Senate Intel Chair Pushes Back Against Opponents Of Diplomacy With Iran


The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee has come out against her colleagues who stand opposed to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, days before new talks are set to begin over how the international community and the Islamic Republic can come to an accord.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and in that position receives frequent briefings from the intelligence community on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. “There are people in Iran, just as there are people here, who would not want to see an agreement,” Feinstein told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, alluding to the dissent of several of her colleagues on whether the Obama administration should test the new tone from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the panel that the Obama administration believes the body should delay new sanctions on Iran until after talks proceed. “In terms of legislation that is currently being discussed here on the Hill, we do believe it would be helpful for you all to at least allow this meeting to happen on the 15th and 16th of October before moving forward to consider those new sanctions,” Sherman said, referring to the talks set to take place in Geneva later this month. “And the reason I say that is because I want to be able to say to Iran, this is your — and I’m saying this here today because they’ll listen to all of this — this is your opportunity.”

That position hasn’t been without detractors, however, from both the Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Freshmen House members just last week sent a letter to President Obama last week calling for increased pressure. The House has already passed a new wave of sanctions on targeting Iran’s petroleum industry, while the Senate currently has bills awaiting votes in several committees.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a leading Iran hawk, also believes in not only holding the current sanctions in place on Tehran, but increasing them. “The State Department should not aid and abet a European appeasement policy by pressuring the Senate to delay sanctions while the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism races toward a nuclear weapons capability,” Kirk said in a statement last week.

CAP analyst Matt Duss agrees with Feinstein, pointing out that Rouhani is likely feeling similar pressure at home. Noting that many American conservatives believe that “[i]n seeking an un-hostile encounter with Rohani, Obama failed to uphold American pride,” Duss believes “one can easily imagine the Farsi version of this coming out of the Revolutionary Guard headquarters: For a great historic power such as Iran to run panting after the Great Satan is humiliating for us.” Reports have indicated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are extremely wary about the new, more conciliatory tone.

For now, though, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given his approval of Rouhani’s moves to solve the nuclear crisis, whether his fellow conservatives like it or not. Rouhani is also fighting back, reportedly commissioning several polls of the Iranian people, meant to gauge the popular support for his diplomatic overtures. And Senate Banking Committee Chair Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) has agreed, despite his hawkish position, to hold back on ratcheting up sanctions on Iran until at least after mid-October. Whether that detente will continue after the talks in Geneva remains to be seen.