Last week Paul Pillar wrote that our sanctions-happy Congress is hindering progress with Iran. This week three high-level members of the US foreign policy elite are asking Congress to not lose sight of the end-goal — peacefully reaching a mutually acceptable settlement over Iran’s nuclear program — by strangling Iran to near-death with punitive measures while offering no relief. According to Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering and Anthony Zinni (all endorsers of a major recent report signed by 38 foreign policy luminaries on the costs and benefits of Iran sanctions):
This spiderweb of sanctions and objectives, wrapped up in legislative hurdles, could restrict President Barack Obama’s options should he decide to offer incentives for Iran to cooperate at the negotiating table. If a bilateral meeting were arranged, American negotiators would need to select what to offer Iran in exchange for securing U.S. goals, the most important of which must be a serious reduction of, and greater transparency around, Iran’s nuclear program. Included in that offer would surely be some sanctions relief.
Our leaders must weigh the easy and appealing course of ever-greater sanctions as a way to force a ready-to-deal Iran to the table against testing the possibility that the existing sanctions have already done that work. The president should work with Congress to achieve the right mix of pressure and engagement to get Iran to negotiate on increasingly urgent and threatening differences. There should be talks between the president and senior senators to make sure there is a plan to strengthen or roll back sanctions as needed to get what we want from Iran in negotiations.