Congress to Obama: Back to work on Iran sanctions
Only one day after the close of President Obama’s nuclear summit, Congress is demanding the administration refocus the nuclear discussion on Iran’s nuclear program and is threatening to move sanctions legislation sooner rather than later. Congress has been sitting on two Iran sanctions bills for most of this year, having passed them through both chambers ...
Only one day after the close of President Obama's nuclear summit, Congress is demanding the administration refocus the nuclear discussion on Iran's nuclear program and is threatening to move sanctions legislation sooner rather than later.
Only one day after the close of President Obama’s nuclear summit, Congress is demanding the administration refocus the nuclear discussion on Iran’s nuclear program and is threatening to move sanctions legislation sooner rather than later.
Congress has been sitting on two Iran sanctions bills for most of this year, having passed them through both chambers but not yet convening a conference session to resolve the two versions. Lawmakers have been giving the administration time to work the U.N. track, while also lamenting that the expected deadline for getting a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran keeps slipping.
The pressure to take action may well increase after today’s congressional testimony, in which Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. warned that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb within a year. Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright was quick to clarify that Iran wouldn’t have the capability to actually construct that bomb until three to five years’ time.
Burgess also gave some details in his written remarks about Iran’s capabilities that weren’t previously well known in public.
"DIA assesses that, with sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States," he wrote. "Iran displayed its next-generation SLV, the Simorgh, in February 2010. The Simorgh is much larger than the Safir and shows progress in booster design that could be applicable to an ICBM design."
(The relatively less revealing testimony of Under Secretary of State William J. Burns, who is in charge of America’s contribution to the P5+1 process, can be found here.)
President Obama appears to feel the same sense of urgency. When he met Chinese President Hu Jintao at the summit, our sources report, he pressed Hu for some progress on U.N. sanctions by the end of April.
In response, the Chinese reaffirmed their willingness to participate in sanctions negotiations without making any concrete pledges. Although this was portrayed as a significant shift in some reports, the truth is that Chinese intentions are still unclear, as is the date by which the U.N. might take action.
On May 3, the U.N. begins the once-every-five-years Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. It’s unlikely the Security Council would tackle the Iran issue in the middle of that conference, risking a political fight in the midst of an already-complex set of negotiations — and that NPT review lasts until May 28. So if the Obama administration can’t it done in April, the sanctions will have to wait until June.
Speaking about the issue at the press conference closing the summit Tuesday, Obama promised to press for sanctions but said, "I’m not going to speculate beyond that in terms of where we are."
Congress, however, wants to the administration to know that any delay will bring further pressure from Capitol Hill.
"We urge you to join with those allies who are prepared for action to immediately impose crippling sanctions on Iran," reads a letter signed by more than 360 House lawmakers that will be released later today. "Only such action on our part offers the prospect of persuading Tehran to turn away from its dangerous course."
A nearly identical Senate letter is also in the works and has at least 75 signatures right now, our Hill sources report.
At 3 p.m. today, bipartisan House leaders will hold a press conference to push for action on Iran sanctions. Speaking will be Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-VA, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-IL, and Rep. Mike Pence, R-IN. Our Hill sources say that the press conference was rescheduled specifically to enable Hoyer to attend.
The Senate has already appointed conferees for the Iran sanctions bill, but the House has not. People on the Senate side continue to believe that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, is holding up on appointing conferees to stall the conference as a favor to the administration, but Berman’s office denies that.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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