Congressional Dispatches- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Sanctions

With the debate over the nuclear deal raging in the US Congress, the AIC is pleased to offer original reporting on the issue in a series entitled, "Congressional Dispatches".

Watch the full video above, courtesy of C-SPAN

By Ceena Modarres, AIC Research Associate

The battle over the recently-signed nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 continued today in the U.S. Congress. The accord, which has already been approved by the UN Security Council and European Union, curtails Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

This morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing primarily on sanctions listed under the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (JCPOA). Opponents of the deal argue that vague language restricts the United States’ ability to reinstate sanctions – the so-called “snapback” mechanism – and institute new sanctions on other activities. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew have maintained that these concerns are unfounded.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) began the committee hearing by criticizing IAEA Chief Yukiya Amano for refusing to testify on the inspection processes of the nuclear arrangement. His concerns were echoed by a number of other senators.

Mr. Juan C. Zarate, the former assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes, and Mr. Richard Nephew, the former sanctions expert for the U.S. negotiating team, testified at the hearing. Although both Mr. Zarate and Mr. Nephew reiterated a desire for the peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, they diverged on their assessment of the JCPOA’s value. 

Mr. Zarate’s testimony was critical of the JCPOA’s treatment of Iran as a “co-equal.” In particular, he raised concerns over Iran’s ability to object and stall the re-imposition of sanctions, the rapid pace of sanctions removal, and obstacles to re-imposing sanctions in case of cheating. He also stated that the deal legitimizes an Iran nuclear program.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) preserves the right of member states to a peaceful nuclear program. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Nephew, on the other hand, considered the present nuclear deal to be a victory of diplomacy and the best possible scenario. He defended the agreement’s ability to lengthen the timeline required for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so, to provide proper supervision and oversight that ensures compliance, and the preservation of the right to use sanctions on illicit activities.

Mr. Nephew stated that while sanctions brought Iran to the table, it is unreasonable to think that the United States could eradicate the nuclear program through increased pressure. He refuted the idea that in a decade Iran could not be trusted with a nuclear program and, thus, considers the “sunset clause” of the nuclear agreement as, not only acceptable, but necessary.

Throughout the question session, Zarate reiterated concerns over the ambiguous language of the agreement and the challenges of receiving compliance from foreign entities. On the other hand, Mr. Nephew stressed that if the United States presents a valid concern, it would have no problem receiving the support of the international community or instituting new sanctions.

The two also faced questions on how unfrozen Iranian funds would be spent, which Mr. Nephew stated would largely be used to rebuild Iran’s infrastructure and boost economic development.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)  said that economic sanctions were effective in bringing Iran to the table, but that, at the same time, Iran’s nuclear activities have accelerated. Nephew pointed to the economic data and Iran’s nuclear development as evidence that simply increasing pressure is not a viable alternative to the present arrangement.

The question of whether sanctions could lead to a better deal may play a large role in deciding whether the US Congress supports or rejects the JCPOA.


Kayvon Afshari

Kayvon Afshari managed the campaign to elect Hooshang Amirahmadi as President of Iran. In this role, he directed the campaign’s event planning, publicity, online social media, web analytics, and delivered speeches. Mr. Afshari has also been working at the CBS News foreign desk for over five years. He has coordinated coverage of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other stories of international significance. He holds a Master in International Relations from New York University’s Department of Politics, and graduated with distinction from McGill University in 2007 with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. At NYU, his research focused on quantitative analysis and the Middle East with an emphasis on US-Iran relations. In his 2012 Master’s thesis, he devised a formula to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, concluding that an overt strike would not materialize.