Iran’s Arrogance Complicates Prospects for a Nuclear Deal
Policy + Politics

Iran’s Arrogance Complicates Prospects for a Nuclear Deal

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

In the past month, high-level Iranian officials have challenged Secretary of State John Kerry’s interpretation of a tentative agreement worked out in Switzerland, lectured Republican members of Congress on international  diplomacy, and accused a highly regarded Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Tehran of “espionage” and other acts against Iran. 

Iran’s actions haven’t eased the way for the Obama administration to cut a deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. If anything, they’ve incited even more pushback from some Republican lawmakers. 

Related: Iran Suggests U.S. Intelligence Operative May Have Taken Advantage Of Detained Reporter 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) is struggling to prevent Marco Rubio and other Senate Republicans from pushing through “poison pill” amendments that would torpedo pending legislation granting Congress authority to review any final deal the Obama administration negotiates with Iran this summer. 

Yet growing tensions between lawmakers and high-handed Iranian officials are seriously undercutting Corker’s efforts to pass the carefully crafted legislation without additional measures that would almost certainly prompt Obama’s veto. Obama believes he can negotiate a final deal without congressional approval, but reluctantly went along with the compromise legislation under pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike. 

Many Republicans including Rubio and Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain of Arizona say the Iranians can’t be counted on to hold up their end of any international agreement to sharply curtail their development of nuclear weapons. They and others are determined to load up the legislation with amendments that would hold the Iranian’s feet to the fire and protect Israel from any long-term nuclear threat from Iran. 

Related: GOP and Dems Dig In on Oversight of Iran Nuke Deal 

“There’s a fundamental division in the Republican party on whether you can trust the Iranians at all,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst. “And to the extent there is rhetoric coming out from the other side, it either adds to the nervousness [of lawmakers] or it’s just down-right in your face.” 

“That’s never a good strategy,” he added in an interview on Wednesday. “If you’re looking for a deal, you don’t stick the other guy in the eye before he’s shaking hands on it.” 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14 voted 19 to 0 in support of compromise legislation that would give Congress ample time to pass judgment on any final agreement reached with Iran before Obama could begin to lift sanctions against Iran.

Congress would have at least 30 days to consider a final signed agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program over the coming decade before Obama could waive or suspend any congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran. During that period, Congress could vote its disapproval of the agreement – although such an action would require 60 votes to pass and would be subject to a presidential veto. 

Related: Voters Want an Iran Nuke Deal--If Congress Approves

Although the bill received unanimous support in committee, it has come under intense scrutiny since reaching the Senate floor. Rubio, a declared candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, told reporters on Wednesday that he will insist upon a vote on his amendment that would require Iran to acknowledge Israel’s statehood and right to exit as a precondition for the U.S. lifting tough economic sanctions against Iran. The Florida Republican agreed to hold back that and other amendments while the bill was being drafted in the Foreign Relations Committee, but now he wants an up or down vote on his measures.

“We’re going to get a vote, we’re going to get a vote,” Rubio told reporters as he headed into a Republican Party lunch yesterday. Later, he dismissed Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s argument that adoption of Rubio’s amendment would cause the bill to fail or be vetoed by President Obama, prevent the U.S. from negotiating a final deal with Iran or give the Iranians the political high ground in the final weeks of the talks.

“All three are horrible results,” Cardin (D-MD), a close ally of Corker, told reporters off the floor. Rubio replied, “I appreciate the senator from Maryland’s passion, but I want a vote on the amendment.”

Related: Rare Bipartisanship Rules the Day on Iran Nukes Deal

If Rubio prevails in adding his amendment to the legislation,  the Iranians, who are desperate for a deal that would stop their development of a nuclear weapon in return for a  lifting of international sanctions, may have no one to blame but themselves. In a series of high arrogant gestures that have set Republican lawmakers’ teeth on edge, Iranian leaders have shown no compunction in thumbing their noses at the U.S.  For example:

  • Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, early this month directly challenged two of the Obama administration’s bedrock principles in the nuclear negotiations by insisting that all economic sanctions must be lifted on the day any final agreement was signed and that military sites engaged in nuclear research or development would be off limits to foreign inspectors. The U.S. insists on a gradual lifting of sanctions to make sure Iran is complying with the deal and international inspectors’ have access to both military and civilian nuclear development sites.
  • Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, issued a stern warning to Congress yesterday. “If the U.S. Senate wants to send a message to the rest of the world that all of these agreements that the United States has signed are invalid, then you will have chaos in your bilateral relations, although you are welcome to do it,” Zarif said during a speech in New York.

Related: To Stop Iran Deal, Tom Cotton Drops a Diplomatic Bombshell

  • Then, for good measure, Zarif took several verbal pot-shots at freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who drafted a letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning Iran that regardless of whether the Obama administration signs a final deal, the agreement could be undone by  Obama’s successor or a future Congress. “I think the United States, whether you have a Democratic president or whether you have a Republican president, is bound by international law, whether some senators like it or not,” Zarif said. 
  • Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate and veteran, challenged to Zarif in a series of Twitter exchanges. “Hey@JZarif, i hear you called me out today,” Cotton tweeted. “If you’re so confident, let’s debate the Constitution.” Cotton also said that Zarif had exhibited “a cowardly character” for living in the United States as a young man during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, “while peasants [and] kids were marched to die.” 
  • In what the Obama administration,  lawmakers and journalist say is an abomination of  justice, Washington Post  reporter Jason Rezaian has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison since July 22 on trumped up charges of  “espionage,” reportedly at the instigation of intelligence and judicial officials. 

The 39-year-old reporter who was born and raised in California but holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship is highly regarded as an even-handed journalist who frequently sought to highlight the positive aspects of Iranian society. Obama has said he would not rest until the United States brings Rezaian home “safe and sound,” but he has declined to make the release of Rezaian and other imprisoned Americans a condition for going forward with the nuclear deal. 

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