Should the U.S. Senate Place Sanctions Legislation on Hold?

November 12, 2013, Washington, D.C. – As the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) continue, the U.S. Senate is deliberating on numerous legislative actions that would expand and tighten existing sanctions against Iran.

Administration officials believe they have made significant progress towards an interim agreement, which would address immediate proliferation concerns by freezing Iran’s nuclear progress in exchange for limited relief of sanctions, while negotiations on a comprehensive final agreement would take place. Officials have asked key Senators to temporarily hold off on implementing new sanctions while talks with Iran are in progress. They are scheduled to brief lawmakers on the status of negotiations this week. However, a number of Senators, skeptical of Iran’s motives and discouraged that the potential interim deal would not be sufficient to halt Iran’s nuclear program, plan on pushing forward with the implementation of new sanctions.

The Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation, which among other things, aims to further reduce Iran’s oil exports, similar to legislation that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. Other Senators have indicated that they will offer amendments on Iran sanctions to the National Defense Authorization Bill. Senator Bob Corker, ranking member in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated his plans to propose legislation that would block the administration’s ability to waive sanctions and produce stricter circumstances for reaching a deal with Iran. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez has said that U.S. Senate should move forward with new economic penalties against Iran that could be terminated if an “acceptable” deal is reached.

Some policy experts believe that imposing additional sanctions at this critical period of negotiations could be counterproductive and lead to dangerous outcome. “Just because Tehran is seeking to ease the pressure brought on by the sanctions that exist today does not mean that it will yield to new sanctions tomorrow”, explained Alireza Nader of the Rand Corporation in an op-ed piece for The Hill. “New sanctions under consideration by Congress may lead to a weakening of the overall U.S. position. First, Rouhani could lose his mandate to continue negotiations. Second, Iran could begin to undermine the international coalition that has created the harshest peacetime sanctions in history.”

A 2013 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans 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%). When asked to choose from a list of foreign policy approaches that would be in the best interest of the United States, only five percent (5%) chose tightening sanctions while only twelve percent (12%) chose the removal of sanctions. However, 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.

U.S. and international sanctions have been instrumental in bringing Iran’s leadership to the negotiating table. Given the current state of ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, now is the time to put diplomacy to the test and not potentially damage the diplomatic process. While PAAIA’s 2013 survey was conducted before this year’s Iranian presidential election, the results suggest that most Iranian Americans are not in favor of the imposition of new sanctions on Iran at the present time and are supportive of the administration’s dual track strategy.

Contact your Senators today and tell them not to undermine negotiations with Iran by passing new sanctions.

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