Yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the status of US efforts to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran put on display a surprising disconnect between some of the Senate’s most hawkish members and a stacked panel of “experts,” all of whom were probably expected to agree with Senate hawks.
The hearing went to plan early on, with the panelists—David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security; Gary Samore, president of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran pressure group; and Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute—expressing concerns about extending negotiations through March and backing increased sanctions should negotiators fail to reach an agreement by the new deadline.
But the wheels came off in the second hour of the hearing when the committee chairman, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), raised the possibility of sanctions that would be implemented automatically at the end of March if there is no agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.
“Something that makes them understand that there are consequences for not coming to the conclusions that are necessary to actually make a deal that the international community could support,” Menendez said. “And signaling to them that this is not an endless rolling negotiation which you can just game but something you have to come to grips with.”
Gary Samore, the White House’s former non-proliferation czar, quickly shot Menendez’s trigger-sanctions down.
“My concern is that some in Iran might actually welcome such legislation because they could very well calculate that it will put more pressure on the P5+1 to make additional concessions in order to get a deal to avoid having the old sanctions imposed and then going back to the previous situation,” he demurred.
David Albright jumped in as well, warning that such legislation could actually push Iran to further develop their nuclear program. “Trigger sanctions, where they come into effect in a mandatory way, is perceived by the Iranians as putting a gun to their head and leads them to put together trigger-advancements in their nuclear program,” he said.
The panel also expressed concerns over the failed effort by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Corker (R-TN) to automatically impose sanctions if negotiators failed to reach an agreement by the November deadline.