New Democratic Plan on Iran: Wait Four Months

New proposal suggests lawmakers stall on new sanctions

Ali Khamenei Hassan Rouhani
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with President Hassan Rouhani / AP
October 30, 2013

Democrats in Congress are seeking to delay a new round of Iran sanctions by up to four months as they assess the impact of U.S. policies towards Tehran, according to draft legislation circulating on Capitol Hill.

A bill sponsored by Democrats in Congress seeks to establish a panel to "review, assess, and make recommendations with respect to the current United States strategy toward the threats posed by the Government of Iran," according to a draft copy of the bill obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The bill is being offered as many lawmakers push to tighten sanctions following warnings that Iran could be anywhere from two weeks to one month away from building a bomb.

However, the White House has asked lawmakers to hold off on new sanctions as Western nations engage in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Obama administration officials recently enlisted Jewish leaders to help ward off new sanctions.

The Iran Strategy Assessment Panel would have 120 days to travel, discuss, and investigate the prospect of passing new sanctions on Iran, according to the bill.

Congressional insiders and experts say that the proposal unnecessarily duplicates Iran legislation already passed in the House and that it would give the regime more than enough time to achieve an undetectable nuclear breakout capability.

The strategy panel would be composed of five experts who will be appointed by the president no later than 30 days after the bill’s passage. Officials from the Defense Department, Department of State, and Obama administration would be included in the process.

The panel will then have up to 120 days to examine current U.S. policy towards Iran and "provide the president and Congress with recommendations for changes to the sanctions regime that will increase the likelihood of a peaceful resolution to Iran’s nuclear activities," according to the bill.

The panel will also review U.S. strategy "toward the threats posed by the Government of Iran and make recommendations," the bill states.

President Barack Obama will then have 30 days to review and respond to any report and recommendations issued by the panel, according to the bill.

The bill’s main sponsor is Rep. Brad Schneider (D., Ill.), whose office has been petitioning members to cosponsor the measure.

Schneider has expressed support for tough sanctions on Iran in the past and considers himself an ally of the liberal lobbying group J Street, which is currently advocating against new sanctions.

"Moving forward with new sanctions now could severely undermine prospects for a diplomatic solution," J Street said in a statement on Wednesday. "It will create cracks in the international coalition the United States has built to enforce the sanctions. It will provide an excuse for those in Iran who want to resist any deal. And it is unnecessary now, since the sanctions we are implementing have led to extraordinary pressure and remain strongly in place."

Schneider’s strategy panel is a waste of time and would only delay the passage of critical sanctions, according to critical Capitol Hill insiders, Jewish officials, and Iran experts.

"This bill could not come at a worst time," said one senior GOP House aide involved in the sanctions issue. "As we seek to increase pressure on Iran in order to extract meaningful nuclear concessions, this legislation advocates a redundant bureaucratic review of an already-established and effective sanctions policy."

"Rather than quibble over sanctions everybody believes are working, we should instead focus on urging the Senate to immediately pass additional sanctions for which the White House is advocating an indefinite delay," added the aide. "We've established that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Now let's show we actually mean it."

Others say that Schneider’s bill duplicates key provisions of the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which passed the House in July and is awaiting action in the Senate.

One section of the bill, for instance, requires that the president develop a "national strategy on Iran," while another section calls for an evaluation of how U.S. sanctions are impacting Tehran.

The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act also requires the creation of a report discussing the viability of expanding sanctions on Iran’s oil sector as well as another study examining ways Iran has evaded sanctions.

"This is either the dumbest piece of legislation I've ever seen or it's the most devious, framing the White House push against new sanctions as a four-month period to wait on a report," said one Jewish official involved in Iran sanctions discussions with the White House and senior congressional Democrats.

"If members of Congress need a report to tell them what to do next on Iran, then God help the United States of America," said the official.

Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin said that the Iran Strategy Assessment Panel is redundant.

"There already is an Iran Strategy Assessment Panel; it is called the United States Congress, and it has 535 voting members," said Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq.

Assessments of Iran nuclear program and efforts to evade sanctions have been thoroughly covered by U.S. government agencies and by outside experts, Rubin said.

"The only metrics that matter are Iran’s uranium stockpiles and how quickly those can be enriched to weapons grade," he said.

"That Iran might be able to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb in a month, and this bill’s sponsors want to give them four is the ultimate irresponsibility," Rubin said. "If Congress passes this bill, sponsors might as well change the ISAP acronym to read "I Stupidly Accept Proliferation."

Published under: Iran , Nuclear Weapons