Beltway Foreign Policy Groups to Congress: Stay Out of the Way on Iran!

by Eli Clifton

The November 24 deadline for Iran and world powers to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is quickly approaching. If negotiators can reach a deal next month, it will almost certainly provide unprecedented access for inspectors to Iran’s nuclear sites and reduce to a near-zero possibility that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon. But perhaps most importantly, it will show that US strategic interests in the Middle East can be pursued and secured without the use of military force, an important new precedent to set after over a decade of costly conflict.

If there is a deal on Nov. 24, the White House indicated, in an article authored by David E. Sanger in Sunday’s New York Times, that it would not seek an immediate vote on the agreement or sanctions relief, instead asserting that the administration can, and may need to, roll back some sanctions unilaterally as part of immediate sanctions relief guarantees in a possible agreement.

Hawks in Congress may want to portray their position as representing the mainstream consensus but a letter signed by thirty-seven organizations and sent to members of Congress on Thursday offers some indication that many foreign policy groups in the beltway are concerned by Congress’ latest effort to meddle in the final weeks of sensitive diplomacy before the November deadline.

The signatories—which include the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation; J Street;; the National Iranian American Council; Progressive Democrats of America; the United Methodist Church and VoteVets— expressed “deep concern with inaccurate and counterproductive rhetoric from a handful of Members of Congress regarding possible outcomes of the current negotiations.”

They continue:

Particularly irresponsible are threats to oppose any comprehensive agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program that initially suspends US sanctions on Iran through lawful executive action. Congress’ authorization of the President’s power to suspend and re-impose US sanctions on Iran is clear and unmistakable in each piece of legislation it has passed on the subject. Use of these provisions by the President to implement the initial phase of an agreement that ensures Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon would reflect an affirmation, not a subversion, of Congress’ will.

The echo chamber on Capitol Hill may give members of the House and Senate the impression that only the threat of military action or crushing sanctions are effective tools in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. (My colleague Ali Gharib and I discussed the disproportionate voice given to individuals from neoconservative organizations at congressional hearings on Iran in a July article in The Nation.)

But the letter sent out on Thursday might give some congressional Democrats pause. Congress may lean hawkish but progressive groups in the beltway are throwing their weight behind the White House’s efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and are urging Congress to stay out of the way.

This article was first published by The Nation on Oct. 24 and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright The Nation.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. It’s about time that those who want a diplomatic settlement to the Iran Nuclear issue spoke up in mass. More to the point, the congress might take the hint, especially before the Nov reelections. Of course, they may just stick their nose up as they usually do and be damned what the population wants. After all, the population only pays their salary, not adding the bags of cash the lobbyists do, especially those representing the foreign governments interests over the good of the majority in the U.S.A.

  2. If there were some doubts about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction prior to the devastating 2003 invasion of that country — despite the denials of many experts — there is now absolutely no doubt that Iran does not possess nuclear weapons and, what is more, she has not even decided to follow that route. The interim agreement that was reached last November between Iran and the P5+1 has rolled back many of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities, including stopping enrichment at 20%, changing the design of Arak reactor to make sure that it will not produce weapon-grade material, as well as cutting back on the stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5%. Furthermore, Iran has agreed to more stringent inspections of its sites, and the IAEA has regularly reported that Iran has carried out its side of the bargain. It is time to stop looking for more excuses and reach a landmark agreement with Iran, which at the moment is the most stable and perhaps the most influential country in the Middle East.

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