Congressional Support for Iran Framework Agreement

Following the announcement of a framework nuclear agreement with Iran, several key Members of Congress have voiced their support:

Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA)

“I congratulate the American negotiators, led by Secretary Kerry, as well as our P5+1 partners on reaching this political framework agreement. More issues remain to be resolved, but this framework could form the basis of a historic agreement that will peacefully prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, thereby removing one of the greatest threats to the security of a region which certainly needs no more instability.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

“Despite efforts by many to scuttle diplomacy with Iran, today’s framework agreement is an extension of steady, incremental progress from all sides, since day one. It makes clear that all parties are committed to securing the only alternative to military action in Iran, which is a negotiated solution to their nuclear program. 

We’ve set the stage for a paradigm shift in the country and in the region, but much heavy lifting remains because there’s no deal until a final deal is reached. As a result, Congress must restrain itself from unhelpful actions in the coming months. It is not constructive to demand a ‘better deal’ that no negotiator could secure.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

“The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.” 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

“Americans want to find a peaceful means of ensuring Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon. It appears the framework agreement with Iran reached by the U.S. and other UN Security Council nations will serve as the basis for the kind of comprehensive and verifiable agreement for which we had been hoping. 

I have not seen the details, and look forward to being briefed on its terms. But the initial reports are positive, and Congress must now give the Administration the time to fill in the details necessary to make the agreement effective, strong and durable.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)

“Some believe that no deal is the best deal. But I believe we must give peace a chance. As the president has said repeatedly, he will not be party to a bad agreement and, on first blush, this looks like a pretty good deal for the United States. It is not a deal based on trust – it is one based only on verification and one that becomes binding only if the Iranians hold up their end of the deal. Once we’ve had a chance to drill down on the details of the agreement, we may very well find that this is a very good deal for everyone.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

“No one wants a nuclear Iran, and this tentative agreement reflects that reality. Those who sought to undermine these negotiations would be well served to remember that the alternative to an agreement is an Iran with no limits on or international monitoring of its efforts to enrich uranium. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when the “perfect” that many seek is unrealistic. I, along with many of my colleagues, look forward to learning the details of the final June 30th agreement and hope it is a step in the right direction towards a non-nuclear Iran.” 

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

“The Obama Administration’s painstaking diplomatic efforts are yielding one of the great international agreements of our time: a verifiable plan to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The framework agreement will not only promote long-term security in the Middle East but also help remove the short-term specter of a destructive military confrontation. Today’s announcement will unquestionably make the Middle East and the broader world safer.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)

“This agreement provides a sound framework to make our families safer.  It is not based on “trust;” it is based on “verify.”

The interim Joint Plan of Action has already given us more insight and given the Iranians less capability to go nuclear.  The same voices that condemned that interim agreement before they knew what was in it are condemning this agreement.  These “bomb Iran” rejectionists are wrong again.” 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

“I’m encouraged to hear that negotiators have agreed to a framework—a major step toward achieving a final deal. Our shared goal in the United States is clear: to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The stakes couldn’t be higher and I commend Secretary Kerry and our entire negotiating team for their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution that guarantees our security and that of our allies.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

“The framework agreement announced today is a positive step towards securing a final agreement that will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama, President Rouhani and the P5+1 remain committed to the difficult work of diplomacy—even as hardliners in the United States and Iran call for war. Peaceful diplomacy, especially at a time when the divide between the United States and Iran is so wide, is always preferable to war. This agreement shows that there is political will on all sides to cross the finish line to a final agreement.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

“There is no realistic solution to Iran’s nuclear program outside of a verifiable, broad-based and ironclad diplomatic agreement. After being briefed and reviewing the parameters, I believe the negotiators have made substantial progress and that this is a sufficient framework to produce a final agreement by the end of June.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)

“Americans want to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and they would prefer to do it through diplomacy rather than military action. This breakthrough agreement is an important step toward that goal. I believe that Congress now should give our negotiators time and space to work out the details of a strong, verifiable comprehensive agreement.”

