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Iran sanctions likely to pass — thanks to Iran

WASHINGTON – For years the pro-Israel lobby has been pushing more punitive steps to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But with enhanced U.S. sanctions increasingly likely by early next year, opponents and supporters agree that the case was finally made — by Iran itself.

The key to the accelerated path to a sanctions bill that insiders now believe will land on President Obama’s desk within a month was Iran’s belligerent rejection of a Western offer to substantively enhance its peaceful nuclear program in exchange for greater transparency.

News Analysis

“There’s no lack of appetite for passing the sanctions,” said an official of one of the centrist pro-Israel groups that has pushed for legislation targeting third parties, including countries that deal with Iran’s energy sector.

“It’s evident,” the official said, that the Iranians “do not want talks. They’re not going full speed ahead, they’re going full nuclear ahead.”

Even a leading opponent of sanctions, such as Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council, conceded that such a measure now seems inevitable — and that the Iranian government’s behavior in recent weeks was behind the accelerated pace.

“There’s a very justified disappointment with how the negotiations have gone and with how the Iranians have conducted the negotiations,” he said.

In October, Iran initially accepted the offer to hand over much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment to medical research levels. It also agreed to allow inspectors to examine a second, secret nuclear enrichment plant at Qom, just days after President Obama revealed its existence, based on Western intelligence reports.

Within weeks, however, Iran reneged on the deal — despite claiming that it had suggested the deal in the first place — and obstructed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, from thoroughly investigating the second enrichment site.

Parsi asserted that the resistance arose not from a regime implacably opposed to engagement with the West, but instead from elements that oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government and seek to undermine it by painting the government as undermining Iran’s national interests. The paradox, Parsi said, is that these elements are otherwise perceived in the West as friendlier to rapprochement.

Nonetheless, Iran’s recidivism led two of the most critical opponents of enhanced sanctions — China and Russia — to join in an IAEA resolution blasting Iran for not cooperating. Iran countered that it would build an additional 10 enrichment sites.

Iran’s actions whittled away the reluctance of a number of key players who had worried that new sanctions would pre-empt Obama’s efforts to resolve the crisis through direct talks with Tehran — chief among them the president himself, who is now considered likely to sign a sanctions bill.

It was Obama who dispatched his most prominent Iran hawk, Dennis Ross, and Jeffrey Bader, both senior staffers on the National Security Council, to China in late October to make the case for signing on to the IAEA resolution. Ross’ argument reportedly was simple but effective: Help contain Iran, or we won’t be able to contain Israel.

Another domino to drop was U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. He not only lifted his hold on the proposed House legislation, but is fast tracking it for a vote by next week. There are similar plans in the Senate, although they may be delayed past the Christmas break because of the vexed health-care debate.

In the Jewish community, tougher sanctions have been pushed for at least a decade by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and, more recently, by other centrist, established pro-Israel organizations. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a politically and denominationally diverse umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 groups, issued a statement over the weekend urging both chambers of Congress to pass sanctions legislation by the end of the year, if possible.

“The timing for this vote is especially significant,” said Presidents Conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein in the statement. “Should the IRPSA legislation pass the House, it has the potential to seriously impact the Iranian economy. The prospect of the sanctions in this bill and the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House in October, are essential to pressing Iran, the leading violator of human rights and state sponsor of terrorism globally, against pursuing a nuclear weapons capacity.”

Signaling just how widespread Jewish organizational support is for the sanctions, they now have the support of J Street, a lobbying group that generally advocates stepped-up U.S. diplomacy rather than confrontation.

For months, J Street has said it backed the sanctions in principle but opposed pushing them forward while engagement was under way. But Monday the group issued a statement expressing support for the congressional measures, citing “Iran’s continued defiance of the international community and its rejection of the most recent diplomatic offer on nuclear enrichment.”

“We’re not jumping for joy for supporting this legislation,” said Hadar Susskind, J Street’s political director. “Iran has showed itself to be bad actor.”

The legislation, Susskind said, “is not perfect, it doesn’t resolve every problem, but it shows Iran that the United States and other nations are serious about this.”

