US senator pushes to block Iran sanctions waivers

US senator pushes to block Iran sanctions waivers | The Times of Israel.

An interim agreement that does not freeze enrichment and work on Arak plant might be a hard sell for the administration

November 7, 2013, 3:24 pm

Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Tehran (photo credit: AP/ISNA/Hamid Foroutan/File)

Iran’s heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Tehran (photo credit: AP/ISNA/Hamid Foroutan/File)

WASHINGTON — A powerful Republican senator is considering legislation that would block the Obama administration from being able to lift any sanctions against Iran without major concessions by Tehran toward stopping its nuclear program. While his key Democratic counterparts in the Senate remain silent on pending sanctions legislation, Sen. Robert Corker, a Republican of Tennessee, said Wednesday that he is considering an amendment that would require Iran to cease enrichment altogether and suspend all work on the Arak heavy water plant before any sanctions are lifted.

Corker told the The Daily Beast that he had “crafted an amendment to freeze the administration in and make it so they are unable to reduce the sanctions unless certain things occur.”

The senator noted that the administration can now put waivers in place to allow for the gradual easing of sanctions — which seems to be the cornerstone of current deals being floated. “We’re very concerned that in their desire to make any deal that they may in fact do something that is very bad for our country,” he said.

But with an incremental deal reportedly on the table at a meeting currently being held in Geneva between Iran and six world powers, Corker’s amendment is a distant legislative horizon — and a questionable one in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even Democratic senators who support a tough sanctions regime are unlikely to support legislation that seeks to tie the Obama administration’s hands in negotiations.

The administration reportedly asked Senate Democrats for a 60-day hold on advancing the existing sanctions legislation that is currently awaiting Senate committee review, and they seem to have complied.

Robert Corker (photo credit: US Senate / Wikipedia Commons)

Robert Corker (photo credit: US Senate / Wikipedia Commons)

Democratic leaders have avoided directly commenting on the future of the new sanctions legislation, which has been delayed indefinitely en route to its first hurdle — a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee. Even Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey, the hawkish chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has remained quiet this week on the chances of advancing the sanctions legislation.

His only hint as to the future of the already-drafted sanctions legislation came in an interview with CNN, when he said that “I would be willing to say that if we can get Iran to suspend its present activities as we move forward with what I hope will be fruitful negotiations, that any new round of sanctions would say that they could be ceased immediately upon Iran meeting its verifiable actions under the Security Council resolutions.”

The Democratic Senate leader also said that he supported a partial lifting of sanctions only if Iran froze all nuclear production — a statement that likely included both enrichment and the construction of the heavy water plant at Arak. Menendez’s comments echoed those made by Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In mid-October, Israel told The Cable that “if the president were to ask for a lifting of existing sanctions it would be extremely difficult in the House and Senate to support that…. I’m willing to listen but I think that asking Congress to weaken and diminish current sanctions is not hospitable on Capitol Hill.”

An interim deal currently reported to be on the table, in which Iran would cease all enrichment at 20 percent and slow down work on the heavy water reactor in Arak in exchange for the easing of sanctions, would not meet the parameters of Corker’s hypothetical legislation. The current sanctions legislation that has already passed Congress, however, contains a so-called “national security waiver,” enshrining in law the possibility for the president to lift some sanctions without seeking congressional approval.

The current reported proposal also does not meet the bare minimum for an interim deal proposed by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

The well-respected anti-nuclear proliferation think tank published this week a list of what it described as “the irreducible elements of an interim agreement with Iran.”

Central among those elements was “stopping the advance of Iran’s centrifuge and Arak reactor programs” as well as a call to reduce the stocks of highly enriched uranium in Iran that could be used to make nuclear weapons. A longer-term agreement, ISIS noted in the brief, would necessarily require the elimination of all stocks of highly enriched uranium.

Other elements of the bare minimum-agreement framework include an immediate freeze on all centrifuge production and extensive work to increase the nuclear program’s international transparency.

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One Comment on “US senator pushes to block Iran sanctions waivers”

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