A new survey from a Republican pollster has offered a misleading portrait of American opinion on Iran, purporting to find that a majority of Americans want to increase sanctions on Iran now while talks are ongoing. But the poll offers an unrealistic menu of choices and fails to inform respondents that more sanctions now would likely end negotiations with Iran.
The Obama administration is currently battling Congress over whether to impose new sanctions while it negotiates a final agreement. Some senators, led by Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), are pushing Congress to pass a sanctions bill now that allows the President to delay the penalties as long as the Iranians are living up to its end of the first step bargain hashed out in Geneva last month. White House officials, however, are asking Congress to hold off, noting that the Kirk-Menendez plan would in itself, at least in spirit, violate the terms of the Geneva deal and jeopardize the whole process.
Indeed, the Geneva Joint Plan of Action states that “[t]he U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” during the six-month first step agreement while all sides are working out a final deal.
“What is the best way to get Iran to agree to a final deal that ends its enrichment program and removes its ability to build nuclear weapons?” the poll asks. While 77 percent said “[c]ontinue to negotiate with Iran while imposing sanctions and increase financial pressure and sanctions,” just 23 percent said “[c]ontinue to negotiate with Iran while reducing sanctions and financial pressure on Iran.”
But the poll assumes that talks will continue if more sanctions are imposed now and never tells its respondents that, whether they take effect tomorrow or in six months’ time, more sanctions would most likely violate the Geneva accord and perhaps break the whole negotiation process down. “Deferred congressional sanctions may not violate the letter of the agreement, but they most certainly violate its spirit, providing Iranian forces hoping to scuttle the next phase of diplomacy a prime opportunity to do so,” Iran expert and former Obama administration official Colin Kahl wrote this week. “For this reason, if Congress moves forward with such legislation, Iran’s moderate Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that ‘[t]he entire deal is dead.’”
A recent poll by Hart Research and Americans United for Change did include this important context when asking whether Americans want more sanctions bills on Iran now; and the results were very different. Just 25 percent said they would agree with a Member of Congress “who wants to pass new economic sanctions on Iran now, even if that puts the new agreement and further negotiations at risk.” A solid majority, 67 percent, said they would agree with a lawmaker “who wants to give the new agreement and further negotiations a chance to work before deciding on any addition economic sanctions on Iran.”
The Hart Research poll also found that 68 percent said that Congress “should closely monitor how the agreement is being implemented, but it should NOT take any action that would block the agreement or jeopardize the negotiations for a permanent settlement” while just 22 percent said Congress “should act now to pass additional economic sanctions on Iran, even if doing so would break the agreement with Iran or might jeopardize the negotiations for a permanent settlement.”
This isn’t the first time Luntz has worked with The Israel Project on some questionable material. Back in 2009, TIP, with Luntz’s help, launched a project with the intent, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, “on shifting the focus of the Obama administration away from West Bank settlements, claiming they are not an obstacle to peace and that their evacuation would amount to ‘ethnic cleansing.’”
Meanwhile, it appears that the White House has, at least in the short term, won the Iran sanctions argument on Capitol Hill. But Roll Call reported on Thursday that top Obama administration officials “failed to convince senators not to pursue a new round of sanctions against Iran” and that Senate action on the issue is likely to take place in January.