Israel is the most skeptical country about diplomacy to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generally dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures to the outside world as a deceptive “charm offensive.” In his U.N. address, Netanyahu called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and then went on a media blitz to warn world leaders against trusting the new president’s more conciliatory tone.
Israel is also concerned that a diplomatic deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—would allow Iran to reemerge as a regional powerhouse.
Iran “continues to develop missiles of various ranges, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. These missiles pose a threat to the Middle East, Europe, the United States and other countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in his U.N. address on Oct. 1, 2013.
Israel and Iran were the two main pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East until the 1979 revolution. Since then, Israel and the United States have had a shared interest in containing Iran. They reportedly worked together on cyber warfare to slow or disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet worm reportedly attacked Iran’s centrifuges in late 2009 or early 2010, while the Flame virus collected information on Iranian officials in 2012.
But Tehran’s new diplomatic initiative — including the first meeting between Iranian and American foreign ministers and a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani in September —unnerved Israeli leaders. They are concerned about the side-effects of any deal, including lifting sanctions and potential rapprochement with the United States.
A deal that lifts the world’s toughest sanctions could in turn improve Iran’s economic health and generating new income to support extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. By October 2013, sanctions had cost Iran at least $100 billion just over the previous 18 months, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Foreign Policy magazine. In 2006, Israel fought its longest war with Hezbollah; it ended without a clear victory for either side. Israel has a strategic interest in making sure Tehran does not replenish Hezbollah’s stock of weapons.
Tehran is aware of Israel’s growing anxiety over nuclear negotiations and new U.S.-Iran interaction. In an October 3 tweet, President Rouhani’s office suggested that Israel was jealous of the attention Iran’s diplomatic overtures have received.
Any deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program may need Congressional approval. But the Obama administration could face a tough sell for any deal on the Hill from both Republicans and Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of sanctions imposed on Tehran have been written into law since the 1980s.
At least a dozen members from both the Senate and House reportedly spoke with new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif during the U.N. opening in New York. Some in Congress have been outspoken in support of a deal. Zarif “doesn’t play games,“ said Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who met him in 2006 and was among a number of members of Congress who talked to him at the United Nations in September. „I think a deal is doable.“
Other members, however, have called for new sanctions and have indicated strong skepticism towards new talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. “No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a statement calling for additional sanctions
on Tehran. The following comments were made in reference to Iran’s new diplomacy and the first round of talks, held in Geneva from October 15 to 16.
A bipartisan group of 10 senators and another group of 78 freshman representatives expressed their concern about Iran negotiations in letters to President Obama. Both urged the administration to increase pressure on Tehran.
October 11, 2013
Dear Mr. President:
As representatives of the P5+1 and the Iranian government prepare to enter another round of negotiations to verifiably end Iran’s nuclear weapon program, we reiterate the four strategic elements articulated by 76 Senators to you on August 2, 2013 necessary to achieve resolution of the nuclear issue: (1) an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, (2) a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, (3) the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and (4) a convincing threat of the use of force.
We support your efforts to explore a diplomatic opening, but we believe that the true test of Iranian sincerity is a willingness to match rhetoric with actions. The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva. Iran’s first confidence-building action should be full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and implementation of all Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to include immediate suspension of all enrichment activity. If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress. In short, the U.S. should consider, with the other members of the P5+1, a “suspension for suspension” initial agreement – in which Iran suspends enrichment and the U.S. suspends the implementation of new sanctions.
For the P5+1 states, such an agreement would ease concerns that Iran is using the talks as a subterfuge while its centrifuges spin and for Iran it would suspend critical additional sanctions on its key economic sectors.
The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner. However, at this time, we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively, and call on you to increase pressure through sanctions already in place.
A nuclear weapons capable Iran threatens regional stability and international security and directly threatens U.S. national security interests. As we previously cautioned, Iran has historically used negotiations to affect progress on its nuclear weapons program. We must continue to realistically evaluate Iranian intentions, and we reiterate that the centrifuges cannot be allowed to continue spinning.
We reject Iranian statements that Iran should be able to continue enrichment in its own territory. Indeed, this is not a prerequisite for a peaceful nuclear energy program. Countries from Canada, to Mexico and South Africa benefit from peaceful nuclear energy programs, without indigenous enrichment programs. Iran does have a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program; it does not have a right to enrichment.
We remind you that the U.S. Department of State has characterized Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” and to be sure, verifiable dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear weapons program will not resolve the Iranian government’s deplorable abuse of basic human rights, denial of basic civil freedoms, or its ongoing activities that seek to destabilize the region.
