Iranian American group: Tide has turned against sanctions

Iranian American group: Tide has turned against sanctions

NIAC says that AIPAC's 'efforts to derail diplomacy' have failed, offers Congressional letters to Obama as proof

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

WASHINGTON — Recent Congressional letters to US President Barack Obama prove that the tide has turned in Washington against Iran sanctions, the National Iranian American Council argued in a statement issued Thursday.

NIAC, which represents Iranian American interests, said that it is “pleased that Congress is not passing sanctions or measures that will restrict negotiators,” and argued that “the new political reality in Washington is that there is overwhelming support for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran and efforts to undermine negotiations have proven unsuccessful.”

“The status quo, in which [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu visits Washington, addresses AIPAC, and Congress agrees to slap new sanctions on Iran, has been turned on its head,” said NIAC policy director Jamal Abdi. “The White House, leaders in Congress, outside organizations, and the American people have all put their foot down and said that we don’t want a war and more sanctions; we want to give diplomacy a chance.”

The organization noted that three letters had recently been composed, one of which it had opposed. On the other two, the organization said, it “remained neutral.” Its statement touted the fact that “all three letters indicated that Congress will work with the administration to lift sanctions if a final deal is struck.”

“As negotiations have progressed, some in Congress have wasted a lot of valuable time talking about ratcheting up Iran sanctions almost as if by force of habit,” said Abdi. “More and more in Congress are now realizing that we may soon see a final deal that takes an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table for good, but that the sanctions will need to be lifted in order to lock that deal in.”

NIAC opposed the letter drafted by senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on the grounds that it included guidelines for negotiations that the organization fears “can easily be construed by opponents of a diplomatic solution to force the US to violate the terms of the preliminary agreement.” The organization called on those who signed the letter, which was a key lobbying target during AIPAC’s legislative action day earlier this month, to “clarify that this letter does not require zero enrichment or dismantlement of a civilian Iranian nuclear program, and that they do not support a vote on new Iran sanctions.”

The corresponding letter in the House of Representatives — also an AIPAC lobbying “ask” — was seen by NIAC as more acceptable, as it does not involve preconditions for negotiations or violate the terms of the preliminary agreement signed in November 2013. A letter drafted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) met with a similar reception, with NAIC noting that it had “concerns with some language” in both letters, but did not directly oppose either.

Last week, as AIPAC members took to Capitol Hill to push Congress to sign on to the letters, and also to urge senators to endorse legislation that would toughen up the threat of sanctions should nuclear talks fail, NIAC accused AIPAC of standing “at the center of efforts that would derail diplomacy.”

NIAC described the House and Senate letters as AIPAC’s “plan C” after efforts to pass the Senate sanctions bill and a House resolution dictating conditions for a final deal fell short of their marks.

The Iranian American organization warned that there were currently no legislative authorizations in effect to enable sanctions against Iran to be lifted should Tehran comply with the demands of the P5+1 negotiators. In juxtaposition to warnings that the sanctions regime against Iran is crumbling prematurely due to increased foreign investment, NIAC believes that if Congress does not legislate authorizations for lifting sanctions, “a hard-fought diplomatic victory could fall victim to the difficult process of removing sanctions.”

In late February, NIAC was among 40 organizations that sent a letter to Congress urging it to uphold the preliminary agreement between the P5+1 states and Iran and to support negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program.

The letter, which was cosigned by a number of leftist Jewish groups — including Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Ameinu — called on Congress to ensure Iranian compliance with the preliminary deal signed in November in Geneva while also avoiding new sanctions, which it said would violate the terms of that agreement. It also called on Congress to pass the necessary authorizations to lift nuclear-related sanctions should a comprehensive deal be reached, and admonished representatives to avoid taking steps that would hamstring negotiators by delineating the terms for a final agreement.

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