Foreign Policy reports: The Obama administration is facing an unexpected hurdle in its new nuclear talks with Iran – a sizeable bloc of Democratic lawmakers who have made clear that they would break with the White House and fight any effort to lift the current sanctions on Tehran.
The future of those sanctions is a key issue in this week’s negotiations in Geneva between senior officials from Iran and the U.S., the most serious talks between the two longtime adversaries in decades. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif kicked off Monday’s session with a PowerPoint presentation, delivered in English, which offered to put new limits on his country’s nuclear program in exchange for easing the Western sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy and decimated the value of its currency.
The White House has already signaled a potential openness to that kind of deal, but a wide array of powerful Democrats — including the top members of both the Senate and House foreign affairs committees — strongly oppose lifting any of the existing sanctions on Iran unless Tehran offers concessions that go far beyond anything Zarif has talked about in Geneva. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, has also promised to do everything in its power to keep the punitive measures in place.
“If the president were to ask for a lifting of existing sanctions it would be extremely difficult in the House and Senate to support that,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Cable. “I’m willing to listen but I think that asking Congress to weaken and diminish current sanctions is not hospitable on Capitol Hill.”
“I’d say no,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) when asked if he’d accept a presidential plea to lift sanctions. “They’ve got a long way to go to demonstrate the kind of credibility that would lead us to believe we can move in a conciliatory direction. And sanctions are what has strengthened the administration’s hand.”
Opposition from Democratic lawmakers represents more than just a political headache for the administration. Congress has the power to impose, modify or remove sanctions regardless of what the White House wants, and it has shown a willingness to overrule the administration in the past. [Continue reading…]