Iran sanctions threat ties U.S. hands
January 24th, 2014
11:00 AM ET

Iran sanctions threat ties U.S. hands

By Tyler Cullis and Jamal Abdi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jamal Abdi is policy director for the National Iranian American Council. Tyler Cullis is a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Law, where he specialized in international law and the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. The views expressed are their own.

For all the problems with the new push for sanctions against Iran in the U.S. Senate, one is hardly new: the growing efforts to place limits on the president’s authority to lift sanctions.

Increasingly, Congress has circumscribed the executive’s negotiating leverage by providing only limited authorities for the president to waive sanctions, upping the political cost of doing so, and requiring Congress’s approval before any permanent sanctions relief is granted.

Some in Congress see this ploy as part of the good cop bad cop routine, arguing that President Obama will be able to strike a harder bargain if Iran's negotiators see what awaits the collapse of negotiations. But in this case, limiting the president’s authority to lift sanctions actually weakens the leverage of U.S. negotiators. It is a simple contract dilemma: if one party is perceived to have difficulties in holding up their end of the bargain, the other party can raise the cost of performance to cover that risk.

Consider the process of securing a bank loan: the worst way to negotiate good terms would be to damage your credit rating and signal that you are unlikely to be able pay down your commitment. Similarly, by withholding the powers to lift the sanctions from the President, Congress is sending U.S negotiators into the next phase of negotiations with a poor credit score. While U.S. diplomats are seasoned enough to secure a deal between the P5+1 and Iran, the uncertainty over whether Obama can deliver on its pledges enables Tehran to demand tougher terms than would otherwise be possible. And, so long as the repeal or termination of sanctions is contingent on a Congress that much of the world views as hostile to a negotiated solution, we can expect Iran to strike a hard bargain.

Congress’s efforts are particularly frustrating because the United States actually does have significant leverage. The potential for Iran to rejoin and reintegrate with the global economic and financial system after decades of relative isolation is an enticing prospect for Tehran – especially for Iran’s technocratic elite, of which President Hassan Rouhani is a part. Since the 1990s, this faction in Iran’s domestic politics has sought to restructure Iran’s economy away from the bazaar and towards the rest of the world. The temptation of a globally integrated economy, with Iran establishing itself as a beachfront for technological innovation and ingenuity, may well outweigh the dubious benefits of an industrial-scale civilian nuclear program with little practical benefit.

However, while the United States holds this card, it can play it only insofar as Iran has confidence in the White House’s ability to follow through on any deal. This is negotiation, after all, not commandeering, and the United States will only be able to get what it gives. If Congress is interested in enhancing President Obama’s leverage to secure a strong deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear program and ensures Iran remains on the right side of the nonproliferation line, it should provide him full authority not just to waive but to lift sanctions completely as part of the diplomatic process. This means credibly signaling to Iran and the international community that our diplomats do indeed hold the keys to welcome Iran into the global community should sufficient concessions be forthcoming.

Ultimately, at a time when Iran’s leadership has signaled full support for its own negotiators, it would be lamentable if Congress failed to do the same for our own.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Juergista

    Is this piece a joke or for real? Is this one of the texts the Syrian Regime Cyber posted when they hacked CNN????!!! the only thing Congress should do, if anything, is to pass a bill stating literally that the Iranian regime will have until the Persian New Year to dismantle its entire nuclear programme, close all the nuclear facilities and comply with all UN Security Council resolution or the United States will do that for them, end of story ... What a joke welcoming an Iran run by the mad Ayatollahs with their backward ideology of Absolute Rule of the Supreme Leader to rejoin and reintegrate with the global economic and financial system. Hell no … what is next accepting the Supremacy of Khamenei?!