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ)

“The framework announced today by the P5+1 negotiators is a promising step towards lasting peace and security, not just in the Middle East, but the world over. We now have demonstrable progress in keeping the worlds’ most sinister weapons out of Iran’s hands, and a success to build upon towards one day achieving normalized relations. It is a diplomatic victory that exhibits exceptional leadership from President Obama. Lawmakers from every political persuasion should applaud and support his ongoing efforts.” 

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)

“It is welcome news that the U.S., it’s international partners, and Iran have agreed on a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. While some of my colleagues have objected to negotiations with Iran, it must be noted that thanks to these historic diplomatic efforts, the world is further from a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of war over this issue.”

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

“I am hopeful that today’s announcement of a framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran will lead to a verifiable and effective final deal regarding the Iranian nuclear program, with the ultimate goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While critical details are still pending, this framework presents a promising foundation for a long-term solution.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) 

“Today’s framework agreement would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, enhances our national security and shows that diplomacy works. This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace. This type of smart, strategic diplomacy brings us closer to a more peaceful and secure world while promoting U.S. national security.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)

“As outlined by the framework, the final agreement would not only be a “good deal” – it has the potential of being an historic one.  A strong and verifiable final agreement will also avert the U.S. and other nations from engaging in yet another war in the Middle East, which I believe is an unthinkable alternative.  At the same time, this framework and the final agreement would strengthen all efforts to contain nuclear weapons globally.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)

I will continue urging my Senate colleagues to allow negotiators to represent the United States’ best interests without taking action that would, intentionally or not, jeopardize the discussions taking place. Those who are critical of today’s framework have the responsibility to present a serious, credible alternative that would get us to our ultimate goal: achieving a nuclear-free Iran in a way that doesn’t require another war in the Middle East.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

“I commend President Obama and Secretary Kerry for their smart, tough leadership in reaching the preliminary nuclear framework announced today.

We have no illusions about the record and conduct of the Iranian regime. That is why this framework to roll back Iran’s nuclear program is founded not on trust, but on vigilance and enforcement. Critically, this framework significantly restricts Iran’s enrichment capability and enables us to intensify our vigilance where it is needed most and that is inside Iran’s facilities. The aggressive inspections and restrictions outlined in the preliminary framework offers a strong, long-term plan to stop Iran from building a bomb.”

Rep. David Price (D-NC)

“I commend President Obama and our international partners on negotiating an historic framework agreement with Iran. After years of uncertainty and tentative progress, this agreement would advance the safety of the United States, Israel and other allies, and the global community. We must now see the process through the final, technical phase and work to implement a comprehensive, lasting agreement.

Members of Congress will need to scrutinize this agreement carefully. Unfortunately, some seem to have prejudged it, undermining the President’s efforts and proposing unilateral congressional action that could undo the progress made by our negotiators and risk grave consequences.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)

“Those who would thwart diplomacy or undermine the talks should remember that failure could come at a steep price for our troops and national security.  Some of the loudest critics of diplomacy with Iran today wrongly backed a rush to war with Iraq, which ended up empowering Tehran and strengthening their hand in the region.  We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.” 

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

“I spoke to President Obama today and he informed me that negotiators have agreed upon a framework with the goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I am cautiously optimistic about this framework. We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives.

Now is the time for thoughtful consideration, not rash action that could undermine the prospects for success. We have much to learn about what was negotiated and what will take place between now and the end of June. In the coming days and weeks, we should all take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

”While much more work remains to be done this framework is an important step forward. It is imperative that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. It also is imperative that we do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution and avoid never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to examining the details of this agreement and making sure that it is effective ‎and strong.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

“I am grateful to President Barack Obama, Secretary John Kerry and his team, as well as our allies for establishing this robust and verifiable agreement.  Over the next three months the t’s must be crossed and i’s dotted in order to put the agreement into action. I will be working in Congress to make sure that we play a constructive role in supporting this historic diplomatic achievement, one that will make the region – including our closest ally, Israel – the United States and the world safer.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)

