December 19, 2013, Washington, D.C. – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced legislation which sets to expand on imposed sanctions and impose additional sanctions against Iran. The bill, entitled the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” has a total of twenty-five original cosponsors. PAAIA is concerned that the bill could potentially derail ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, impeding U.S. diplomacy and weakening our ability to maintain the international coalition on sanctions against Iran.
Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program last month. Administration officials have expressed that the Joint Plan of Action addresses immediate concerns by freezing Iran’s nuclear progress in exchange for limited relief of sanctions, while negotiations on a comprehensive final agreement take place over the next six months.
Amongst other measures, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013, would expand business and financial sanctions targeting Iran’s strategic economic sectors, seeks to further reduce international purchases of Iranian-based petroleum products, and expands sanctions on human rights abusers. It allows for the president to waive the new sanctions during the negotiating period as long as Iran complies with terms of the interim deal, does not sponsor or carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, and does not conduct ballistic missile tests.
The bill also imposes certain conditions for a final agreement, which, amongst other factors, stipulates that the administration may not suspend sanctions unless a final and verifiable agreement has been reached that will “dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.” Furthermore, the bill also includes a non-binding measure, which expresses support for the government of Israel if it is compelled to take military action in self defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
While the bill may not technically violate the Joint Action Plan, critics view it as breaching the spirit of the interim agreement reached in Geneva and as an attempt to obstruct the diplomatic process by seeking to impose unrealistic terms on a final agreement. The White House has asked members of Congress to temporarily hold off on the implementation of new legislation while talks with Iran are in progress. They believe new sanctions on Iran at this time could risk derailing the interim agreement by splintering the international coalition cooperating on sanctions. They have indicated their willingness to work with Congress and to implement new sanctions if and when Iran violates the terms of current agreement or if a final deal is unattainable. In the meantime, ten Senate Democratic committee chairs have circulated a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warning that new sanctions now would undermine ongoing nuclear negations and requesting that they be consulted prior to any motions to consider such legislation.
Additionally, some policy experts have warned that imposing new legislation now could strengthen hardliners in Iran, who want to see the collapse of diplomatic initiatives, and alienate the Iranian people, who want their country to move in a different direction and engage the international community in a positive way.
A 2013 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans by PAAIA shows that Iranian Americans support President Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program by a margin of fifty-nine percent (59%) to twenty percent (20%). More than two-thirds (sixty-eight percent) say that they would support the removal of sanctions if the Iranian regime reached an agreement with the U.S. and the international community concerning its nuclear program.
Last month, a coalition of Iranian American organizations, spearheaded by PAAIA, sent a letter to key U.S. Senators to express concern regarding the imposition of sanctions legislation against Iran at this time. The letter noted that the Iranian American community shares concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and commends efforts to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes. “U.S. and international efforts were intended to bring Iran to the negotiating table,” the authors write in the letter. “It is now time to allow these negotiations to continue without interruption and put diplomacy to the test.”
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