House Votes to Undermine Talks with Iran – Will the Senate Follow?

On Friday the Senate is expected to vote on legislation passed Thursday by the House that would tighten U.S. sanctions on Iran and also tighten sanctions on our allies who trade with Iran – the same allies we are currently relying on to negotiate with Iran. This legislation, if passed, would undermine the talks with Iran that are currently taking place in Europe. Press reports have indicated that the talks in Europe could lead to more substantial negotiations between Iran and the United States. For example, it has recently been reported that Europeans negotiators had suggested that it might not be necessary for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment for talks to begin, and Iranian officials have suggested that they might be willing to consider a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment to enable talks to proceed. Such negotiations would be in the interest of the vast majority of Americans and Iranians who want peace.

But on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed new sanctions on Iran, heedless of the consequences for those talks. Indeed, some of the supporters of the new sanctions may be pushing this measure now precisely in the hope of scuttling the talks.  The legislation was rushed through the House, with little time for debate.

The Senate is expected to consider the new sanctions bill, the “Iran Freedom Support Act,” H.R. 6198, on Friday. Given the chaos at the end of the Congressional session, these sanctions could be blocked, if enough of us contact our senators Friday.

The bill, which was sponsored in the House by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA), states that it should be U.S. policy not to negotiate or conclude nuclear cooperation agreements with countries engaged in nuclear cooperation with Iran.
This is a direct attack on Russia, which is engaged in nuclear cooperation with Iran. And it is a short-sighted attack, because the cooperation of Russia is key to achieving a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), who for a long time has been pushing on the Bush Administration for a more confrontational approach. Previously, the State Department had resisted Santorum’s demands for more sanctions, precisely on the grounds that this would undermine talks between Iran and EU countries that are supported (at least publicly) by the Administration. The Bush Administration seems to have shifted its position, a worrying sign that the faction of the Administration eager for a military confrontation with Iran is gaining strength. Recent press reports that plans for U.S. air strikes on Iran are being refined and U.S. warships are moving towards Iran underscore this concern.

Supporters of the bill portray it as a pro-democracy bill. But in the context of Iran, this is another way of saying that it is a regime-change bill. This aspect of the bill is certain to make negotiations with Iran more difficult if it becomes law. Officials in Iran will ask, why bother trying to negotiate with someone who has an official policy of trying to overthrow you?

Moreover, the notion of trying to undermine the Iranian government by funding opposition groups is both unethical and short-sighted. Groups and individuals who are known to receive such funding will be discredited politically in Iran. Indeed, prominent Iranian dissidents have rejected U.S. assistance, and have argued that the U.S. policy of confrontation hurts the democracy movement in Iran. Such activities by the U.S. appear to validate claims by Iranian government officials that their domestic critics are financed and inspired by foreigners.
In the context of modern Iranian history this is a powerful charge. In the 1950s a democratically elected government in Iran was overthrown by a military coup organized by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The democratic government was replaced by a repressive regime that the U.S. helped keep in power for the next 25 years.

The interests of the vast majority of Americans would be best served by direct negotiations with the Iranian government, without preconditions. Indeed, recent polling by Reuters indicates that the majority of Americans want the U.S. to pursue diplomacy with Iran, not military confrontation. Ultimately the alternative to negotiations will be war, and the daily casualty reports from Iraq give us some idea of how destructive war with Iran would be.

Take Action:
Please write and call your two senators and urge them to oppose H.R.
6198, the “Iran Freedom Support Act.” You can write them using this
link: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/iran092906.html
and you can call them through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 225-3121.

Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy

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