“While I reserve judgment on whether a final deal will materialize or would enjoy my support, enough progress has been made to warrant the additional time necessary to determine if the remaining issues can be resolved. In the interim, Congress must ensure that its actions do not preclude reaching an acceptable agreement or be seen as scuttling a peaceful path to ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

“The announcement of a framework for a comprehensive agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program is a positive development. I look forward to closely reviewing the framework and continuing my work, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)

This deal has the potential to cut off all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon in a verifiable way. Opponents should seek to guide the framework towards a positive outcome, not attempt to derail a final comprehensive deal. No final deal will be perfect, but the objective is to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon without going to war. In the months ahead, I will follow negotiations closely and encourage a peaceful and positive outcome. 

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

“It was an honor to be at the White House for this historic announcement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. I believe this is a deal worth supporting, but we must wait to ensure there is no backsliding on any parameters before a final agreement is signed. I commend President Obama and Secretary Kerry, as well as our global partners, for this breakthrough that holds the promise of a safer world and more stable Middle East.”

Memo: Congress Considers Its Options on an Iran Deal

With growing confidence that a framework nuclear deal with Iran will be sealed before the March 31 deadline, Congress is turning its attention to oversight of any nuclear agreement. Two recently introduced Senate bills offer a lesson in contrasts as to how Congress may approach its oversight role and serve as a reminder that Congressional interference still poses a considerable hurdle to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute.

The Corker-Menendez Bill

S. 615, the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act’, goes well beyond additional oversight and risks scuttling a nuclear deal. Introduced by Senators Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, this legislation makes less — rather than more — likely our ability to peacefully secure a nuclear deal with Iran.

S.615 would delay the implementation of a nuclear deal for 60 days – restricting the President’s authority to suspend sanctions. It provides Congress a mechanism to vote down a deal, which would revoke the President’s sanctions waiver authorities and prevent a deal from being implemented. The effect would be to force the U.S. to violate its commitments, likely isolating itself from its international partners while freeing Iran from the tough constraints of a nuclear deal as well as any multilateral sanctions.

The Corker-Menendez bill would also require the President to provide certification on not just Iran’s adherence to a nuclear deal, but that Iran had not committed an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. nationals. Failure to do so would enable Congress to consider expedited legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions–and violate a nuclear deal. The United States should contest Iranian support for acts of terrorism, but not at the cost of reneging on a nuclear deal and freeing Iran from constraints on its nuclear program.

The Boxer Alternative

The second of these bills – S.669, the ‘Iran Congressional Oversight Act’ – takes a more balanced approach to Congressional oversight. Introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, this bill would require the President to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal. If the President determines Iran has violated the agreement, then Congress can expedite legislation re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

Additionally, the Boxer bill clarifies the role Congress will play in lifting sanctions if and when it is required to do so under a nuclear deal. In doing this, this legislation proves a more appropriate vehicle for Congressional oversight. It does not insert Congress into the negotiations at the 11th-hour and does not stymie our chance to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran in a peaceful manner.

The Helsinki Approach

As Congress debates its role following a nuclear deal, it is important to recall historical precedent. In cases where the President has entered into non-binding political commitments with other countries, Congress has tended to keep its distance and not interfere with the negotiations.

Where Congress has claimed a more assertive role, it has done so in ways that do not threaten either the negotiations or an agreement itself. For instance, following the Helsinki Accords, Congress passed a statute creating an independent agency whose task was to measure signatories’ compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. Congress did not threaten to kill the Accords nor to expedite legislation should a violation be found. It did not predetermine the outcome in either of these ways. Instead, it formed a more deliberate body, which continues to exist today, to soberly assess the compliance of all parties to the agreement.

In the weeks and months ahead, Congress will seek to claim institutional prerogatives to oversee a nuclear deal with Iran and to do so in ways that threaten an agreement itself. It is critical, however, that lawmakers consider past precedent and figure out how to exercise their oversight authorities in ways that strengthen the U.S.’s position in negotiations, help secure a strong nuclear deal, and sustain that nuclear deal over the long-term.


