Negotiations to make sure Iran doesn’t build a nuclear weapon got a boost Tuesday when a South Dakota senator agreed to administration pleas to hold off passage of new sanctions.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announced he would hold off bringing to a vote new sanctions legislation following conversations with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The President and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now,” Johnson said in a statement provided to Politico.
Opponents of the interim deal — many with genuine policy differences but also many with a purely partisan desire to oppose anything the President wants, regardless of merit — have been seeking to impose harsh new punitive economic measures, something Iran’s top nuclear negotiator warned could be a deal breaker.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said “the entire deal is dead” if Congress enacts tough new sanctions, according to Time Magazine.
Negotiations resume this week in Vienna between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany, known as the P5+1.
Last month in Geneva they signed an agreement to pause parts of the Iranian nuclear program and roll back others for a six month period in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions while a permanent agreement could be negotiated.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bitterly attacked the agreement as “a grievous historic error” and said what was needed was tougher sanctions because Iran was on the ropes and squeezing harder could make the regime collapse.
In the wake of criticism from within his own government that his near hysterical public attacks on the United States were damaging relations with Israel’s most important ally, Netanyahu began to throttle back his excessive rhetoric in public, even to the point of praising Obama’s and Kerry’s support for the Jewish state in a speech to the Saban Forum on US-Israel strategic relations over the weekend.
His actions have done considerable damage to his relations with the administration and may have cost him influence among the P5+1, where many see his demands as unrealistic and unbending.
Tom Friedman suggested in his New York Times column that European leaders might be more sympathetic to Israel’s case in the Iran talks if they did not “suspect that Bibi wants to defuse the Iranian threat to make the world safe for a permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank.”