President Barack Obama would veto Iran sanctions legislation introduced in the Senate yesterday, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said the measure would increase chances for war.
Carney’s comments underscored a rift between Obama and some lawmakers, including Democrats, about whether sanctions legislation would prod Iran toward a nuclear deal or derail the talks aimed at assuring the government in Tehran doesn’t produce nuclear weapons. It also put the administration at odds with the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which endorsed the bill.
“Passing new sanctions legislation now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution and greatly increase the chances that the United States would have to take military action,” Carney said at a briefing.
Twenty-six U.S. senators, half of them Democrats, introduced the bill to hit Iran with further sanctions if it violates a six-month accord with the U.S. and other nations or fails to reach a final agreement curtailing its nuclear program.
The legislation also calls for the U.S. to support Israel if it “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program.”
Senators Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, announced the legislation in an e-mailed statement.
“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in the statement.
Menendez’s action was criticized by 10 senior Democratic senators, the heads of other committees, who said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, that new sanctions “would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.”
Those signing the letter included Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, chairman of the Banking Committee, and Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Their objection makes it less likely that Reid will permit the bill to advance when the Senate returns in January after a holiday break.
The Obama administration has pressed lawmakers not to risk the current negotiations by acting on new sanctions before there is time to see if a deal can be reached to assure that Iran doesn’t produce nuclear weapons.
One provision of the Nov. 24 joint plan of action between world powers and Iran says that “the U.S. administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” during the six-month period allocated to negotiate a final deal.
Carney said yesterday, “It is our view that it is very important to refrain from taking an action that would potentially disrupt the opportunity here for a diplomatic resolution of this challenge.”
The legislation’s bipartisan support reflects pressure on Obama to get a tough accord with Iran or walk away, which may set the stage for military action. Obama has said that Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, won’t be allowed to gain nuclear weapons.
Menendez said the legislation, which would require further reductions in Iranian oil sales, gives the president flexibility to conduct the negotiations.
The sanctions legislation also would apply additional penalties to strategic elements of the Iranian economy, including engineering, mining and construction, according to the statement.
If implemented, “the new petroleum sanctions will cost Iran over $3 billion per month in lost exports of crude oil, fuel oil and lease condensates, and billions of dollars more from the blacklisting of key Iranian strategic sectors and the loss of access to overseas foreign exchange reserves,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in an e-mail.
“This should be incentive enough for Iran, if it is serious about saving its economy from a deep recession, not to cheat on its nuclear commitments and to move quickly to conclude a final deal,” said Dubowitz, an advocate for sanctions and an adviser to lawmakers on how to pressure Iran.
The legislation would let the president waive the sanctions if negotiations are proceeding and Iran is complying with the interim accord reached last month in Geneva. The legislation sets stringent requirements for what Iran must do in order for the president to waive sanctions under a final accord.
The measure says that a final deal must include the dismantling of “Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology, so that Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon.”
Iran has asserted that it won’t entirely give up its current uranium enrichment capabilities, which provide the Islamic Republic with the capability to quickly produce nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so.
Brad Gordon, Aipac’s director of policy and government affairs, said in a video on the group’s website that the bill would “dramatically enhance our chance” of successfully negotiating with Iran. He asked the group’s members to ’’urge your senators’’ to support and cosponsor the legislation.