Bipartisan Expert Group Says New Iran Sanctions Will Undermine Diplomacy

CREDIT: J. Scott Applewhite/ AP

A new report from a bipartisan group of experts at the Iran Project released on Tuesday finds that opponents of new sanctions on Iran at this time are largely correct in that they would lead to a break-down of diplomacy, isolate the U.S. from its negotiating partners and embolden hard-liners in Tehran.

The Iran sanctions battle in the Senate has stalled for now, but it’s unclear if the House will take up the matter again, as Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is reportedly working on language with other House leaders.

The Iran Project’s report analyzes arguments for and against the Senate Iran sanctions bill that was introduced last December by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who have argued that new sanctions will give the U.S. more leverage in nuclear talks with Iran.

But, the report says, “It is difficult to argue that a new sanctions bill is intended to support the negotiations when all the countries doing the negotiating oppose it.”

Kirk, Menendez and other supporters of the bill say the sanctions have a delayed trigger and will kick in in six months or if Iran backs out of the deal. Not so, the Iran Project says. “After carefully reading the bill line by line and consulting with both current and retired Senate staff the relevant committees, it appears that the critics are correct: the change in sanctions law takes effect upon passage,” the report says, which would most likely put the United States in violation of the interim nuclear agreement reached in Geneva in November

On whether new sanctions will weaken the international coalition on imposing existing sanctions, “some countries would continue to honor some sanctions,” the Iran Project says if the Senate sanctions bill passes. “Still, it would seem that on balance, the net result would be less pressure on Iran.” The report also says that unilateral congressional action on sanctions now “would feed an unwelcome narrative” to America’s partners, the U.K., France, China, Russia, Germany and others, that the U.S. can’t live up to its promises and is an unreliable partner.

Many, like Sen. Patrick Murphy (D-CT), have argued that placing new sanctions on Iran will undermine relative moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who supports a diplomatic approach with the U.S. The Iran Project agrees. “It is very difficult to imagine that the sanctions bill would do anything but undermine Rouhani, as he attempts to steer Iran on a different path. This is an assessment shared not only by Iran experts, and Iranian expats who have opposed the regime, but also by Israeli military intelligence, which has concluded that Rouhani may represent a fundamental shift in Iranian politics.”

“[I]t is difficult to escape the conclusion that a new sanctions bill would increase the probability of war, even if it does not guarantee such an outcome,” the report says.

The bipartisan Iran Project has issued several reports on the Iran nuclear issue. In 2012, the group concluded that attacking Iran would risk an “all out regional war” lasting “several years” and that In order to achieve regime change, the report says, “the occupation of Iran would require a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

The anti-sanctions movement in Congress gained steam last week when 104 House members, including some Republicans, signed a letter to President Obama supporting his diplomatic approach to Iran and calling on Congress to avoid passing any new Iran nuclear related “bills or resolutions” while talks — which are set to resume this week — are taking place.