Pro-Diplomacy Groups Ask House Committee Leaders To Clarify Iran Letter On Lifting Sanctions

European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, right, wait for the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak) CREDIT: AP
European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, right, wait for the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak) CREDIT: AP

A handful of groups supporting diplomacy with Iran have drafted a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asking them to reconsider their demand that a final nuclear deal with Iran include provisions unrelated to Tehran’s nuclear program.

In a letter to President Obama circulated for signatures last week, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) noted that the White House “has committed to comprehensively lifting ‘nuclear-related’ sanctions as part of a final P5+1 agreement with Tehran,” but, they add, many of those same sanctions laws “are also related to Tehran’s advancing ballistic missile program, intensifying support for international terrorism, and other unconventional weapons programs.”

Therefore, they argue, any final nuclear deal must include a “permanent and verifiable termination” of those non-nuclear related issues.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), along with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Win Without War, have drafted a letter in response, seeking to clarify that their intent isn’t aimed at rejecting a deal.


“We agree with you that the White House and Congress should consult closely regarding the nuclear negotiations,” says the draft, which was obtained by ThinkProgress. “While the President has the authority to issue sanctions waivers on a renewable but time-limited basis, lifting sanctions would likely require an act of Congress.” The letter continues:

As written, it could be understood as implying that, unless a nuclear deal also includes non-nuclear elements on the U.S. agenda with Iran, Congress will refuse to lift any sanctions. The notion that Congress would choose to keep sanctions in place rather than secure an agreement that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapon is alarming, and we urge you to clarify that this is not the implication of your letter.

Demanding that non-nuclear issues be added to the nuclear negotiations at this time will only ensure that we get no deal and face the prospect of an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program or a disastrous war opposed by the American people.

Other experts have argued that issues of Iran’s ballistic missiles, its poor human rights record and its support for terrorism, while serious and in need of attention, should be kept on the periphery of the nuclear talks. Moreover, as the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann has noted, taking care of the nuclear issue is one of the best ways to address the missile issue.

Whether Congress needs to be involved in lifting sanctions in order for the United States to implement its part in any final agreement, at least initially, is currently being debated.


Kenneth Katzman, an Iran sanctions expert at the Congressional Research Service, said at a recent Atlantic Council event that the Obama administration “has a tremendous amount of discretion” in using his executive authority to waive sanctions on Iran should a final nuclear deal be reached, at least in the short term.

Congress would eventually have to amend the sanctions legislation, Katzman says, most likely around two years after a potential deal is reached. By that time, “Iran would be presumably complying for two years. And you would have a two-year track record where Iran would say, we have fulfilled what we promised for two years. … we would have a two-year track record of Iran complying and at that point Iran would be demanding termination of some sanctions.”

Katzman also addressed Royce and Engel’s concern, that the sanctions are not just nuclear-related.

“I think it is just again goes to the difficulty of terminating sanctions,” he said at the Atlantic Council. “I think, again, what I tried to outline is sort of a year or two where we have a deal, it’s implemented through waivers, and then there’s a track record. Iran is complying for a year or two years. The issue of an Iranian nuclear weapon appears to be off the table. No threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. I think that’s the kind of environment where, you know, you could see perhaps legislative action to roll back the sanctions.”

NIAC, FCNL and Win Without War, however, don’t seem to want to take any chances. “A comprehensive agreement that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a major national security achievement that would greatly benefit the U.S., as well its allies, and resolve the issue that Congress has consistently identified as the top priority regarding Iran,” their draft letter to Royce and Engel says. “It would be a travesty if the very sanctions that Congress enacted under the premise of stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons proved to be the obstacle that blocked a nuclear deal.”