We remain hopeful that talks next week in Geneva lead to concrete Iranian actions to prove to the world that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapons capability. However, if Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Sen .Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA)
Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)
October 4, 2013
Dear Mr. President:
We, members of the House of Representatives freshman class, Republican and Democrat, many of whom have recently returned from a visit to the Middle East, are deeply concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran. We hope your recent historic direct conversation with President Rouhani will help resolve this issue. We write to share with you our view that time is running out and America must continue to broaden and strengthen our enforcement of sanctions against Iran until Tehran takes meaningful steps to stop and reverse its illicit nuclear activities.
We share your conviction that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, and we are appreciative of the extensive sanctions your administration has implemented. At the same time, we believe there is a need to do more to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program. That is the reason the House overwhelmingly passed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 this summer.
Like you, we wish to see Iranian President Hassan Rouhani limit Iran’s nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations. We acknowledge encouraging words coming from the new president. Sadly however, since his election, there is no substantive evidence to suggest that Iran is slowing, or even considering slowing, its nuclear pursuit. Instead, the 28 August International Atomic Energy Agency report suggests that Iran is, in fact, accelerating its nuclear efforts. Tehran continues its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable signiﬁcantly more rapid production of weapons-grade uranium. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.
We welcome the possibility of improved ties with Iran. But we believe that we must increase the intensity and accelerate the pace of our pressure on Iran as long as it is accelerating its efforts towards a nuclear weapons capability Until Iran fundamentally changes course, the United States must continue to toughen sanctions. We, therefore, urge you to utilize the full set of sanctions available under current law. We believe we must focus on the energy and financial sectors, but also step up pressure in other sectors, such as construction and foreign exchange, where Iran seeks to offset the effects of current sanctions.
Finally, as we try to open the path to negotiations, we believe it is imperative that you make clear to Tehran that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that we will step up sanctions until it reverses its nuclear program, and that we stand ready to use force if necessary.
Mr. President, we want to work with you to bring Iran to the table, including implementing increasingly tougher sanctions to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. The world is watching and history will judge us by our success protecting the region and the world from a nuclear-armed Iran.
Representative Bradley Schneider (D-IL)
Representative Luke Messer (R-IN)
Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
“This latest round of P5+1 negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program is nothing more than a charade meant to undermine our leverage while allowing the centrifuges to continue to spin. The Administration must not offer any easing of sanctions against Iran in exchange for empty promises and false hopes.”
Senator Mark Kirk (IL)
“My colleagues in the US Senate and I will not be fooled by hollow declarations of ‘peace for our time.’ We will not accept any level of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. We will not accept an Iranian plutonium reactor. And unless we see Iran take immediate steps to comply with all its Security Council obligations, we will move forward with a new round of sanctions targeting all remaining Iranian revenue and reserves.”
Representative Ed Royce (CA)
“International sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table; we should build upon this success with additional measures to compel Iran to make meaningful and lasting concessions.”
Oct. 14, 2013 in a letter to President Obama
Representative Trent Franks (AZ)
“As the Obama Administration now engages in negotiations with Iran, there is a legitimate risk that this Administration, in its imprudent eagerness to adopt the narrative of a more peaceful and ‚moderate‘ Iranian regime, could strike an agreement with Iran that does not actually prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability.”
Senator Mark Rubio (FL)
“Congress should move to implement a new round of additional sanctions without delay. And I would say that at some point, Congress should consider making it very clear that if it becomes necessary, the President of the United States should reserve the right to take military action to prevent Iran from continuing to advance its nuclear weapons program.”
Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mark Kirk (IL)
“Now is a time to strengthen–not weaken–U.S. and international sanctions. The U.S. should not suspend new sanctions, nor consider releasing limited frozen assets, before Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities.”
Senator Bob Casey (PA)
“I’d say no [if Obama asked 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.“
Representative Yvette Clarke (NY)
“The removal of sanctions before Iran has demonstrated its good faith would undermine the security of the United States and its allies, such as Israel. We must maintain a policy of caution. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I will continue to work with President Obama and my colleagues in the House of Representatives to eliminate any potential threats to our security.”
But some Democrats expressed support for encouraging a diplomatic outcome.
Representative David Price (NC)
“Certainly there are some senators pushing for a new set of sanctions to be enacted. My own judgment is that the timing on that is very poor — that it would be much preferable to hold that legislation in abeyance… The time may come when a new round of sanctions needs to be enacted, but my own judgment is that it would be better not to do that now, to give the diplomacy a freer reign.”
Oct. 18, 2013 in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Representative Eliot Engel (NY)
“Under Secretary Sherman told me that the Iranians appeared serious in the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, but cautioned that the devil’s in the details, and made clear that U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program,“