A Democratic lawmaker said on Friday that Congress should hold off on adding any additional economic sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, amid optimism surrounding the latest round of negotiations, and suggested that maintaining Iran’s capability to enrich uranium used for civilian purposes could be part of any deal with Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany).
Rep. David Price (D-NC) co-authored a letter in July — which was signed by more than 100 representatives, both Democrats and Republicans — urging President Obama to pursue greater engagement with Iran after the election of relative moderate president Hassan Rouhani.
Price voted against a new House Iran sanctions bill in July and, while the Obama administration has asked that Congress hold off on new sanctions, some senators are currently pushing for the passage of a similar measure.
But Price told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview published on Friday that Congress should hold off on new sanctions:
PRICE: Certainly there are some senators pushing for a new set of sanctions to be enacted. My own judgment is that the timing on that is very poor — that it would be much preferable to hold that legislation in abeyance (eds: supend or delay debate). We have plenty of sanctions in effect right now; every indication is that they are having an effect on the Iranian government. The time may come when a new round of sanctions needs to be enacted, but my own judgment is that it would be better not to do that now, to give the diplomacy a freer reign.
Iran hawks have also been arguing that any deal with Iran over its nuclear program should include a provision that disallows the Islamic Republic from enriching any uranium on its soil, something experts say is “unrealistic” (even former Israeli military officials say it’s “reasonable” to allow Iran some low-level enrichment capabilities). In his interview with RFE/RL, Price, while refusing to speculate about what the U.S. is offering Iran, appeared to side with the experts, saying that what the U.S. is looking to do is dismantle “some” of Iran’s nuclear capabilities:
PRICE: I think what we are talking about ultimately is the removal of Iran’s capacity…to develop nuclear weapons, and we are looking for a mix of policies that would range from dismantling some of the capability to agreeing to [an] international presence that would verify the activity or the absence of activity. I think most of the solutions that have been talked about would be some mix of those kinds of measures.
Top Obama administration officials are trying to convince hawks in Congress that the negotiations that took place last week with the Iranians in Geneva were positive and worth exploring further. “Under Secretary [Wendy] Sherman told me that the Iranians appeared serious in the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, but cautioned that the devil’s in the details, and made clear that U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, told Foreign Policy.
Numerous experts also agree with Price that now is not the time to pile on more sanctions on Iran. “We do believe that the piling on of more coercive sanctions and ultimatums, particularly when there are new hopes for the diplomatic process to get underway, will undermine or even preclude the possibility of negotiating a nuclear deal,” William Leurs, Thomas Pickering and Jim Walsh wrote just after the election of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new relatively moderate president.