The Obama administration is trying to push back against a Congress-led effort to tighten sanctions on Iran, Foreign Policy magazine reported on its blog on Wednesday.
The blog said that during a recent classified briefing, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman sought to calm representatives who expressed concern about the administration's willingness to hold talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the first round of which concluded last week. According to the blog, lawmakers "appeared mollified" by Sherman, who is the chief U.S. negotiator in the talks.
Last week, several U.S. senators expressed concern about the administration's willingness to consider an easing of some sanctions as a means of facilitating the talks, especially after negotiators praised Iran's supposed flexibility. Several Republican senators said they would like to impose more sanctions on Iran. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) even went so far as to draft a new resolution against Iran, saying Iran could not be trusted.
"No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva," Rubio said. "Tehran has broken its word far too many times to be trusted. Due to its complete disregard for previous international agreements, we must take a firm stand in all negotiations regarding the nuclear capabilities Iran is permitted to retain."
Despite those comments, it appears that the meeting with Sherman was productive. On the eve of the talks, Sherman testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, telling lawmakers that unilateral action on the part of Congress would not be welcomed by the administration. "We do believe it would be helpful for you to at least allow this meeting to happen on the 15th and 16th of October before moving forward to consider these new sanctions," Sherman said.
"All I know is that sanctions seem to be working and that's a positive," Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who is the most senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Foreign Policy after the meeting. "If they weren't working, Iran would not be reaching out at this point."
"I appreciate the administration coming up and briefing us on what's going on with the talks," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told the magazine. "I fully support efforts at applying pressure and making sure there is a viable military threat so that perhaps a diplomatic resolution can occur ... I remain concerned about the threat of Iran's actions in terms of pursuing its goal of nuclear capability and will remain involved in oversight of that issue."
Foreign Policy adds that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has also been in contact with lawmakers, saying Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium. "The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not speak about the right of enrichment," Foreign Policy quotes an AIPAC memo that was sent to Congress. "Even if there were such a right, Iran's extensive decades-long violations of the NPT would have negated it."
BuzzFeed quoted a source in Congress as saying the administration was worried that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warnings on Iran would be translated into action by the legislative branch. "Faced with a steady drumbeat of Israeli officials urging world leaders to hold the line on sanctions until Iran fully dismantles its illicit nuclear program, the White House has decided to put on a full court press to stop the Congress from taking Prime Minister Netanyahu's advice," a high-ranking Senate staffer told BuzzFeed. "The White House can brief until they're blue in the face -- but senators aren't buying what the administration is selling -- and they know it will look like appeasement to the American public if they delay consideration of a new sanctions bill based solely on the hollow promises of the world's leading sponsor of terrorism."