Supporters of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani hold a picture of him as they celebrate his victory in Iran’s presidential election in Tehran June 15, 2013. (Reuters/Fars News/Sina Shiri)
Hassan Rouhani, the surprise winner of the June 14 presidential election in Iran—and a man who has called for better relations with the United States and a deal over Iran’s nuclear program—takes office on August 4. In anticipation of that event, lots of sensible people in the United States, including members of Congress, former diplomats, and a passel of centrist-realist Middle East experts, are calling on President Obama to do everything he can to reach an accord with Rouhani’s new government.
So the question is: Does Obama want America’s first message to Rouhani to be: “Welcome to the presidency, Mr. Rouhani. And we’re piling even more sanctions on your ass.” You’d think not. But that is the message that many Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to send, especially House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Obama should signal immediately that he’ll veto any bill that smells like more sanctions, even though it will be strongly backed by the Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and plenty of neoconservatives and other hawks.
As The Jerusalem Post reports happily:
With 360 co-sponsors in the 435-member body, the bill will pass, and is expected to be matched in the Senate after Congress’s August recess.
According to the Associated Press, the administration isn’t happy about the idea of yet more sanctions, which would be aimed at shutting down Iran’s entire oil and gas industry:
The legislation would blacklist Iran’s mining and construction sectors, effective next year, because they are seen as heavily linked to Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard corps. It also would commit the U.S. to the goal of ending all Iranian oil sales worldwide by 2015, targeting the regime’s biggest revenue generator and prime source of money for its weapons and nuclear programs.
This, of course, is piling stupid on top of stupid. As even the AP says:
If Rouhani is serious about compromise, setting new sanctions in advance of talks risks undercutting him, [a U.S. official] said. Even if the new Iranian leader isn’t serious, the oil measures in particular are problematic, turning a potential U.S. diplomatic success into a failure.
If China or Japan, for example, decides to flout the U.S. demand to stop all importing from Iran, the administration would then have to weigh enforcing the law by blacklisting Chinese and Japanese banks and companies at the risk of widespread economic harm—including for Americans. The likelier result is that the U.S. does nothing, making the sanctions look hollow and eroding international solidarity on pressuring Iran.