The purpose of negotiation is to resolve points of difference between two or more parties. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, what the international community is willing to accept remains to be seen. As negotiations continue to reach a final agreement with Iran there are differing opinions between the U.S. executive and legislative branches on how to encourage Iran to accept a deal. Some senators want to pass new sanctions in case Iran misbehaves.
President Obama has asked the Senate to postpone introducing legislation that would increase economic sanctions, fearing that might disrupt current negotiations. Some senators concur with the President, like Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD), who has a sanctions bill prepared in case negotiations with Iran fail. However, Senators Robert Menéndez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) believe Iran needs a nudge at the bargaining table and have sponsored The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013. The pending legislation has the support of 58 senators and is intended to show that the U.S. is serious about reaching a final agreement with Iran.
The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 allows six months of negotiations for a final agreement with Iran on its nuclear program which could be extended for up to one year. However, if Iran does not abide by the Joint Plan of Action agreed on November 24, 2013, initiates aggressive action, or does not completely cease its nuclear weapons program, the bill calls for new economic sanctions to be implemented. Even if the bill were to pass both chambers of Congress, it is likely to be blocked by a veto, as President Obama has threatened.
Senators who do not support the bill believe the administration should have breathing room to negotiate without extra pressure. In their view, new sanctions should be put on hold at this critical time because they would send a negative signal to Iranian leaders. After all, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, has made it publicly known that negotiations would be terminated if Congress imposes new sanctions – he said it would symbolize that the U.S. lacks the seriousness to reach a solution. At the same time, the U.S. has no problem enforcing sanctions that are still active, which was evident when Washington blacklisted 19 Iranian companies and individuals in December.
The act shows some senators do not trust Iran’s motives and would like to have a second plan as backup in the event negotiations falter. Senator Kirk declared that, “The American people rightfully distrust Iran’s true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations.” According to Senator Menendez, “Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table.”
President Obama and supporters of The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act clearly have opposing views when it comes to the best way to produce a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Whether passing legislation that calls for a tight time-frame for an agreement and new economic sanctions, as some senators desire, will be more helpful or harmful than diplomatic negotiations without time pressure, as President Obama prefers, is unclear. The White House and some senators are pursuing alternative routes to reach the same result, a nuclear weapons free Iran.
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