The fact that an accord between the United States and Iran, along with the other P5+1 world powers, would remove Iran as a potential nuclear threat and might do wonders to stabilize the entire Middle East hasn’t dissuaded the far right, the pro-Likud Israel lobby and the neoconservatives from trying to wreck any possibility that President Obama’s diplomacy might succeed.
It’s a precise analogue to the Republican party’s efforts to shut down the government, block every White House policy initiative and generally act as the Party of No. But in the case of Iran, the reactionaries include many Democrats, including dozens of US senators.
So far, it appears that the alliance between the White House and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is holding, and it’s likely that Reid—for the time being, at least—will prevent any vote to impose yet another round of economic sanctions on Iran. But the pressure is mounting, and as the talks drag on—and they could take up to a year or more—Reid might change his mind. In any case, according to Foreign Policy’s The Cable, fifty-eight senators now support the new sanctions bill, called the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, a neoconservative outlet, which quotes a leading official of one of the Israel lobby’s units, at least thirty-four Democrats in the Senate support the new sanctions bill.
Seventy-four neoconservative pundits, analysts, former diplomats and others, nearly all of whom were part and parcel of the various committees and think tanks formed to demand war in Iraq in the late 1990s, released an open letter to members of Congress yesterday supporting more meddling by Congress in Iran policy, and adding that US policy toward Iran must additionally be “backed up by the military option.” They say: “Congressional leadership is once again required to set clear standards for enforcing Iranian compliance with the interim nuclear deal”—even though there’s no sign at all of Iran’s noncompliance with the interim accord reached on November 24—in fact, quite the opposite.
Signing the letter were all the usual suspects: Bill Kristol, Joe Lieberman, the Kagans, various American Enterprise Institute pundits such as Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka, Douglas Feith, John Podhoretz, Fouad Ajami and the rest.
The hawks, carrying water for Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and the king of Saudi Arabia, are doing whatever they can to upset the talks, and they’re providing fuel for hardliners in Iran who’ll try to oppose President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic team. They’re no doubt gratified by the fact that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has recently been largely supportive of Rouhani’s efforts, yesterday delivered a broadside against the United States, falling back on his old, anti-American rhetoric. But although he denounced the United States for a wide range of policies—including human rights, the Middle East and the “war on terror”—Khamenei still supported the P5+1 talks, and he pointed out, correctly, that sanctions didn’t force Iran into the talks:
“The enemies think they imposed the embargo and forced Iran to negotiate. No! We have already said that if we see interest in particular topics, we will negotiate with this devil in order to eliminate trouble coming from it.”
As long as Khamenei’s speeches are rhetorical, the talks will move forward. But there’s little doubt, even among Rouhani’s team, that another round of US-backed sanctions would kill the negotiations once and for all. (The November 24 accord, signed by the United States, explicitly says that no sanctions will be added as the talks go forward.)