Iran nuke deal doesn't end debate over sanctions

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm •  Published: January 13, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The weekend deal spelling out how Iran will roll back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief buttresses the Obama administration's argument Tehran may be prepared for a grand diplomatic compromise averting the potential for war. But it has done little to sway skeptical lawmakers determined to levy new sanctions against Iran.

With world powers and Iran set to start the clock on their six-month interim agreement Jan. 20, a parallel showdown looms between President Barack Obama and Congress over legislative action each side says has serious implications for the chances of diplomatic success. Obama warns adding more sanctions could kill negotiations; legislators insist they're the only way to ensure Iran keeps its word. Much could depend on Tehran quickly making good on its commitments.

"Now is not the time to impose new sanctions," Obama said Monday as he met with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the fact Iran's government was now implementing what has been agreed "demonstrates that at the very least, testing whether or not Iran is serious is the right thing to do."

The question of sanctions is essentially a tactical dispute over the best way to achieve a shared goal: preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and delivering an existential threat to Israel, while fundamentally reshaping the power dynamics of the Middle East. But for the Obama administration, the pressure from Congress has proven a constant headache at precisely the moment Iran's moderate-sounding President Hassan Rouhani is offering unprecedented flexibility in talks.

The administration reached a milestone in its strategy Sunday. The U.S. and its five negotiating partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — secured a deal with Iran articulating how the Islamic republic will scale back its uranium enrichment program, halt progress at a plutonium plant and open up key sites to daily inspectors beginning next week. In exchange, world powers outlined how they will phase in $7 billion worth of relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. The full agreement has yet to be made public.

The agreement "will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama declared in a statement Sunday. He reiterated a threat to veto any new sanctions legislation from Congress, saying such action risks "derailing our efforts." Carney added Monday that new sanctions are "wholly unnecessary" because Congress could always act later.

The implementation agreement provides the nuts and bolts to November's breakthrough interim deal with Iran, an arrangement that can be extended by six additional months. Negotiators hope to replace it with a comprehensive accord this year ending the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Iranian reformers and moderate conservatives welcomed the agreement Monday, while hardliners repeated their opposition. Iran's leaders say uranium and plutonium activity is designed solely for peaceful nuclear energy and medical research purposes, but the United States and many other countries fear Tehran is covertly advancing toward atomic weapons capability. Israel and Iran's Sunni Arab rivals such as Saudi Arabia have been most vocal in their skepticism of diplomacy, their concerns echoed by a growing chorus in Congress.

Fifty-nine senators now back the latest proposed U.S. sanctions package, which they say would increase the pressure on Iran to make concessions and fully dismantle — not simply slow down — the entire nuclear program. The count takes sanctions proponents closer to being able to push a bill through Congress and override even a presidential veto. The House overwhelmingly supports additional economic pressure on Tehran.