NIAC Warns Against Diplomacy-Killing Senate Sanctions

Press Release - For Immediate Release



Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is deeply concerned by reports that the Senate will begin considering new Iran sanctions next week and warns that passage of new Iran sanctions into law would violate the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, the prospect of striking a comprehensive nuclear accord. 

“For those who want to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and avert war, the days and weeks ahead are critical,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “If Congress forces through new Iran sanctions legislation over the warnings of the President, our negotiators and the wishes of the American people, they will own the consequences.”

The passage of new sanctions into law would violate the JPOA – ending the significant constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, unraveling multilateral efforts, and putting the U.S. on the path to war.

“Key lawmakers leading this effort have said explicitly that the goal of new sanctions is to kill the talks,” said Abdi. “Those Senators who truly seek a diplomatic solution shouldn’t be fooled, this bill is about ending negotiations and moving to war footing.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) spoke in support of a sanctions vote yesterday, stating, “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of Congressional action, it is very much an intended consequence.”

“Those legislators intent on blocking a deal, regardless of the disastrous consequences, are racing to pass these sanctions before the US can reach a peaceful deal with Iran and avert a disastrous war,” said Abdi. “At this critical stage of negotiations, new sanctions legislation will only play into the hands of Iranian hardliners who want to block compromise necessary to reach a deal.”

The debate within Iran on whether to offer sufficient nuclear compromises to seal a final deal hinges on perceptions of whether the U.S. will deliver on sanctions relief. This divide has played out in recent days, with President Hassan Rouhani arguing that Iran cannot grow in isolation while suggesting that Iran could scale back its enrichment program to seal a deal. Shortly thereafter, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pushed back, warning that Iran cannot trust the U.S. when its negotiators say “sanctions cannot be lifted altogether and immediately.”

A similar sanctions debate played out in Congress a year ago with S.1881, a bill that would have forced the U.S. to violate the JPOA by imposing new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Despite eventually gaining 60 cosponsors, the dangerous bill never received a vote due to significant opposition from the American people, key Senate leaders, and a veto threat from the President.


Unexpected Backlash to New Iran Sanctions in Senate Committee

A new Iran sanctions bill being floated by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) would force the P5+1 into a weaker deal or backfire by leading to Iranian nuclear expansion, according to experts handpicked by Menendez to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. The witnesses’ criticism of the “trigger” sanctions approach came as an unexpected shock given that the witnesses had all been critical of the talks and generally supportive of the Senator’s hardline approach. 

Triggered Sanctions

Sen. Menendez asked the witnesses about the viability of a triggered sanctions bill that would go into effect in late March if the parties fail to reach a framework agreement by that time.  Dr. Gary Samore, President of the hawkish and pro-sanctions United Against a Nuclear Iran, warned against the idea, stating “some in Iran might actually welcome such legislation because they could very well calculate that it will put more pressure on the P5+1 to make additional concessions in order to get a deal to avoid having the old sanctions imposed and then going back to the previous situation.”

David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security and a frequent critic of negotiations, also warned that “triggered sanctions could backfire.”  According to Albright, “Triggered sanctions, where they come into effect in a mandatory way, is perceived by the Iranians as putting a gun to their head and leads them to put together trigger-advancements in their nuclear program.”

In an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Dr. Samore also warned that U.S. allies would not support triggered sanctions.  According to Samore, “new sanctions legislation that imposed a hard deadline and took any discretion out of the hands of the administration to impose those sanctions would not be supported by our allies.”  When Paul asked whether our allies would support legislation mandating full Iranian dismantlement, as included in a recent bill from Sens. Menendez and Mark Kirk (R-IL), Samore replied “No, because I don’t think they believe it’s achievable.”

Congressional Disapproval

Dr. Samore also cautioned that legislation setting up a Congressional vote of disapproval following a final deal would be unwise given the discord between Congress and the administration over both negotiations and the interim agreement.  Sen. Corker has already proposed such legislation in the 113th Congress, though it has yet to receive any Democratic sponsors. 

