Is the Senate fighting peace?

By Haridos Apostolides, US Correspondent

Foreign Policy US

The negotiations that no one, especially American leaders, ever truly believed would happen are, indeed, happening.

On January 20th, Iran will enter into negotiations to reduce their nuclear practices with the United States, Great Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

The new, “more liberal” Iranian president, Hassan Rohani, has brought the unpredictable Middle Eastern state to the UN table, mostly due to the extreme sanctions placed upon the nation. In recent years oil exports have halved, crippling their economy with job losses, rises in inflation and food shortages among other basic needs.

Essentially, the American view whereby ‘only sanctions can bring Iran to the table’ was actually correct. US political leaders, it seems, were able to get something right regarding the Middle East.

However.

This is not enough for certain members of the United States Senate. 59 of the 100-seater legislature are advocating a measure that will place further sanctions on Iran should they prolong the negotiations. Rick Gladstone of the New York Times reported that the measure would pressure Iran to “negotiate in good faith or face economic disaster”.

Their argument lies on the basis that Iran probably wouldn’t have come to the table had the original sanctions not been put in place. And it is reasonable. The huge deficit from the low oil trades (down 40 per cent between 2012-13) as well as a court order demanding $58 billion be returned to the central bank has left the economy in a fragile position. The way out? Entering into nuclear talks to relieve the current sanctions the West has forced upon them.

Yet getting Iranians to open discussions is not enough. Threats of additional sanctions to ensure they remain at the table is one thing that will push them away. By causing this intimidation, the finger has been pointed squarely toward the Pro Israel lobby.

US foreign policy has been routed in Israel’s favour since the state was declared and recognised in the late 1940s. A 51st state at the western gateway to the Middle East, allowing for another ear to the ground on the disputes there. It is for this reason that it would be political suicide for any representative to go defy the Pro Israel lobby. As has become the norm in American politics since 2001, the typical mantra of “you’re either with us or against us” has escalated to all spheres; if you’re not with Israel, you’re with the terrorists.

Right now the battle between the Senate in the Capitol and the President in the White House is well established. And while it’s safe to assume that the Republican Senators will go against Barack Obama on any subject presented to them, the 16 Democrats who are also threatening to sign on are likely doing so to appease the more conservative members in their states. After all, the mid-term elections are only a few months away, and then there’s the Presidential race in 2016.

Looking at the front-runners on both sides, neither has said much on the dispute. Making yourself heard on national issues is the key to establishing your brand. But while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie handles his current scandal, Hillary Clinton’s camp has remained deafeningly silent on the issue, attempting to avoid reliving the demise of her last election bid through her 2002 vote for the Iraq invasion.

What is being widely reported is the desire by certain congressmen and women to have their faces in the media. Televised statements lead to interest by lobbyists. Interest leads to campaign donations. ‘Tis the season, after all.

However, this tactic could be beneficial to Obama. By publicly denouncing Congress’ actions, the president can demonstrate that in his leadership, he wants to negotiate with Iran.

Regardless of what is told to them by the Secretaries of Defense and State, as well as the unified foreign nationals, the Senate is free to put pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring the bill to a vote. And in fairness, they do have a point. Iran has never offered the US any reason they can be trusted, so why not question them? Feelings that it is another attempt at stringing along the west whilst gaining from the easing sanctions could be validated.

The biggest problem facing the Senate is how their relentless activism towards Iran, first to get them to the table and then to keep them there, will end. The negotiations could be the principal achievement of Obama’s tenure and set the course for relations with the Middle East for decades to come. If Iran were forced to walk away, and continued their nuclear programme, Israel would be sure to react with force. In this disturbing scenario, the US would surely intervene into a war between nuclear powers in the Middle East.

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