The new Congress, which convened this week, is expected to begin the year by reviving a push for additional sanctions on Iran and demanding an up or down vote on any nuclear deal reached with the Islamic republic. The increased hawkishness of the Republican-led Congress will put more pressure on the Obama administration to reach a “good deal or no deal” that both branches of government say they want. The parties to the nuclear talks have already extended the negotiations twice. The next deadline for a settlement is July 1.
Proponents of the various sanctions bills from both parties say the pressure of promised additional penalties will send a message of what will follow if Iran is just stalling for time. And critics of Iran, including Israel, say that’s exactly what Teheran is doing – delaying substantive discussions in order to buy more time for Iran to develop its weapons program. While the U.S. acknowledges that possibility, the administration has discouraged enhanced sanctions bills, arguing that they are counterproductive and could drive Iran from the negotiating table.
While we normally defer to the president on matters of foreign policy, we support the proposed bills in principle. Legislation drafted by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would impose new sanctions on Iran if it violates the interim nuclear agreement or walks away from talks. In addition, falling oil prices continue to drain the Iranian economy. That’s further incentive for the Iranian government to reach a deal and get the sanctions lifted before it loses legitimacy with its own people.
Few in the U.S. government from either party want to see the Iranians walk out of the negotiations. Keeping the Iranians at the table, getting them to engage on the issues and knowing how to apply pressure so they don’t walk is key to reaching that “good deal” to which we all aspire.
Which begs the question: Do congressional hawks know best how to do that? We’ll know soon enough.