Dr. Samore warned that Congress appears to be “setting out terms for an agreement which the administration doesn’t think they could achieve through this negotiation.”  According to Samore, “As long as there’s such a divergence between what would constitute an acceptable deal, I think it’s difficult to come to an agreement on whether Congress should put itself in a position of approving an agreement.”  Albright added to Samore’s warnings, stating “The fact that Congress was not on board [with the interim agreement] was a severely corrosive factor, so I think it’s important the administration works with Congress to make sure this is a united effort.” 

Legislation teeing up a vote of disapproval would also be opposed by our allies, according to Samore, who stated “I do think our allies are nervous about Congress acting independently of the administration.” 

Joint Plan of Action 

When pressed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) on whether the witnesses would support scrapping the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) by returning to increased sanctions and Iranian enrichment up to 20%, both Albright and Samore stated that they supported the extension.  The third witness at the hearing, the neoconservative Michael Doran, did not support scrapping the agreement when pressed by Kaine, but instead claimed that the U.S. should walk away from negotiations while asking Iran to stay within the JPOA.

Dr. Samore, in the exchange with Sen. Paul, stated “if it were not for the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the Iranian program would be more advanced.” Samore also warned that if the process falls apart “it’s much better for us if it’s Iran that loses patience first and reneges or violates the deal than for us to be the one.”  Under the JPOA, the P5+1 have agreed not to impose new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. 

Despite hawkish positioning from Sens. Menendez, Corker and others on the committee, there were strong statements of support for the negotiations and JPOA.  Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) contrasted ongoing diplomacy with the hawkish approach of the George W. Bush administration, arguing “by not talking to the Iranians and just passing down sanctions, they went from a handful of centrifuges to thousands of centrifuges, such that they are only a handful of months from breakout.”  Sen. Paul, as well, warned that the interim agreement and negotiations are far better than the alternatives of no constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and the threat of war.  Paul warned, “Once we have war with Iran, there’ll be no more inspections.   Once the first bomb drops, you’ll never have another inspection inside of Iran.” 

While new Iran legislation is unlikely before Congress breaks for the holidays next week, a new Republican-majority Senate could consider sanctions or other ill-advised measures in January or shortly thereafter.

Image source: New York Times

NIAC Welcomes Extension, Urges Compromise to Secure Iran Nuclear Deal

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6325

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi issued the following statement in response to the decision to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:

“For those who favor a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute, it is critically important these negotiations will continue. A collapse of talks would have been unacceptable, returning both sides to the path of escalation and eventual war. Instead, the United States and Iran have been in serious and sustained dialogue with each other on the nuclear issue for over a year and have much to show for it. Slowly but surely, the negotiations have punctured the wall of distrust between the U.S. and Iran and advanced us closer than ever before to resolving the nuclear dispute.

“It is disappointing that a final agreement has been delayed, but the U.S. and Iran are committed to resolving this issue diplomatically and clearly understand that failure is not an option. The only question is whether each side can make the tough compromises necessary to reach a deal. Standing on the cusp of an historic agreement, both the U.S. and Iranians need to show the same courage that has got them this far and take the final steps towards sealing a nuclear deal. 

“Iran must show more willingness to compromise on size and scope of its enrichment program. The U.S. must show greater willingness to provide for sanctions relief in the initial stages of a deal, when any agreement is most vulnerable.

“Further delay will provide ammunition to hardliners on both sides intent on sabotaging the historic developments in U.S.-Iran relations. The domestic politics in Tehran and Washington pose challenges to compromise. These negotiations could very well fall victim to hostile domestic politics in Tehran and Washington, especially with a new Republican majority being sworn into the U.S. Senate this January. 

“It is critical that Congress continue to give U.S. negotiators the flexibility they need to win a strong nuclear deal. Passing new sanctions or setting the bar for an agreement at impossible heights risks dashing the hard work of our negotiators and setting us squarely back on the path towards military conflict. History would view any negative reaction from Congress as a needless tragedy.

