claim that Iran is “playing for time,” even though nothing could be further from the truth. Additionally, they will focus on what we might have to give to get an extension instead of what we would give up if there is no extension.

In an extension, whatever the duration, Iran’s nuclear program would remain frozen and partially rolled back under the terms of the JPOA. If the P5+1 and Iran fail to agree to an extension, Iran would be left with a comparatively unconstrained enrichment program that would pose a far greater proliferation risk.

Thus, under an extension, Iran would continue to limit enrichment below 5%, contrasted with a best-case scenario of Iran resuming enrichment to the 20% level without an extension. If talks continue, international inspectors would continue to have near-constant, daily monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities to guard against an Iranian breakout. Contrast this with the alternative of twice-monthly monitoring of Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, at best, without an extension. 

Of course, as my colleagues Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi detail in a new memo, the collapse of negotiations is unlikely to return us to the status quo we had before the agreement, but to a far more dangerous tit-for-tat cycle of escalation wherein Iran responds to escalating economic and military pressure with a dangerous acceleration of its nuclear program. Thus, Iranian enrichment could well soar beyond 20%, and Iran could move to limit the access of inspectors or kick them out entirely. Not only is such a scenario likely with a collapse, it is far more likely to lead to an Iranian nuclear weapon – or a war – than a scenario wherein limitations and heavy monitoring are extended. 

Aside from the technical disadvantages, Iran is not expected to gain substantial economic relief in a deal’s extension. When the JPOA was initially struck, hawks disputed the administration’s claims of no more than $7 billion in economic relief over the duration of a deal, claiming that the wall of Iran sanctions is facing imminent collapse. Six months later, the sanctions regime is still intact and the administration’s claims of limited and reversible sanctions relief were proven true. While opponents of an agreement have already begun to make the case that the windfall is just around the corner, these are just more wild, unfounded assumptions.

An extension does not increase the risk of an Iranian nuclear breakout or an Iranian economic windfall. As a result, there is no justified reason to object to an extension of nuclear talks, particularly out of fear that Iran is “playing for time.”

Only a negotiated settlement can lead to limitations and inspections that guard against a nuclear-armed Iran, and getting such a deal may well require additional time. The alternatives are grim. Military strikes cannot eliminate Iran’s nuclear know-how and would incentivize an Iranian nuclear deterrent. Additional sanctions are not a strategy, and are likely to close this rare diplomatic opportunity that is decades in the making. The choice is clear. Congress needs to let the diplomatic process play out, even if it takes a few months longer.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Iran Nuclear Resolution Possible by July 20, Rouhani Says

“It’s amazing how quickly the new normal becomes the new normal – we tend to forget that nine months ago this was impossible,” Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said by telephone on Tuesday.