In November President Barack Obama announced the latest results in his administration's desire to come to a peaceful agreement with Iran in terms of its nuclear ambitions:
Since I took office, I’ve made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council, and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.
These sanctions have had a substantial impact on the Iranian economy, and with the election of a new Iranian President earlier this year, an opening for diplomacy emerged. I spoke personally with President Rouhani of Iran earlier this fall. Secretary Kerry has met multiple times with Iran’s Foreign Minister. And we have pursued intensive diplomacy -- bilaterally with the Iranians, and together with our P5-plus-1 partners -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union.
Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure -- a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.
The President then explained the frail agreement with the Islamic republic:
While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately criticized the announcement:
Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.
These are substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Simply put, they cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb. Meanwhile, this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program. And because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its program.
What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement, it's a historic mistake," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. "It's not made the world a safer place. Like the agreement with North Korea in 2005, this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.The American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, which is a political donor entity to many members of Congress also was critical of the announcement and put forth a recommendation for additional sanctions:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has released a new position paper on the Iranian nuclear deal in which it calls on Congress to "legislate additional sanctions so that Iran will face immediate consequences should it renege on its commitments or refuse to negotiate an acceptable final agreement."In strong concurrence with AIPAC, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, Democratic Senator from the state of New Jersey, along with Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) began an effort to interfere with the administration’s delicate negotiations with Iran, based also on the premise that additional threat of sanctions is required in order to force the Iranians to negotiate in good faith.
This despite administration warnings, such as those issued by Secretary of State John Kerry:
Our hope is now that no new sanctions would be put in place for the simple reason that if they are, it could be viewed as bad faith by the people we’re negotiating with, [and] it could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement.Nevertheless, Mendez, aided by gleeful Republicans, and a number of other Democrats, began to construct legislation in order to sabotage his own Democratic president. To quote expert sabotage facilitator and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH):
Are You Kidding Me?!Still, unlike the usual obstructionist effort by Republicans to block the first African American president from achieving any of his policy initiatives, this latest effort by Menendez appears to be designed to lead the United States and, yes, the world into a state of war with the nation of Iran. It is stunning to say the least.
Despite the understanding that switching off the light switch would cause the light to go out, Menendez, perhaps to confound Pavlov’s Dog, is determined to switch off the switch in order to keep the light on.
In a powerful episode of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, Thursday, Rachel Maddow examined the efforts by Menendez to sabotage his own Democratic president.
Maddow: You know what? If you close the only promising diplomatic channel there is with Iran? That makes the use of military force against Iran by us or somebody else about 99% more likely.Maddow discussed this premise of more sanctions on Iran in order to compel them to negotiate in good faith:
I mean, think about it, If you have an intractable conflict with somebody that just must be resolved…if for example Iran were saying 'we’re getting a nuclear weapon' and we and the rest of the world were saying ‘no, you aren’t’ that is an issue that has to be resolved one way or the other, right?
That is an intractable thing; there’s no compromise on half a bomb, right? It’s either you or me. If you have an intractable conflict with someone and you agree to not settle it by talking anymore, how else are you going to settle it?
Maddow: Iran is already under sanctions. Years and years and years and years of difficult and increasing impossible to live under sanctions. That is at least part of what got them to the negotiating table. Where we literally are right now, today, right now, we are literally, at this moment, negotiating with Iran at a negotiating table, talking with them about ending their nuclear program.She cited an interview by Time with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who when asked:
The talks so far has lead to progress. They have stopped enrichment already. It is a six month experiment. There are daily inspections in Iranian nuclear facilities by international inspectors now, to make sure that they are keeping to their side of the bargain; it is happening already, it is underway.
If the US Congress passes more sanctions now, or passes more sanctions now that would go into effect in the future, at some specific date, or that will have some trigger attached to what we are negotiating with them about already, Iran has said explicitly, in no uncertain terms that if the US congress did that--that would mean no more talking; diplomacy is over.
What happens if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they don’t go into effect for six months?Zarif responded:
The entire deal is dead.Maddow referred to a report by Foreign Policy Magazine that focused on a standalone proposal in Congress to levy new sanctions against Iran, which would, in effect, blow up the current US/Iranian agreement:
Democrats, have begun circulating a draft of a new Iran sanctions bill that critics say could violate the terms of an agreement struck between Iran and the United States in Geneva last month.On Thursday, 10 Senators of equal stature to Menendez, each of them Senate committee chairs, crafted a joint letter to Majority Leader Harry Read (D-NV) imploring him to reject the efforts of the Senator of New Jersey. The Senators are:
The bill, set for introduction by the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, along with top sanctions hawks Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), defies the Obama administration's repeated requests for Congress to hold off on any new legislation that could imperil last month's interim nuclear pact with Iran while talks continue toward a comprehensive final deal.
