How Will Sanctions against Iran Change under a Republican Congress?

The nuclear program of the Islamic Republic (I.R.) has caused the West, particularly the United States (U.S.), much concern and anxiety.  Although the I.R. has had this program in motion for over a decade and has always claimed that it is for the pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy, the international community, especially the U.S. and the European Union (EU), has feared that it may actually be a subterfuge for the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In the summer of 2008, Senator Barack Obama, the presidential candidate, was hit with criticism for suggesting talks with the I.R. without preconditions, and for disregarding the I.R.’s support of international terrorism and the disdainful abuse of human rights there.  From that moment onward, the U.S. Congress put forth an effort to keep existing sanctions on Iran intact and has often been supportive of imposing tougher sanctions for the past seven years of the Obama administration.

The House passed a package of sanctions by a strong vote of 400 to 20 at the end of July 2013.  The bill stipulated reduction of Iran’s current oil exports of one million bpd to almost nothing in the span of a year, therefore truncating the flow of funds to the nuclear program.  It also stipulated an end to support of international terrorism.  Of course, the I.R. wasted no time in dismissing the sanctions bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would inevitably toughen the existed sanctions originally imposed on it.

U.S. Republican senators, including John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham, announced in September 2014 that “we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the U.S. be sent to Congress for approval.”  However, the nuclear agreement with the I.R. is Obama’s most important foreign policy objective – a dream to end the biggest threat in a region that contains the largest reserves of oil and gas and is of strategically great value to superpowers.  On the other hand, the I.R.’s aim is to establish itself as a regional hegemony via access to nuclear weapons, which neither the U.S. congress nor American allies in the Middle East should tolerate.

Should the I.R. ever succeed in developing nuclear weapons through its disguise of a peaceful nuclear energy program, a great danger is its threat to the West’s ally in the dangerous and tumultuous Middle Eastern region: Israel.  The I.R. has long opposed Israel and advocated for its destruction.  In fact, even worse, Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had literally declared numerous times that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”  This attitude reflects the view of other hard-line Islamic clergymen and leaders within the regime.  On the other hand, in the President Bush era, the U.S. administration had assured the American Jewish community of its very clear stance on the I.R.ʼs nuclear enrichment program, and then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in this regard said, “The U.S. has been very clear that enrichment and processing of uranium in Iran is not acceptable because of the proliferation risk.”  She was referring to the possibility that the enriched uranium could easily be used to make dirty nuclear weapons, which would likely be handled by terrorist groups and aimed at Israel, as well as at Europe and the U.S.

President Obama also delivered a speech in mid-2011 at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, where he said, “We will never let the I.R. acquire nuclear weapons.”  Further, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, time and again has mentioned that the I.R. must prove its sincerity through action if it is to earn any reduction in sanctions.  He further declared that Israel can stand alone in stopping the I.R. from manufacturing an atomic bomb.

The White House has feared that if sanctions grow harsher on Iranian oil customers, including Japan, China, South Korea, India, and Turkey, they may break away and end their cooperation with the American sanction policy.  Of course, at the present time, under current sanctions legislation, the president of the U.S. has the right to waive momentarily the I.R. sanctions packages that have already passed through Congress.

Although the I.R. has offered to reduce its output of bomb-usable fuels, and to alter the design of the Arak plutonium reactor, it has hardly agreed to cease activity of the Fordo, a deep underground facility that has been heavily guarded by revolutionary forces.  Therefore, the U.S. House has called for a solid guarantee that the I.R.’s capability of building atomic bombs be destroyed forever.  Nuclear concessions alone are not the goal; permanent termination of missile programs and supporting terrorism must be included.

Apparently, the U.S. Senate, which was controlled mainly by Democrats until the last day of December 2014, was more lenient than the House of Representatives in targeting Iranian crude exports.  However, in early April of 2014, the media reported that the I.R. and Russia had agreed on an oil-for-Russian goods contract worth $20 billion.  This transaction could have undoubtedly been considered defiance of international sanctions.  The U.S. Congress reacted, including senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who wrote to President Obama and asked for Washington to reinstate sanctions waived under the “preliminary nuclear agreement.”  Further, a large majority of American senators have demanded that the final agreement assert that the I.R. has no legal right to enriched uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), even to produce nuclear energy for civilian purposes.

Remarkably, last November, the American people spoke their minds in the midterm election.  The Senate is now in Republican hands.  The new, entirely Republican-controlled United States Congress will definitely challenge President Obama on global hotspots and his responses to them.  U.S. and EU negotiations on the I.R.’s nuclear issues will resume on January 15.  Republican lawmakers time and again have said that they will demand tougher sanctions on the I.R. if the negotiations do not stop its quest for atomic hegemony.  Therefore, President Obama has an uphill battle for the rest of his term, particularly on foreign issues such as the behavior in Tehran and Moscow.

Mansour Kashfi, Ph.D. is the president of Kashex International Petroleum Consulting and is a college professor in Dallas, TX.  He is also the author of more than 100 articles and books about petroleum industry worldwide.

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