The Obama administration has expressed firm opposition to pending legislation that would outline sanctions to be imposed on Iran in the event of a failure of negotiations. In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the president intimated that such legislation would not only torpedo talks but also lead to war. Congressional supporters of the bill, however, portray it as a means of increasing pressure on the Islamic Republic and reclaiming US leverage so as to prevent the talks from dragging on without Iranian compromise.
Indeed, a Wall Street Journal editorial on Friday declared that by creating this additional pressure, Congress “may be the only barrier to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” The Journal also asserts that Congress’ efforts are gaining traction in light of the fact that “no one believes” President Obama’s claims about the effectiveness of negotiations up to this point.
Obama says that the talks have halted Iran’s nuclear progress, but the Wall Street Journal reminds readers that current limits on the amount of enriched uranium purity are easily reversible, that Iran has continued to procure and develop new components for its nuclear infrastructure, and that it has largely stonewalled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Washington Examiner went even further on Friday, calling Obama’s narrative of halted progress “nothing short of a lie.” The same article described what it called a “Democratic revolt” on this issue, which is raising hopes that the sanctions legislation will be able to be passed with an override of the promised presidential veto. Specifically, the Examiner noted that “fear of what Iran could do with a nuclear arsenal might trump the usual partisan politics.”
But Politico is more doubtful and suggests that minority Democratic support for the sanctions bill is relatively weak and that securing support for a veto override is “going to be a tough task” for the bill’s sponsors. The threat of that veto “has Democrats reluctant to defy an emboldened president,” according to the political news site.
Politico also concludes that “for the Democrats, timing is everything,” and they are apparently willing to give the president additional time to secure a compromise under the terms of the current extension of nuclear talks. But for opponents of this approach, timing is also everything in the sense that they believe now is the time to exert additional pressure on Iran, not only because Iranian intransigence prevented a deal by either of the previous deadlines but also because Iran is already facing extreme economic threats in the form of drastically diminished oil prices.
And despite Obama’s soft approach to dealing with Iran, US allies are apparently still nervous about falling afoul of existing US-led sanctions by dealing too closely with Iran. And this has increased the pressure on the Iranian economy from those corners of the globe. As a case in point, Reuters reported on Friday that the Indian government was calling on its refiners to reduce the amount of their oil imports from Iran in advance of a planned visit to New Delhi by the US president.
This order is aimed at bringing total amount of Indian imports of Iranian oil down to the level of the previous fiscal year, so as not to be in violation of a sanctions relief deal that was supposed to keep Iran’s exports steady. The planned cuts demonstrate the extent of the threat posed by the Iranian economy as it deals with oil prices that are reportedly about a third of what it needs to balance its budget. But the fact that those cuts would make up for a 40 percent increase in Iranian oil exports to India raises additional questions about Obama’s narrative regarding the effectiveness of sanctions during the period of nuclear negotiations.
What’s more, another article by the Washington Examinerpoints out that under the interim agreement governing those nuclear negotiations, Iran received some 14 billion dollars in sanctions relief between November 2013 and October 2014. It is on track to obtain a total of 20 billion dollars by the time of the July 1 deadline. The Examiner argues, as do many opponents of Obama’s strategy, that this has drastically increased Iranian leverage and has encouraged Tehran to use the threat of exiting the talks in order to “blackmail the US.”
Concordantly, the US position in those talks has become notably less demanding. In this week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing it was revealed that the Obama administration is no longer striving to eliminate Iranian breakout capability, but is instead attempting to provide the US with the greatest possible warning before that breakout. And on Friday, NewsMax quoted Alan Dershowitz as saying that any deal that is signed at this point will allow Iran to continue developing its ballistic missile stockpiles and capabilities, and may leave it with the ability to “have operational nuclear weapons shortly after the Obama administration is ended.”