Banking Committee Chair Tim Johnson (S.D.), Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (Mich.), Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Commerce Committee Chair John Rockefeller (W.Va.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (Calif.)., Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair Thomas Carper (Del.), Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (Iowa).
All attempting to restrain Menendez, in a sense, to hold him back from carrying out his legislative sabotage. The co-signers of the letter stated:
at this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.According to Ryan Grim, a White House official has accused Menendez of seeking to undermine the negotiations:
…new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.
We have consistently and strongly opposed any new sanctions legislation during the negotiation. It is not necessary for Congress to pass this bill, because we are enforcing existing sanctions and can move to sanctions if negotiations don’t succeed or if Iran cheats," a senior administration official said.Maddow’s guest, Steve Clemens, foreign policy expert, and Washington editor at large for the Atlantic Magazine spoke chillingly of the stakes involved here:
This bill does not provide the president with the flexibility necessary to negotiate an agreement. The fact is, passing new sanctions now would split the international community, embolden Iranian hard-liners, and likely derail any prospect of a diplomatic resolution. Members of Congress pressing for this bill are effectively choosing to close the door on diplomacy, making it far more likely that we’ll be left only with a military option.
Maddow: So why do you think we saw this last second, last thing we’re going to do before Christmas push today, for a standalone new effort at sanctions?(emphasis diarist)
Clemmens: Well there is enormous pressure and it’s primarily from domestic political sources in the United States that sees a zero-sum game in the middle east and are putting extraordinary pressure on certain Senators, many Republican Senators, but of course, you know, on the Democratic side, as you’ve said, are people like Chuck Schumer but particularly Robert Menendez and they want to kill the deal.
I’ve been told tonight that the President of the United States Barack Obama has communicated to these Senators that he will veto this if it were to pass, which is new news and I think very important. I’ve heard from a very senior administration official who is arguing that Bob Menendez if he gets the way he wants to go is going to trip us into a war.
Clemmens (continued): So the stakes as you define them are very very high and this is not just another crank at the wheel on sanctions; this is a very important historic moment in US diplomatic history to systemically change the relationship of the united states with another key nation that has been problematic for us for three decades.On Friday, MoveOn Executive Director Ann Galland offered a rebuke to Menendez and his tampering colleagues:
This is a Nixon goes to China moment and it would be like the US Senate handicapping and kind of cutting the legs out from underneath Richard Nixon in normalizing China. That’s how big this is.
Democrats like Senators Schumer and Menendez should stop supporting Republican efforts to undermine President Obama's diplomacy. The last thing our country needs right now is another war. It is shameful and wrong for Senators to intentionally undermine the potential for a negotiated, diplomatic solution. We urge all Senators to avoid action that heightens the risk of conflict.Also on Friday, the President addressed this issue during his last press conference of the year:
I've heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we're -- we're supportive of the negotiations, but we think it's really useful to have this club hanging over Iran's head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales. We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied even as the negotiations are taking place. It's not as if we're letting up on that.Returning to Steve Clemmens:
So I've heard arguments, well, but, you know, this way, we can be assured and the Iranians will know that, if negotiations fail, even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don't think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a -- in a day, on a dime.
Clemmens: So I think that the issue here is not one of earnestness by many of the Senators involved, it’s designed to sabotage what the White House is doing which is extraordinary and I think the White House is really demonstrating and I’ve heard people like the State Department deputy spokesman and others today, with almost ferocious turf protecting on this, and saying we’re not going to yield an inch and there will not be an inch yielded in this battle, first with Bob Menendez, and they’re not going to lose this historic possibility with Iran.Senator Menendez, there truly does not seem to be any reason to insist on seeking a vote to increase sanctions on Iran, now or after the holidays.
There is ample time to vote on increasing sanctions once it is deemed that negotiations will not bear fruit. Your motivations here seem quite apparent. Rachel Maddow had it absolutely correct when she said Thursday:
Maddow: By doing it now, the only point is to stop diplomacy and make it more likely that we are going to war with Iran; it’s the only reason to do this. A vote for this thing is a vote to go to war with Iran.Senator, this is beyond shameful.