The six-month agreement signed in Geneva between Iran and other nations last month designed to ease some of the economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear program has generated a spectrum of opinion from optimistic approval to demands for new sanctions. Polls on American opinions of the deal have been coming out with rapid regularity from advocacy and nonpartisan groups since before the ink dried and are being used by pressure groups on every side to urge lawmakers to follow their plans.
Some of the polls show strong support among Americans for new sanctions on Iran, even as the current agreement remains in force. The poll released last week by the news websites Al-Masdar.net and TheTower.org, a publication of the Israel Project, was conducted and organized by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. It found that 77 percent of respondents want to impose new sanctions now while only 23 percent said they preferred some easing of restrictions during negotiations.
Some lawmakers have expressed similar sentiments, calling the deal an attempt by Iran to stall for time to further develop their uranium enrichment program and have said that the best next step would be to impose further sanctions immediately while the negotiations continue.
“I believe that the concessions offered to Iran will be the death knell on the sanctions program as we know it,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chair of the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, in a statement to the committee and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The concerns of these lawmakers have led to the drafting of a new Iranian sanctions bill this week, designed to be flexible should a new agreement be reached. The White House has warned that any new sanctions bill could provoke Iran into withdrawing from the negotiation process.
As part of an effort to calm opponents of the Geneva deal, last week the White House went forward with prosecuting several companies for evading the sanctions. However, Iranian representatives saw that step as a violation of the spirit of the Geneva agreement and pulled out of the talks they had been engaged in with six other nations in Vienna, although they did not declare the November agreement void.
Disdain for the six-month deal and an eagerness for new sanctions is not universal, and some Jewish groups have stated their support for the agreement. “J Street sees the Geneva deal as a first step in the right direction,” said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs for J Street.
A poll released earlier this month from liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change in conjunction with Hart Research found that only a quarter of Americans would want new sanctions put in place, regardless of whether it might jeopardize negotiations. Fully two-thirds of the respondents said they’d prefer if lawmakers negotiated under the new agreement and give diplomats a chance to reach an accord before deciding if it were necessary to add new sanctions to the law.
Whether negotiations would continue at all under new sanctions is questionable. Iranian officials have stated that putting new sanctions in place would lead to their withdrawal from the entire process, a possibility not mentioned in the Al-Masdar and Tower poll.
“It’s foolish to threaten new sanctions,” Williams said.
Twelve congressmen led by Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who share that point of view, took to the floor to speak in support, a move that J Street publicized in a release last Friday.
“We’re delighted to see the House end the week in support of warning against new sanctions,” Williams said.
However he added it’s not that all the sanctions should end, merely that new ones should not be added.
“Sanctions should be maintained to keep the economic pressure on Iran,” Williams said.
Unusual for recent times, opposition or approval of the deal and belief in new sanctions do not follow party lines. In a statement released with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade supported the proposal.
“This legislation will encourage the adoption of strong nonproliferation provisions in our nuclear cooperation agreements and encourage governments to forgo the most dangerous technologies. At the same time, this bill will also encourage the adoption of the liability protections necessary for U.S. companies to compete,” he wrote in his statement.
The Pew Research Center and USA Today conducted their own poll that came out last week, focused not on new sanctions but on the Geneva agreement itself. A plurality of 43 percent disapproves of it, compared to 32 percent who do approve and 25 percent who did not give an opinion.
Generally the poll showed that there was skepticism about the deal insofar as there was skepticism over Iranian intentions. Although the poll did not ask about adding new sanctions, it does demonstrate the overall divided opinion of Americans.