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Sanctions bill could derail negotiations

January 16, 2014 

  • In summary

    Congressional bill calling for new sanctions against Iran could derail nuclear talks.

Current negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions could fall apart at any moment with no constructive progress toward an agreement. But the talks should be given a chance to proceed without the potentially lethal interference of Congress.

President Barack Obama announced this week that as a result of negotiations between Iran and six world powers, Iran has agreed to an interim deal to gear down its nuclear program as talks continue. In return, the six world powers would ease off some sanctions against Iran.

Under the plan, which would take effect Monday, Iran would limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent – the grade commonly used to power reactors – and dilute the uranium it already has enriched to 20 percent, which is closer to weapons grade. Iran also would permit the United Nations watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities and its centrifuge production lines to confirm it is complying with the terms of the deal.

As their part of the bargain, Western nations would gradually release $4.2 billion in seized oil revenue that has been frozen in foreign banks.

This is simply a first step that the White House hopes will lead to more productive talks in the months ahead. It is a given that Iran could renege on the deal or hide centrifuges or reactors from inspectors.

The West must, based on past experience, remain wary and skeptical of any Iranian offer to dismantle part or all of its nuclear weapons development program. But the talks must be given a chance to succeed.

That is why efforts in Congress to pass a bill to increase sanctions if no final deal is reached are so dismaying. They risk derailing the negotiations, greatly increasing the possibility of war with Iran.

Fifty-nine senators, including 16 Democrats, back a bill that would expand sanctions if the talks fail. While that could be enough to pass the bill, supporters ultimately would have to override a presidential veto.

Meanwhile, those in the House sympathetic to the White House view are scrambling to unite Democrats to vote against the bill.

It is understandable – especially in an election year – that members of both parties might see the threat of new sanctions as insurance against Iranian obstinacy. And looking tough also is likely to play well with many voters.

In essence, though, those skeptical of Iran’s sincerity already have accomplished what they wanted to – signaling Iranian leaders that failure to negotiate in good faith will result in a new level of economic hardship for their country. But the risk of actually mandating new sanctions is that it gives Iran an excuse to walk away from the negotiating table.

By contrast, if the Western nations abide by the deal announced this week, Iran would have to take full responsibility for ending the negotiations.

Israel sees the talks with Iran as tantamount to appeasement. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state, fears increased influence in the region of Shiite Iran. Israel, in particular, opposes any move to ease sanctions.

But if talks fail and Iran ramps up its race for a nuclear weapon, war could be the only remaining option. Let’s give diplomacy a chance first.

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