    The authors say “Since the 1990s, this faction in Iran’s domestic politics has sought to restructure Iran’s economy away from the bazaar and towards the rest of the world”. What a misrepresentation of reality !!!! The correct sentence should read “Since the 1990s, this faction in Iran’s domestic politics has sought to restructure Iran’s economy away from the bazaar and concentrated in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards (controls 80% of Iranian Oil Industry) and Khamenei's Business Empire Setad (just read Reuters revelations they own almost everthing)”

    By the way the authors should note that the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran Khomeini is one record saying that "Economy is for donkeys" and then he obviously left it to the theocratic elite (you talk about here) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

    The only thing that the theocratic elite especially Rouhani and Khamenei should get from the International Community is a free ticket to Haag where they can stand in front of ICC for over three decades of theft, murdering and plundering of the Iranian people’s wealth. That is also what they will get regardless of Obama being able to lift Sanctions or not)

    January 24, 2014 at 10:01 pm |
    • George

      Your comment is such a mass of garbage that I am not going to waste my time trying to argue with your pathetic and ignorant statements. You are such a deluded fool that you should not be writing comments here. Please go back to watching Fox News.

      January 25, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
      • vonrock

        Make up your mind George, Shia or Sunni, we haven't got all day.

        January 27, 2014 at 2:08 am |
  2. George

    This article makes an important point. The U.S. cannot overplay its hand. Iran is not negotiating because of the sanctions. It has always been ready to negotiate. We have negotiations now because Obama finally understood that sanctions are not getting us anywhere.

    Most people don't know that Iran had only about 165 centrifuges before the sanctions. Now, it has about 19,000 centrifuges. You want to put more sanctions on Iran? Be my guest.

    Bringing Iran in from the cold will have a significant impact on the world economy. France had to lay off thousands of employees and close several auto plants because of the sanctions. Iran was the second biggest market for Peugeot after France itself. Boeing could have a huge new market in Iran. Many oil companies could have major contracts. But, no, because of stupid Israel and the misguided neo-cons we have to shoot ourselves in the foot and go through more economic downturns and face prospects of another stupid war.

    January 25, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
    • Duncan

      It is fantasy to believe that Iran's leaders can be trusted. The fools who do so will not have the integrity to even admit their complicity when the mullahs test their bomb. Like most other machinations of Obama THIS one will have many negative repercussions and they won't just impact one side of the political spectrum. Global war is a possibility when Israel finally strikes Iran and it could be avoided.

      January 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
      • George

        Nobody is talking about "trust." Didn't you hear Kerry. The IAEA inspectors will be monitoring all the Iranian nuclear activities, plus there are numerous sensors and cameras in the Iranian facilities. What do you want? Do you want to put an inspector in every Iranian bedroom?

        Now, if you want to talk about trust, the Iranians are far more trustworthy than the lying American presidents and politicians. Did you forget about thezush lies about Iraq? Did you forget about the Gulf of Tonkin incident? About Iran Contra? Do you also know that Obama lied about the Syrian government use of chemical weapons? Do you know that Obama also lied when he wrote to the Brazilian then President Lula about what kind of deal he would accept with Iran on exchanging 5% enriched uranium with 20% uranium?

        As for Israel "striking" Iran, grow up. As Ahmadinejad said, Israel is like a mosquito to Iran. If Israel is stupid enough to take any military action against Iran, Israel will simply disappear, poof!

        January 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
  3. Jorgen Tanaka, PhD

    Not sure, but is NIAC (National Iranian American Council) not a registered foreign agent for the Islamic Republic, having recently been found (by a U.S. Federal Judge) in violation of character assassination and defamation of opponents of the Islamic Regime of Iran in the United States?

    We understand there is nothing wrong with lobbying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but CNN should be more selective in offering its page to PR hacks and lobbyists (of any side in any debate) without full and complete disclosure of such a pertinent facts.

    At the end of the day, we are being spun one way or another by hacks of every stripe and color, but knowing who and why (in this case agents of the Islamic Regime of Iran, pushing that regime's agenda) is important for the public to know.

    Thank you CNN.

    Jorgen Tanaka, PhD

    January 25, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
    • George

      Nonsense. In fact, NIAC was found not be an agent of Iran.

