Paul Pillar, a former top CIA analyst, examines the fight between Congress and the Obama Administration over more sanctions being proposed for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Sens. Robert Menendez, (D-N.J). and Mark S. Kirk, (R-Ill.).
Prior to revisions, the Senators were pushing for foreign countries to significantly reduce all non-petroleum sales to Iran and freeze Iranian foreign currency reserves — a potential death blow to Iran’s already ailing economy. Since then moves by the administration to weigh in on the passed senate bill indicate that the remaining measures — such as prohibiting the transport of Iranian energy products, banning shipbuilding and other industrial material sales to Iran — would still harm, or possibly end, prospects for diplomacy.
So why are Congress’ ongoing strangling initiatives (this would be the third round of measures implemented by the US this year) counterproductive? According to Pillar:
It should be clear from the history of the past couple of years, as well as a little thought about incentives for Iranian policymakers, that simply piling on still more sanctions without more Western flexibility at the negotiating table will not attain the U.S. objective. The sanctions are hurting Iran and are a major reason Iran wants to negotiate a deal. But the Iranians have dismissed the only sanctions relief that has been offered so far as peanuts, which it is. They have no reason to make significant concessions if they don’t think they will be getting anything significant in return. If members of Congress were really interested in inducing changes in Iran’s policy and behavior, they would be devoting as much time and energy to asking why the powers negotiating with Iran evidently do not intend to depart much from their failed negotiating formulas of the past as they would in trying to find some new sanction to impose.