One pro-Israel group remains actively opposed: Americans For Peace Now says the sanctions would backfire by turning Iranians toward a regime now fending off accusations of illegitimacy.

The group is lobbying Congress to loosen the legislation’s restrictions on the president’s ability to waive the sanctions — saying that tying his hands undermines their usefulness as a diplomatic stick.

“Rather than ‘empowering’ the president with additional authority,” as the bill promises, Americans for Peace Now said in a letter to House members, “HR 2194 would sharply limit his authority regarding both existing sanctions and potential new ones.”

Steve Clemons, a senior analyst at the liberal New America Foundation, said such posturing plays into the hands of a regime eager to blare its nationalist credentials in the wake of a summer of protests that undermined its credibility.

“They are trying to create external crises to consolidate internal power,” he said. “We shouldn’t help them.”

Parsi said rushing forward the unilateral U.S. sanctions would undercut efforts by Obama to sign on the international community to multilateral sanctions by early next year, adding that unilateral sanctions might have the effect of alienating Russia, China, and key European nations by targeting major companies in those nations.

“Are you going to have a bomb by Christmas Eve?” Parsi asked, referring to the accelerated congressional schedule. “You don’t want to give the impression that people are dying to go for sanctions because that casts the diplomacy in doubt.”

Underscoring the sinking standing of the Iranian regime, Parsi’s organization blasted the Obama administration this week for not making human rights as much a priority as nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s human rights abuses must be addressed now and not just when our focus turns to punitive measures,” he wrote in a column on the Huffington Post blog.

“Otherwise, the administration will unintentionally signal that the rights of the Iranian people are used solely as a pressure tactic against Iran when it fails to compromise on other issues.”

JTA

 
 

Obama administration presses multilateral approach on Iran

image
The United Nations Security Council, meeting Dec. 10, hears a briefing from the chairman of the committee established pursuant to the 2006 resolution on Iran sanctions. U.N. Photo

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration continues to favor multilateral sanctions when it comes to pressuring Iran, senior officials have said.

“We want to create coalitions,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a Dec. 10 interview with Al Jazeera when she was asked if the United States was nearing the point when it would impose sanctions unilaterally to persuade Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent. “We want to find common ground with people. There are many things we could go off and do unilaterally, as the prior administration certainly demonstrated. That’s not our chosen path. We would prefer to take some more time, to be more patient, to bring people together to make the case.”

Clinton rebuffed claims that the United States and Europe had failed to persuade other major powers to make common cause on the Iran issue, referring to the recent resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, condemning Iran for failing to cooperate with its inspectors.

“The vote that was accumulated condemning Iran, calling for Iran to act, was shocking to some people because it was so unified,” she said. “It wasn’t just the United States. It was Russia, it was China and many other countries. That’s because we have spent time listening and working hard to create this common ground and these common interests, and we’ve done it out of a sense of mutual respect.”

Congress is pressing forward this week with a package of unilateral sanctions. Clinton’s spokesman, Ian Kelly, denied reports that the State Department was lobbying against the package, but added that the Obama administration prefers the multilateral route.

“We want to make sure that whatever kind of package is being considered, that it’s the right kind of package,” Kelly said in a briefing last Friday. “And I think we also want to be sure that whatever we do, we do it multilaterally. I mean, that just makes good practical sense. Any kind of pressure is going to be more effective if it’s implemented broadly and not simply bilaterally.”

Representatives of the major powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and China — will meet before year’s end to consider the next steps with Iran in the wake of its rejection of an offer to enrich its uranium to medical research levels in exchange for greater nuclear transparency.

Last Friday, the White House endorsed a statement issued by the Council of European Union, the EU’s foreign policy arm, that warned of a “clear response” to Iranian recalcitrance, an allusion to enhanced sanctions.

“Iran’s persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran’s apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response, including through appropriate measures,” the EU statement said.

The White House endorsement echoed that language.

“If Iran continues to fail to bring its nuclear program into full compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA, there will be consequences and we will be consulting closely with our partners to ensure those consequences are credible,” the White House said. “We will continue to assess Iran’s responses, and together with our partners will take appropriate measures in keeping with our common approach to the Iranian nuclear program.”

JTA

 
 
 
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