Republicans call for new sanctions on Iran

TEHRAN, Oct. 20 (MNA) – Leading Republican senators have called for new sanctions to be imposed on Iran, creating a potential conflict between Congress and the Obama administration as it pursues a diplomatic solution to the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Iran and six world powers ended two days of talks in Geneva on Wednesday on a positive note, with the U.S. indicating that there “could possibly be an agreement” with Tehran over its nuclear program. 

The talks in Geneva were the first detailed discussions with officials from the new Iranian government since the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani and another round of negotiations will take place in three weeks time. 

However, the optimistic tone from U.S. diplomats appeared to have done little to assuage the strong skepticism in the U.S. Congress about the potential of striking a diplomatic agreement with Iran.

Supporters of a new round of sanctions claim that Iran will only place real limits on its nuclear program if it faces more economic pressure. However, their critics counter that more sanctions will undermine the new Iranian government and destroy the current opportunity for diplomacy.

Just hours after the Geneva talks ended, Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, introduced a resolution calling for the Senate to support new sanctions on Iran. “No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table,” he said. “It is time to acknowledge that Tehran has broken its word far too many times to be trusted.”

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill which would place tough new limits on Iran’s ability to export oil. The Senate has yet to take up the bill but in the build-up to this week’s talks, senior Democrats in the Senate said they would need to see concrete progress on negotiations with Iran by the end of October in order to keep delaying the bill’s passage.

Senator Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who was co-author of a previous sanctions bill, said that “given Iran’s continued refusal to halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the Senate should immediately move forward with a new round of economic sanctions targeting all remaining Iranian government revenue and reserves.”

Aides to Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said he was still analyzing the outcome of the talks.

A senior U.S. administration official sounded an upbeat note about the discussions in Geneva, saying that the U.S. had “never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation”, adding that “I would say we really are beginning that type of negotiation where one could imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.” 

The official said the administration would give classified briefings to Congress on progress in the talks. Asked about the prospect of new sanctions, the official said: “The prerogative in the end is theirs, but I am hopeful that we will continue to be strong partners with the same objective.”

Gary Samore, who was until recently one of the leading U.S. negotiators on Iran and the White House’s non-proliferation expert, said that “it appears that the two sides are still very far apart on many of the central issues”. 

However, Mr. Samore, who is now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a lobby group that has pushed for strong sanctions on Iran, said this was not the right moment to impose new restrictions on Iranian exports. 

“It would look to much of the rest of the world as if the U.S. was blowing up the negotiations,” he said. 

The administration would likely put a lot of pressure on congressional Democrats to hold up the new sanctions bill. “Given his victory in the budget showdown, he [President Obama] might be in a stronger position to make the argument to Senate Democrats that he needs more time,” said Mr. Samore. 

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