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Could US Congress derail Iran nuclear deal?

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sam Ball

Latest update : 2013-11-25

Opposition from US lawmakers, who are pushing for new sanctions against Iran, could prove a threat to Sunday’s landmark deal over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Sunday’s historic deal over Iran’s nuclear programme was arguably one of the most important foreign policy achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency and represents a shift in relations between Tehran and Washington which for years have been nothing but hostile.

But President Obama could, not for the first time, find his policy goals undermined by Congress, which is threatening to vote for further sanctions against Iran in spite of Sunday’s deal.

Such a move could well put the agreement reached in Geneva in jeopardy, according to a senior White House official.

“The introduction of new sanctions would, we believe, derail the agreement,” warned the official on Sunday.

Rewarding ‘bad and dangerous behaviour’

The interim Geneva agreement will see the lifting of certain economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restriction to its nuclear programme and covers a six-month period, after which it is hoped a permanent deal can be reached.

Many in Congress, however, feel the agreement offers Iran too much without seeking enough in return.

Republican Mike Rogers, who chairs the House intelligence panel, claimed the deal serves to aid “the leading nation-state of terror”.

“We have just rewarded very bad and dangerous behaviour,'' he told CNN Sunday.

Bob Corker, a Republican Senator, compared the Iran deal with the 1990s agreement reached to lift sanctions on North Korea in exchange for promising to stop work on its nuclear programme.

“We've seen what's happened in North Korea; they now have nuclear weapons. And I don't want to see that happen in Iran,'' he told Fox News.

Congress had already been planning new tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme and lawmakers have indicated that in light of Sunday’s deal, the will to implement these sanctions will be even greater once the Senate returns from recess on December 9.

Unusually, support for sanctions comes from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

Threat of sanctions

Obama has been given some respite from the immediate threat of Congress scuppering the agreement with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, suggesting that a six-month window will be granted before any new sanctions are introduced in order to give the deal a chance to work.

Nevertheless, Congress could opt to vote on sanctions earlier if it feels Iran is not holding up its end of the bargain or if talks on a long-term agreement falter.

“If Iran does not consent to a comprehensive agreement that ensures it cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, there is a broad consensus in Congress to impose even tougher sanctions,'' said Democratic Senator Carl Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We need to be very, very careful with the Iranians,'' added Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I don't trust them, I don't think we should trust them. ... Sanctions should always be hanging there because that's what brought Iran to the table in the first place.”

Such mistrust and the threat of new sanctions, even if none are actually implemented, are likely to upset Iran and could weigh on future negotiations over a long-term deal.

Iran’s Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator Mohammed Javad Zarif, meanwhile, made it clear that new sanctions would be seen by Tehran as the US going back on the Geneva agreement and would immediately void the deal.

“If there are new sanctions, then there is no deal,” he told NBC News. “It’s very clear. End of the deal. Because of the inability of one party to maintain their side of the bargain.”

Date created : 2013-11-25

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