The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said on Tuesday that a new Iran sanctions bill currently being pushed in Congress’s upper chamber will “blow up” the negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program and signal to the Iranians that the U.S. is only interested in regime change.
Feinstein took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to speak out against the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act being pushed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). “I sincerely believe the P5+1 negotiations with Iran would end and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior,” Feinstein argued, if the bill passes and sustains the promised Presidential veto.
The California Democrat also argued that passing the bill will embolden hard-liners in Tehran who want to see talks fail and demonstrate to American partners and the Iranians that if the U.S. can’t live up to the first-step agreement in passing a new round of sanctions — the U.S. agreed that it would not impose new sanctions while a final deal is worked out — then “it will never lift sanctions after a final agreement is reached” and thus scuttle this historic opportunity for a deal with Iran. She said later:
I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.
It says to the U.K., China, Russia, France, and Germany that our country cannot be trusted to stand behind our diplomatic commitments. That is a very big statement.
“Above all,” Feinstein said, if the bill passes, the Iranians “will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy” and instead “we are interested in regime change.”
The Kirk-Menendez bill also includes a provision that pledges U.S. military support for Israel should the Jewish State take “military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Feinstein took issue with this language. “While I recognize and share Israel’s concern,” she said, “we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a formal resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.”
Feinstein said she would support a new round of sanctions should negotiations fail or Iran does not abide by the term of the Geneva deal, but said passing sanctions now, with the high risk that they will derail diplomacy, “defies logic.”
Feinstein’s speech comes as an increasing number of Senate Democrats are beginning to voice their opposition to the Kirk-Menendez bill. At the same time, the efforts in both the House and Senate to put more sanctions on Iran while negotiations take place, and to dictate a potential end state to the talks, has increased the partisan divide on an issue that usually has Republican and Democratic consensus.
Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel’s (D-NY) recent comments on Iran has embodied that split. “Republican leadership in the House ought to be more concerned with implementing the sanctions than concerned with trying to embarrass the administration,” he said on Tuesday, according to Roll Call. “I’m interested in a real coalition. I think sometimes the Republicans are more interested in scoring brownie points against the administration, trying to box the administration into a corner.”