“These negotiations offer a chance to prevent war, secure peace, and add stability to an unstable region. The sides came close but did not get there this time. They must get there soon because this window of opportunity will not last forever. The American people do not want another war. The Iranian people are suffering under sanctions. The sooner a deal is concluded, the sooner these issues impacting ordinary people can be resolved, and attention can be brought to resolve other critical issues, including regional challenges and Iran’s human rights situation.

“We are too close to the finish line to allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory. Efforts to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically must be redoubled. The time has come for the United States and Iran to make the tough decisions necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement.”


RFE/RL: Obama Faces Tough Crowd at Home On Iran Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON — With the deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program looming, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is under increased pressure to bring home a deal that is acceptable to a skeptical Congress.

If he cannot do so by November 24, he faces an even tighter deadline to hammer out an agreement before a new, Republican-controlled, Congress convenes in January.

CNN: Will Congress kill an Iran nuclear deal?

Republicans poised to take control of Congress are already threatening to kill what could turn out to be President Barack Obama’s most significant second-term achievement: a nuclear deal with Iran. U.S. and Iranian negotiators are quickly approaching a Nov. 24 deadline to reach an agreement that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting international sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Hopes for a deal have been rising, though Obama cautioned this weekend a “big gap” remains between the two sides and there are powerful constituencies in each country angling against an agreement.

Kirk-Rubio Bill Would Undermine Human Rights in Iran, Torpedo Nuclear Talks

A new Senate bill that purports to support human rights in Iran would actually ratchet up broad sanctions on the Iranian population, bolster Iranian hardliners, and even directly target some Iranian human rights defenders. 

Following the thwarted effort to pass new sanctions that would have caused the U.S. to violate the interim nuclear agreement earlier this year, some legislators have considered advancing new sanctions ostensibly aimed at non-nuclear issues in order to circumvent the agreed freeze on new “nuclear-related” sanctions. The Iran Human Rights Accountability Act of 2014, recently introduced by Republican Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), is one such manifestation of this approach. The bill would impose new sanctions under the guise of human rights and threaten to derail the nuclear talks while undermining human rights defenders inside Iran. Considering that Senator Kirk has previously called on the US to collectively punish and “take the food out of the mouths” of Iranians, this charade of human rights concern is especially callous.

As Iranian civil society activists continue to speak out against sanctions and in support of current diplomatic efforts, the Kirk-Rubio bill would escalate Iran’s isolation through broad sanctions and risk torpedoing nuclear talks. If passed, the legislation would be a gift to hardline political factions in Iran, who themselves are widely suspected of  ratcheting up abuses to gain the upper-hand against moderates seeking to implement internal reforms and secure a diplomatic deal with world powers.

What Does the Kirk-Rubio Legislation Do?

Under existing legislation, the President is required to impose sanctions on persons who are Iranian government officials that the President determines are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran. This is a targeted human rights sanction that the President can employ at his discretion.

Unfortunately, this new bill undoes this balance. It would automatically impose blanket sanctions on a large class of Iranian government officials (and their family members), presuming them responsible for and complicit in Iran’s human rights abuses without need for a Presidential determination to that effect. The President would only have the limited discretion to exempt certain individuals from the sanctions list if the President determines that, during the prior 10-year period, the individual did not engage in or support human rights abuses, acts of international terrorism, or WMD proliferation. In this way, the new legislation reverses a presumption found in both CISADA and the Iran Threat Reduction Act and instead more broadly targets all Iranian government officials for human rights sanctions, regardless of culpability.

By imposing such a blanket sanction, the bill frustrates a more nuanced approach to human rights concerns and threatens to do more harm than good. The requirement for the President to include on the sanctions list the family members of any individual otherwise included on the list would even have the perverse consequence of directly subjecting notable Iranian human rights activists to human rights sanctions because of their familial ties. Thus, by taking away the President’s discretion to include or exclude persons on the sanctions list, the bill would impose sanctions so broadly as to swallow up some of Iran’s own human rights activists.

