GOP Senator Sides With Obama on Iran

GOP Senator Sides With Obama on Iran
GOP Senator Sides With Obama on Iran

Following last week's State of the Union speech, US President Barack Obama got some across-the-aisle support on Iran from Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who sits on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Flake said he agrees with the Obama administration and US allies that additional sanctions against Iran could reverse progress in international talks to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.   

"The purpose of these multilateral sanctions, which have been effective, is to bring them to the negotiating table," Flake told The Arizona Republic. "What strikes me as odd is once they are at the table, and they are complying with the interim agreement, why we would risk pushing them from the table."

Iran denies the claim that sanctions have compelled it to sit at the negotiating table, saying Iran engaged in the nuclear talks with the major powers to help end an "unnecessary dispute" to pave the way for improving its foreign relations. Obama, in his remarks to the joint session of Congress last Tuesday, threatened to veto legislation that puts additional sanctions on Iran. He said such a bill "at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, making it harder to maintain sanctions, and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn't make sense."

  Backing Diplomacy

Flake said he supports the ongoing negotiations and believes the United States should do whatever it can to ensure Iran makes good on its promises.

"I'm fine with imposing even harsher sanctions if the negotiations fall apart, or if Iran doesn't live up to its agreement, but while these negotiations are going on, I think we ought to support them," Flake said.

Iran and the six major powers (the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) clinched a landmark interim deal in Geneva in November 2013, under which Tehran agreed to temporarily scale down parts of its nuclear work in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Iran and the major powers failed for a second time last November to meet a self-imposed deadline to work out a long-term settlement to the nuclear standoff and decided to extend the Geneva agreement and their talks on a final deal by June 30.

In its reports on Iran over the past year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is tasked with verifying Iran's compliance with the interim deal, has repeatedly confirmed that Tehran has met its commitments under the accord.  

Some US senators are introducing a bill that would impose more sanctions on Iran if a deal is not struck by the June 30 target date or Tehran violates its nuclear commitments. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, warned that more sanctions by the US Congress would kill the negotiating process between Iran and the major powers on its nuclear program. "A sanctions bill by the US Congress will kill the Joint Plan of Action (the official name of the Geneva interim deal)," Zarif said. "The president of the United States has the power to veto it, but our parliament will have its counter-action and our president doesn't have the power to veto it."