      January 25, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Rouhani signalled at WEF that Iran had the ambition to move upward to become one of the world's top 10 economic powers in the next three decades.
    This could be seen as a message to his people at home and to the West. He wanted to encourage the domestic audience to stand by him and have faith in his policies, while letting the West know, that Iran was a reasonable partner and wouldn't want to jeopardise its future by spoiling the nuclear agreement.

    January 26, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  5. Jorgen Tanaka, Ph.D.

    An admiring goal indeed. However, aspiring to become a top 10 economic power will require fundamental restructuring of that country's social-economic-political infrastructure. A simple declaration will not turn an ambition into reality. Just ask Shah Muhammed Reza Pahlevi. He aspired the exact same, but miserably failed because he lacked the social and political infrastructure to move his nation.

    Time shall tell if Mr. Rowhani is able to deliver on his well choreographed public diplomacy. So far, so good as he gets excellent marks on effort and execution. The odds however are likely against the cleric winning the Lombardi trophy as the all-mighty Iranian Revolutionary Guard ("Sepah") is the real dark horse whose allegiance (to its own super Imperial ambitions) may ultimately prove to be more supreme and consequential, trumping even that of the 'supreme" (in name only) leader, Ayatollah Khamenie's.

    January 26, 2014 at 11:48 am |
    • George

      You don't seem to understand the structure of the Iranian government. They need IRGC to protect it from the warmongering terrorist states of the US and Israel.

      Iran has had the most stable government in the Middle East in the last 20 years. It has also the most democratic government in the regions. All the others are in chaos or are absolute dictatorship. Even Israel is a racist and apartheid theocracy.

      Iran has made the greatest "relative" progress in science in recent years of all the countries in the world according to independent studies. It is self-sufficient in most areas of technology which is amazing considering the stupid sanctions. If the sanctions are removed, Iran will indeed become a great economic power much like South Korea.

      January 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
      • Jorgen Tanaka, Ph.D.

        Sir, you seem not to have grown in 20 years. The IRGC is long removed from its original mandate. It has fallen in the classic trap of becoming a state within a state. As for what Iran may be, in your opinion, relative to its surrounding "failed states" is academically irrelevant to a nation-state becoming a top-10 economic power.

        You seem to be heavily discounting the real expectations of the Iranian people by comparing them to those within the
        region. Iranians are, by all measures more sophisticated to not want much more. You may be drinking a bit too much of your own cool-aid. In other words, extract the emotions and look at the picture factually. At the end, two plus two must cant equal anything but 4. Unchecked emotion gets you all sorts of other invalid numbers.

        The Islamic regime of Iran has grown into a multi headed medusa with the IRGC having become the real power dwarfing that of the supreme (in name only) leader. A palace coup, by the IRGC, is almost inevitable as the clerics are simply running amuck of a regional empire the IRGC seeks to expand. For now the supreme leader is simply a distinguished hostage to the IRGC, but the clock is ticking on that relationship as well.

        January 26, 2014 at 3:56 pm |
      • George

        Your diatribe about the IRGC is simply hilarious. Yes, IRGC is powerful but it is not running anything. The government under Rouhani is in charge of foreign policy and economics. Also, the Iranian Majles (parliament) is strong and independent. No law can be enacted without the parliament voting for it. So, I have no idea where you come up with your ridiculous prognostications. There is no point discussing anything with you since your mind is in the stratosphere and cannot understand anything about reality.

        January 26, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
  6. Jb

    Some people here need to simmer down.

    January 28, 2014 at 12:50 am |
    • Jorgen Tanaka, Ph.D.

      Agreed. Its the nature of intolerance, whether as a militant regime or cyber-advocate-hacks to mock (at best) or shut down (through all sorts of ghastly methods) those view points that don't fall lock in step with theirs. Declaring another "incapable of understanding" is quite an amusing statement.

      Thanks to forums such as the GlobalPublicSquare one can pursue an intellectual curiosity and offer simple opinions without the fright of what might happen. Then we get the cyber bulls.

      Common courtesy is the foundation of intellectual curiosity, without which incivility shows its ugly head in many forms. Kinder and gentler does it, old lad!

      January 28, 2014 at 10:15 am |

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