Beyond imposing new sanctions, the bill would also require the President to designate a Special Coordinator for Human Rights and Democracy in Iran within the State Department. The Special Coordinator’s prescribed duties, however, reflect hawkish attitudes towards Iran more than actual concern for human rights conditions in the country. The Special Coordinator would be tasked with, among other things, ensuring adequate investigation and designation of Iranian human rights abusers, encouraging other countries to downgrade or sever diplomatic relations with Iran and enact their own economic sanctions against Iran, and working to expel Iran from certain international forums. These duties are all aimed at further isolating Iran and the Iranian people from the outside world – something long a goal of US hawks and an effective reprisal of the last decade that has undermined Iranian civil society and human rights. The Special Coordinator initiative is not a new one — it was a component of previous legislation Kirk introduce under the feigned premise of supporting human rights.

Thankfully, the bill is not expected to garner bipartisan support or advance in the near future. While Iran’s human rights record remains deplorable, this legislation is a blunt instrument that renders Iran’s entire political leadership subject to sanctions without interrogating actual policies. The United States can  take a more nuanced and effective approach to human rights issues that does not undermine ongoing diplomatic efforts and hurt those seeking to improve human rights inside Iran.


Menendez-Graham Iran Letter Could Derail Iran Nuclear Deal, Box-in Senate

 Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council sent the following letter urging Senators serving on the Armed Services, Banking, and Foreign Relations Committees to refrain from signing the Menendez-Graham letter to President Obama regarding nuclear negotiations with Iran:
Dear Senator [ ],
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has serious concerns that a new Iran letter being circulated by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) could derail diplomatic efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and to avert a disastrous war. NIAC strongly urges Senators to consider the consequences of undermining these critical negotiations and to refrain from signing this unhelpful letter.
Coming just days before the July 20th deadline for either an agreement or an extension, the Menendez-Graham letter outlines a set of inflexible demands that will complicate the talks and risk derailing negotiations during the most critical phase.
Congress, the Administration, and U.S. negotiators on the ground in Vienna are working towards one bottom-line: securing an agreement to prevent an Iranian-nuclear weapon. Members of the Senate should evaluate any nuclear deal with Iran based on whether or not it achieves that goal.
There are different formulations for what restrictions, monitoring mechanisms and transparency measures must be implemented to ensure Iran’s nuclear program is limited to only peaceful purposes. Establishing the right balance, and employing creative solutions as necessary, is the tough work diplomats have been undertaking for the past six months.
By signing the Menendez-Graham letter, Senators risk boxing-in negotiators to a set of inflexible, unnecessary, and potentially unachievable demands. And, if a good deal is still salvaged but does not hit the arbitrary benchmarks established in the letter, Senators risk having boxed themselves in against a good deal.
Furthermore, by sending this letter at this time and potentially playing spoiler, Senators risk sending the signal that the United States is the inflexible party that has undermined the diplomatic process. This is exactly the letter that Iranian hardliners will seize on to attempt to convince the world that, if no deal materializes, it was the U.S. rather than Iran setting unreasonable demands.
Given the need for Congressional approval to comprehensively lift nuclear-related sanctions, it is clear that Congress has a role to play. But Senators should keep their powder dry and provide our negotiators the space to secure an agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran and prevents a disastrous war.
The P5+1 and Iran have until Sunday, July 20 to strike a comprehensive deal or extend the talks. It would be the ultimate tragedy if a set of unnecessary demands helped unravel this critical opportunity to limit Iran’s nuclear program to verifiably peaceful purposes and avert a disastrous war.

Jamal Abdi
Policy Director
National Iranian American Council

Policy Memo: Menendez-Graham Iran Letter Will Complicate Diplomacy

NIAC has serious concerns that the Iran policy letter being circulated by Senators Menendez and Graham will have negative implications for the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The letter issues guidelines for negotiations and regarding a final deal that would violate the basic terms of a final agreement outlined in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Notably, the letter includes implicit demands for “zero enrichment” and sets other unrealistic and unnecessary requirements for a final agreement. The letter also strongly suggests that sanctions legislation (S.1881) should be passed now, which will only contribute to the political theater on display in the Senate regarding an Iran sanctions vote.

