The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said she’ll oppose congressional calls for tougher sanctions against Iran on the risk that it could rankle the Islamic Republic’s feelings during negotiations.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly nervous about the prospect of the Obama administration rushing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Reuters quoted a senior U.S. official today as saying, “I don’t know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she’ll “strongly oppose any attempt to increase sanctions against Iran while P5+1 negotiations are ongoing.”
“The purpose of sanctions was to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they have succeeded in doing so. Tacking new sanctions onto the defense authorization bill or any other legislation would not lead to a better deal. It would lead to no deal at all,” Feinstein said Friday.
“I am baffled by the insistence of some senators to undermine the P5+1 talks. I will continue to support these negotiations and oppose any new sanctions as long as we are making progress toward a genuine solution.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said “no one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted” by the almost-deal that happened last weekend in Geneva.
Rumblings after that meeting said it was France that was actually holding the line against giving in to Iran. Tellingly, French President Francois Hollande is flying to Israel on Sunday — his first visit as president — for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yesterday, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) wrote President Obama with their concerns about the “significant sanctions relief” on the table — a value of up to $20 billion.
“Iran would not be required to dismantle a single centrifuge, close a single facility or ship outside its borders a single kilogram of enriched uranium. Furthermore, the accord would allow Iran to continue working on a plutonium reactor, enriching uranium, manufacturing centrifuges, testing ballistic missiles, sponsoring terrorism and abusing the rights of its people. In short, the American people will facilitate the payment of $20 billion in hard currency to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and in return accept a more advanced and dangerous Iranian nuclear infrastructure,” the letter emphasized.
The senators laid out their concerns, not limited to:
The Arak Heavy Water Reactor. How can an agreement allow Iran to continue any work on its Arak heavy water reactor – work that is strictly prohibited by multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions? Once operational, this reactor could produce enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons each year, giving Iran a second path to a nuclear weapon. Due to construction delays, the Arak reactor is currently not scheduled to come online until the middle of next year – meaning Iran is not making any concession whatsoever by agreeing not to activate the reactor in the next six months. In short, accepting work on the Arak heavy water reactor during the next six months will in no way slow Iran’s path to plutonium production.
The Enrichment of Uranium. No agreement should cede to Iran the right to enrich uranium nor allow Iran to continue enrichment at any level – Iran must suspend enrichment as required by United Nations Security Council resolutions. Based on Iran’s current rate of production, 9,000 IR-1 centrifuges would produce 1,380kg of 3.5% enriched uranium over a six-month period – roughly the amount needed to produce one nuclear weapon. Iran is also reportedly demanding that the United States and our partners acknowledge its right to enrich under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a “right” that Administration officials previously testified to Congress does not exist. In short, if allowed to continue enrichment at low levels during the next six months, Iran will have another bomb’s worth of enriched uranium and will claim implicit recognition of a “right to enrich.”
The Centrifuges. No agreement should allow Iran to maintain its current number of installed centrifuges, nor should any agreement allow Iran to continue the manufacturing of centrifuges. If Iran is allowed to keep all of its installed centrifuges and simply promise not to use them all – or not to install more – nothing will have been done to shrink Iran’s nuclear breakout capability. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, thousands of currently installed centrifuges must be disabled or removed to set back Iran’s breakout timeline. Furthermore, without requiring Iran to declare its manufacturing facilities and allow international inspections at those sites, Iran could manufacture 3,000 new centrifuges over a six-month period – and have them ready to install in a matter of weeks. In short, if Iran is permitted to keep its installed centrifuges and manufacture more for the next six months, Iran will improve its nuclear breakout capability.
The Money Transfer. Under the proposal reportedly discussed in Geneva, the United States would waive or suspend sanctions on precious metals (valued at $9.6 billion over six months), petrochemicals (valued at $5-6 billion over six months) and the automotive sector (valued at more than $1 billion over six months) – and repatriate $3 billion in overseas-held funds back to Iran. But without any third-party monitoring or financial controls, these funds may be used to finance terrorism, develop ballistic missiles or brutalize the Iranian people. In short, this proposal hands over $20 billion in hard currency to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
Cooperation with the IAEA. Despite Iran’s supposed agreement on November 11, 2013 to provide greater transparency about its nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after years of engagement, Iran continues to refuse to provide key answers regarding its past work on the weaponization of a nuclear device as well as provide access to facilities and individuals involved in that work. This is not a side issue to be relegated purely to discussions between Iran and the IAEA. In short, this issue goes to the heart of Iran’s history of deception and must be part of any serious negotiation.
They reminded Obama that “once our sanctions pressure is forfeited, the chances for diplomacy to succeed will diminish.”
“Rather than forfeiting our diplomatic leverage, we should increase it by intensifying sanctions until Iran suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in accordance with multiple Security Council resolutions,” the senators continued. “We intend to work with our colleagues to continue to increase pressure on Iran until they comply with all of their international obligations and abandon any effort to retain enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.”
On the House side, the conservative Republican Study Committee encouraged the administration to increase sanctions on Iran.
“Israel is our strongest ally and most trusted friend in the region, and before taking any action, President Obama would do well to consult with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has called any waiving of sanctions ‘very, very bad’ and ‘the deal of the century’ for Iran,” RSC Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. “It is time for the Senate to join with us in standing strong against a nuclear armed Iran by taking up the bill passed by the House to increase sanctions.”
The House passed H.R. 850, a bill to increase sanctions on Iran, at the end of July by an overwhelming vote of 400-20.