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Iran's not-yet-completed heavy-water reactor at Arak. Further development at the reactor, capable of producing plutonium that could be used in a nuclear bomb, is frozen as part of the six-month Geneva agreement.
Iran's not-yet-completed heavy-water-moderated nuclear reactor at Arak. Further
development at the reactor is frozen as part of the six-month Geneva agreement.
President Obama won't, but perhaps should, make the 16 Democratic senators who have signed up to pass more economic sanctions on Iran sit on the floor when the Democratic caucus gets together with him at the White House Wednesday evening.

With the start date for a six-month interim agreement curtailing Iran's nuclear program now firmly set for Jan. 20, there are zero good reasons for adding sanctions or threatening to add sanctions if the talks for a permanent agreement don't pan out during those six months.

Whether or not one agrees that currently existing sanctions are a good thing and forced the Iranians to the negotiating table with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, adding more sanctions would be worse than counterproductive. Iran's foreign minister said a month ago that doing so would bring an end to further negotiations.

But the outcome would be worse than a return to square one. After years of working for a diplomatic solution, albeit while cyber attacks were launched against Iran, an end of negotiations would put us directly on a road to war. Hardliners in Tehran would receive a "we-told-you-so" moment with which to cudgel Iranian moderates, like President Hassan Rouhani, who have a hard enough time as it is making political headway under the ruling hand of the mullahs. And if hardliners in Iran reassert their hard grasp on policy, hardliners in the United States won't be far behind.

Why these 16 Democrats want to give the bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran factions of the U.S. and Israel a political edge against President Obama's Iran's policy is beyond understanding unless they all along have stood with them.

Before you read further analysis below the fold, please join us in backing diplomacy with opposition to Sen. Menendez's legislation.

David Brumberg, special adviser at the 30-year-old U.S. Institute of Peace, writes:

If by 2010 U.S. military leaders were signaling their lack of enthusiasm for an attack, this was because many had concluded that a military approach required weeks if not months of war with Iran—after Iraq and Afghanistan it wasn't only the American public that opposed new military adventures.

Such calculations pointed to only one reasonable option: a diplomatic solution. It is interesting to note that the Obama administration apparently came to this conclusion months before Hassan Rouhani's surprise election—well before most U.S. Iran experts could envision Iran's domestic politics tolerating the return of former Ambassador to the UN Javad Zarif, and his pragmatic foreign policy camp, as Rouhani's foreign minister. Now that they are leading Iran's nuclear policy tea—with, of course, the Supreme Leader's critical blessing (or at least acquiescence)—the challenge facing the administration is to negotiate a final deal that Zarif and his allies can defend as a reasonable compromise without provoking retaliation from either domestic hard-line opponents or those in the U.S. and the Middle East who still think that Iran's total capitulation is a feasible goal.

Creating this sweet spot will be impossible if the U.S. imposes more sanctions. The oft-repeated Washington mantra that "sanctions got the Iranians to negotiate" is true, but only in a very limited sense: Sanctions have enhanced the domestic leverage of foreign policy pragmatists who, under Zarif's leadership, argue that the Obama administration is ready for a compromise that includes removing all nuclear-related restrictions.
New sanctions will not only destroy the pragmatists' credibility—it will decimate their wider bid to advance a new domestic reform project.

New sanctions will not only destroy the pragmatists' credibility—it will decimate their wider bid to advance a new domestic reform project.

From that perspective, not only would a breakdown of negotiations fail to ensure that Iran does not build a nuclear bomb—something Iran says it is not doing and some U.S. intelligence officials publicly have said they don't think it is doing—but it also would harm the prospects of Iranians who seek democratic reform, many of them at the risk of their lives or imprisonment.

It's not only this cohort of Democratic senators who want to give the finger to diplomacy. Some Democrats in the House have joined Republicans in signing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which they "urge you and your colleagues in the Senate to act swiftly to continue consideration of rigorous Iran sanctions legislation."

That legislation—S. 1881, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013—has plenty wrong with it. But, as I've noted before, the worst is in Section 2 (b) (5):

if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence
Stripped to its essentials, what this means is that if Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and Iran strikes back, the U.S. would be committed to use military force against Iran. Utterly upside-down.

Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner at Reuters report that setting Jan. 20 as the start date for Iran's freezing of most of its nuclear development while talks are underway on a permanent agreement may reduce the drive for more sanctions. Perhaps. That would certainly be welcome news. But the two reporters don't really make a good case for it, and there's no evidence that Sen. Bob Menendez, who introduced the new sanctions legislation, has given up trying to add to the 58 senators who are co-sponsoring the bill with him.

 ••• •••

David Harris Gershon has a post about this subject here.

Karen from Maui has one here.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 02:52 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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