The Menendez-Graham letter sends the wrong message at the wrong time and will invite similar pressure against an agreement from hardliners in Iran. NIAC urges members of the Senate not to sign the Menendez-Graham letter.

Senator Levin is now circulating a separate Iran policy letter for signature in the Senate, originally circulated in the House by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. NIAC does not oppose the Levin letter. Unlike the Menendez-Graham letter, the Levin letter avoids prescribing guidelines that would complicate negotiations and violate the JPOA. While NIAC has concerns with some ambiguities in the language of the Levin letter, it upholds the principles that should guide Congressional action on Iran as urged by forty national organizations.

Zero enrichment demands

Under the JPOA, the P5+1 and Iran have agreed that a final nuclear deal will include a“mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.”

However, the Menendez-Graham letter urges Obama to revisit this issue by insisting on the “realization in a final agreement with Iran” that “Iran has no inherent right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

  • This language can be construed as ruling out an Iranian nuclear enrichment program.
  • The U.S. and Iran have long disagreed on the issue of “right to enrichment”, but the JPOA has resolved the impasse satisfactorily. Demanding this issue be revisited yet again rejects compromise in favor of a demand that holds no value in achieving the goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon.
  • Congress should not condition acceptance of a final deal on the reintroduction of an unnecessary stumbling block.

“We also believe that any agreement with Iran that could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or nuclear enrichment programs in the region should be rejected.”

  • This language is imprecise and can be construed as ruling out an Iranian nuclear enrichment program altogether.
  • Congress should not send a message to regional actors that they can hold ultimate veto power over an Iranian nuclear deal by threatening to pursue nuclear weapons or enrichment.
  • Without a nuclear deal, Iran will have an unconstrained nuclear enrichment program that would pose a greater risk to regional proliferation and enrichment capabilities than a capped and heavily-monitored Iranian nuclear program under a final agreement.

Dismantlement demands

Congress should not tie the hands of our diplomats through unnecessary ultimatums beyond the core goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not a necessary precondition to achieve that goal. Insisting on this condition from the outset, and ruling out alternative solutions that could be brokered in negotiations, undermines chances of success.  Nevertheless, the Menendez-Graham letter states that, “We believe any agreement must dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program and prevent it from ever having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb.”

  • As the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities assess that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program, this language can be interpreted to broadly indict even Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
  • A final deal must provide necessary caps and transparency measures to ensure that Irandoes not achieve an undetectable breakout capability. A “path” to a bomb will always exist in theory—Iran’s nuclear know how makes this a reality—and proponents of this language may use the “path” formulation to argue that even limited and heavily-monitored civilian enrichment would pose an unacceptable risk.
  • The point of negotiations is not to eliminate a “path,” it is to ensure that any path is long and arduous, and that any attempt by Iran to go down that path will be immediately detected.

Pressing for sanctions vote

The Senate has wisely refrained from considering a new sanctions bill on Iran that the President has promised to veto. Now, there have been several attempts to tie the sanctions vote to unrelated legislation.

The six leads of the Menendez-Graham letter are all cosponsors of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill. While some have suggested they do not support a vote at this time, this letter will be used as further ammunition to push for just that.

Unlike the Levin letter, which does indicate support for new sanctions should negotiations fall apart, the Menendez-Graham letter indicates that such sanctions should be prepared now. As a result, it will be construed as indicating support for immediately passing new sanctions authorizations: “Should negotiations fail or Iran violate the Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions. We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality.”

  • Imposing new sanctions now would cause the U.S. to violate the JPOA and put blame on the U.S. for the talks breaking down.
  • Despite claims that the sanctions bill, S.1881, would only trigger sanctions if Iran violates the JPOA, Republican staff have acknowledged that it would have actually already imposed sanctions had it been passed into law due to additional triggers beyond the scope of JPOA related to ballistic missile tests.
  • Threatening new sanctions through this letter will be an invitation to Iranian hardliners to apply further pressure against moderates and claim the talks are a trap and that the U.S. will never lift sanctions.