At the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran today, Democrats joined Republicans in insisting the Senate move ahead on banking sanctions previously passed. And, as sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me this afternoon, there was “deep Democratic skepticism” about the Obama administration’s approach in Geneva. Eliot Engel, the ranking member, made a forceful opening statement in which he told his colleagues:
I’m deeply troubled by reports that the proposed agreement would not have required Tehran to stop all enrichment. If Iran intends to show good faith during these talks, I believe it must — at a minimum — abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to enrichment, and it is my hope that we achieve much more. In addition, I forcefully reject any notion that Iran has a ‘right’ to enrichment, a position the administration has publicly supported on numerous occasions.
Given the failure to reach an agreement in Geneva, I believe it’s time for my colleagues in the Senate to take up the Iran sanctions legislation I co-authored with Chairman Royce and which the House passed overwhelmingly this summer. We must make it crystal clear to Tehran that even tougher sanctions are coming down the pike if the regime is unwilling to take concrete and verifiable steps.
This is not a partisan issue. Among Senate Democrats, the reaction has been similarly critical. On Monday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in USA Today, “The P5+1 powers (U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) are appropriately pursuing a diplomatic course, which Congress supports. But Congress is also appropriately pursuing sanctions that the P5+1 powers have long supported, letting the Iranians know what awaits if it continues its to-date unabated pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. This approach is consistent with past practice for all nations seeking a peaceful outcome to the Iranian question.”
Dubowitz testified, “But for the 11th hour French intervention over the weekend, the new Iranian president would have scored a significant victory at Geneva. The U.S. administration seemed ready to give tens of billions of dollars in irreversible sanctions relief, in addition to the unilateral sanctions relief by blocking new Congressional sanctions, in exchange for the promise of reversible nuclear concessions that do not roll back or freeze enough of the critical elements of Iran’s military-nuclear infrastructure.” He was blunt, “Geneva negotiations will resume on November 21. There is no indication that the Obama administration will enhance its negotiation leverage by ending its opposition to new congressional sanctions. Such an approach will likely lead to the eventual nuclearization of Iran.”
If the president thought a diplomatic breakthrough would take the pressure and attention off his domestic woes, he was deeply mistaken. If anything, the bipartisan backlash has heightened the sense that the wheels are coming off the bus.