Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Holds Hearing on Next Steps to Achieve a Comprehensive Deal

December 5, 2014, Washington D.C. – On December 3, 2014, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), held a congressional hearing to discuss the next steps to achieve a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran in light of the November 24th extension. Witnesses included David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, Dr. Gary Samore, Executive Director for Research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Michael Doran, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. 

After a year of negotiations and two rounds of extensions of the initial agreement (Joint Plan of Action), the congressional hearing discussed what actions Congress and the White House should take in the coming months to induce Iran to make a deal, as well as how Congress should plan to handle Iran if negotiations collapse. 

In his testimony, Albright described the technical aspects of what a final deal should look like and how the negotiations have shown the complexity of any agreement which would ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful.  He explained that while sanctions have brought Iran to the table, they have not convinced it to make a deal.  “The U.S. should make clear that it is willing to reinstate sanctions in the absence of a deal,” said Albright.   

Samore testified that a decision to extend the talks makes sense and is preferable to allowing the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) to collapse. “To the credit of the U.S. and its European allies, the JPOA is working effectively,” said Samore.  He further recommend that the P5+1 should not make any new offers until Iran reciprocates with a serious proposal. In addition,  he stated the White House and Congress should work together to define and authorize additional sanctions if Iran violates the terms of the JPOA or if a political framework for the final deal is not reached by March. “Such legislation would need to be carefully crafted to strengthen U.S. bargaining leverage without giving Iran a pretext to blame the U.S. for destroying the JPOA.”  

Doran’s testimony argued that our Middle Eastern allies fear a ‘secret partnership’ with Iran which is alienating us from our Sunni allies who are crucial in the U.S.’s struggle against ISIS. The way to dispel these fears, Doran argued, is for the President to pass sanctions legislation now, demonstrating to the Iranians that our patience in the negotiation process has a limit. 

During the question and answer segment of the hearing, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) asked the witnesses whether passing new sanctions legislation would be supported by our allies. Samore responded that it would depend on the language of the legislation, but any legislation that imposed a hard deadline and took any discretion out of the hands of the administration to impose those sanctions would not be supported by our allies. 

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) asked the witnesses to give their opinion on Congress passing new legislation that would cancel funding from a nuclear deal unless Congress approves the final agreement. Albright answered that it would have a negative effect on the negotiations. Albright stressed that while more congressional oversight on this issue is urgent, it is important for the Administration and Congress to work together on this issue. Samore added that such legislation would not be accepted by the Administration due to the lack of consensus between what they and Congress believe constitutes a ‘good deal’. 

Senator Menendez asked the witnesses to evaluate the prospect of Congress passing legislation that would reimpose sanctions that had been previously lifted and go into effect by the end of March if there is no agreement on the political framework. Such legislation, Menendez argued, would signal to Iran that negotiations cannot continue endlessly without concrete results. 

Samore questioned the effectiveness of passing such legislation now by pointing out that the Iranians might welcome it as a way to pressure the P5+1 to achieve a quick deal or as a way to walk away from a deal altogether. He recommended that the U.S. should make the threat of additional sanctions more “credible and tangible” by visibly working with our allies in preparing for further reduction of Iranian oil exports.    

Instead of passing trigger sanctions, both Samore and Albright acknowledged the importance of having Congress and the White House work together positively to create the threat of more credible sanctions that would not lead to the breakdown of the talks with the U.S. blamed for its failure. 

Click here to watch the video of the hearing. 

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