Bloomberg: President Barack Obama received support from the chairman of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee in his efforts to dissuade lawmakers from imposing further sanctions on Iran amid international negotiations. Bloomberg
By Terry Atlas & Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
President Barack Obama received support from the chairman of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee in his efforts to dissuade lawmakers from imposing further sanctions on Iran amid international negotiations.
New sanctions at this time “would not lead to a better deal,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said today in a statement. “It would lead to no deal at all.”
“I am baffled by the insistence of some senators to undermine” the talks between world powers and Iran, she said.
Feinstein’s comments were a departure from criticism by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress as well as objections by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a potential deal between world powers and Iran in talks, which are scheduled to resume in Geneva next week. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have asked Congress to pause in acting on legislation that would add to sanctions.
Obama argued yesterday for offering Iran “modest” relief on sanctions in exchange for progress on nuclear talks and urged Congress to hold off on more economic penalties.
“We can dial those sanctions right back up” if Iran doesn’t live up to an agreement, Obama said at a White House news conference. “If we’re serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there’s no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place.”
Advocates of further sanctions, such as Republican Senator Mark Kirk, say the impending deal isn’t tough enough on Iran’s nuclear program while providing what sanctions advocates estimate may be $20 billion in benefits for the Islamic Republic by easing some sanctions. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier this week put the value of the envisioned sanctions relief at as much as $40 billion before later saying it might be half that.
Critics are citing wildly exaggerated figures while core oil and financial sanctions would remain in place, two administration officials said today, asking not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential. Oil sanctions alone are costing Iran $5 billion a month in revenue, according to one official.
The envisioned deal would begin to roll back Iran’s nuclear capabilities while negotiations on a more comprehensive deal continue over the next six months, the second official said. The next round of talks, being held below the foreign ministers’ level, is planned for November 20-22 in Geneva, the official said.
The potential deal faces opposition by Israel, with officials lobbying Congress and Netanyahu posting messages on Twitter calling the accord being negotiated a “dream deal” for Iran.
Letter to Obama
“Rather than forfeiting our diplomatic leverage, we should increase it by intensifying sanctions until Iran suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Kirk of Illinois said in a letter today to Obama. It also was signed by Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Kerry said last week that negotiators in Geneva were close to an agreement that would grant Iran limited sanctions relief in return for curtailing key nuclear activities. The goal is a first-step accord that would keep Iran from getting closer to a nuclear weapons capability during subsequent talks toward a comprehensive agreement to guarantee that Iran’s activities are exclusively peaceful.
In Vienna, UN nuclear monitors reported yesterday that Iran has stopped installing machinery to boost production capability at its uranium-enrichment facility even as the stockpile of its most sensitive nuclear material grew to a record. The Persian Gulf nation also slowed construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran hasn’t given a reason for the slowdown, which diplomats interpreted as a positive signal from the government. The unilateral action could be reversed.
Netanyahu has advocated further increasing sanctions pressure on Iran until it agrees to irreversibly give up its uranium enrichment operations, which could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons if the nation were to break out of international monitoring. Israel also wants construction terminated on a reactor at Arak, which could provide plutonium, an alternative route to a weapon.
Obama said yesterday that attempting to resolve the Iranian nuclear issues through negotiations is better than the alternative of military action.
“No matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, are always difficult, always have unintended consequences,” Obama said.
Sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil revenue to “about $40 billion to $45 billion” a year, from as much as $120 billion a year, Kerry said yesterday on MSNBC. In addition, that money is frozen in banks under banking sanctions, he said. Iran was the sixth-largest oil producer in OPEC last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
West Texas Intermediate crude headed for a sixth weekly decline, the longest stretch of losses in 15 years, as rising U.S. supplies countered speculation that the Federal Reserve will maintain stimulus of the economy.
The administration has been briefing U.S. lawmakers in the attempt to get them to hold off on additional sanctions. Some members of Congress and Netanyahu said that last week’s talks in Geneva gave Iran the promise of relief without forcing an end to Iran’s uranium enrichment.
“We would provide very modest relief” at the margins of sanctions while leaving in place core sanctions on oil, banking and finance, Obama said. That approach allows the U.S. “to test how serious are they,” while if Iran isn’t serious “we will have lost nothing.”
“Let’s see if this short-term, Phase One deal can be completed to our satisfaction” that Iran is not advancing its program, he said. “We can buy some additional months” in terms of Iranian breakout capacity.
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said he would have “no problem” holding off on a sanctions bill until after the next round of Geneva talks. He stopped short of saying what he favors after that.
“The Iranians need to know that Congress is very determined to move on sanctions unless, in the very near term, there’s very substantial, credible progress,” Hoyer said after a briefing yesterday with administration officials.
Iran is negotiating with a group known as the P5+1, made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China — plus Germany.