Congress Vows to Block Obama After Iran Talks Collapse 

Dems, Republicans promise new sanctions on Tehran, no more cooperation 

John Kerry
John Kerry / AP
November 24, 2014

VIENNA—Just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry announced that talks between Iran and the West ended in failure, congressional leaders are planning to take their own action against Tehran in a legislative bid to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, according to multiple lawmakers and senior congressional insiders familiar with the strategy.

Negotiations between the United States and Iran will resume as early as December and continue through July 2015 as the sides seek to overcome an impasse over Tehran's demands that it be permitted to retain the most controversial aspects of its nuclear work, Kerry told reporters during a press conference Monday evening, originally the deadline for talks.

A final framework should be finished in four months, giving negotiators until July to hash out a finished framework, Kerry said, underscoring that negotiations with Tehran remain "tough" and "they're going to stay tough."

"Even as the negotiations continue towards the comprehensive deal, the world is safer," Kerry said, expressing a view not shared by the majority of Congress.

Kerry went on to say that he is eager to see sanctions on Iran reversed, a call that comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate measures to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran.

"We want the people of Iran to get the economic relief that they seek," Kerry said. "We want to terminate the sanctions. Yes, we want to terminate the sanctions."

News of the major extension in talks prompted outrage on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers vowed to level new sanctions on Tehran and stop giving the Obama administration a free pass on prolonging talks.

New sanctions on Iran will be a top priority for the new Republican-led Congress, which will no longer cooperate with Obama's continued efforts to strike a deal, according to one senior congressional aide who works on the issue.

"Over the past year, Senate Democrats have capitulated to the administration's demand that we give nuclear talks time to run their course, but enough is enough," the source said. "These futile negotiations have only put Iran closer to a nuclear bomb and should not be extended another minute. At this point I fully expect Congress to consider sanctions legislation overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats alike."

Both Democrats and Republicans said the time has come to crackdown on Tehran against the administration's wishes.

"The White House ought not extend these damaging negotiations further, but instead work with Congress to pass new, crippling economic sanctions now," Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is our best and most effective means of forcing Iran to abandon its dangerous quest for nuclear weapons."

"The Obama administration is using its favorite play on nuclear talks with Iran—keeping the American people completely in the dark to avoid the inevitable blowback when the public finds out the president is willing to trade the financial resources the Iranian regime desperately needs to survive in exchange for only the faintest hints of concessions."

"The Obama administration should realize that the Iranians are not serious about these talks and should abandon the negotiations, and with the Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, it’s time that we roll up our sleeves and get to work to pass new sanctions on the Iranian regime," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a leading voice on foreign affairs, said in a statement.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) said the extension allows Iran to continue to advance its nuclear bomb-making program.

"Today's announcement means that the administration will continue to block sanctions and allow the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime to make $700 million a month—roughly $23 million per day—even as Iran advances its nuclear bomb-making program and sparks an arms race in the Middle East," said Kirk. "Now more than ever, it’s critical that Congress enacts sanctions that give Iran’s mullahs no choice but to dismantle their illicit nuclear program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full and unfettered access to assure the international community’s security."

Democrats also expressed great disappointment in the Obama administration and expressed a desire to pass new sanctions.

"With this second extension, a disturbing pattern has emerged, one that provides the Iranian regime too much breathing room on sanctions while allowing it to continue to enrich uranium," Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) said in a statement.

Sherman accused Obama and Kerry of misleading the public about Iran's nuclear program, stating, "throughout the interim deal, Iran's centrifuges have been spinning at full speed, enlarging Iran's dangerous stockpile of enriched uranium oxide."

New sanctions are the only diplomatic tool that forces Iran to sign a deal that ends its nuclear weapons work, Sherman said.

"We should work to pass tough sanctions now, and these sanctions should go into effect immediately. In the months ahead, if the president submits a final agreement to Congress to verifiably and permanently end Iran’s nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief, it should receive immediate consideration by Congress," Sherman said.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), and John McCain (R., Ariz.) said the extension is meaningless without new sanctions.

"We believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval," the three senators said in a joint statement. "Every member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.

Former Clinton administration official Josh Block joined members of Congress in calling for new sanctions and warned that Iran is dragging out negotiations in a bid to secretly develop a nuclear weapons capability.

"Another interim deal in the absence of new pressure would be very dangerous, allowing the Iranians to drag out negotiations indefinitely while continuing to amass more material for nuclear weapons, work to ready their plutonium reactor, and advance their ability to breakout rapidly in the future—with no prospect or leverage for changing their calculus," said Block, current president and CEO of the Israel Project (TIP).

"A year ago the administration promised to work with Congress to keep Iran on the ropes. Now is the time to make good on those promises, and work with Congress to put in place the kind of conditional sanctions that will help provide the clarity this drifting policy is lacking," Block said.

With Congress gearing up to block the Obama administration's efforts to continue negotiating with Tehran, Kerry asked reporters at his press conference to offer "support for this extension and for continued talks."