By Dalga Khatinoglu
Amid ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers, the US Senate Banking Committee voted 18-4 Jan.29 to advance a bill, produced by senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez that would toughen sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program by the end of June, 2015.
White House was against talking about any new sanctions over Iran while the nuclear negotiations continue.
The interim nuclear deal achieved on November 2013 has been extended two times due to lack of agreement on the terms of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (the US, UK, France, Russia, China plus Germany) has been extended until July 1, 2015 to reach a comprehensive agreement.
The president of American Iranian Council Hooshang Amirahmadi told Trend on Feb.1 that Senators Menendez and Kirk, like many of their colleagues, believe that sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table and therefore more sanction will be even more helpful in extracting concession from Iran. "Unfortunately, Hassan Rouhani's Government in Iran is to blame for this American thinking because from the start, his administration has expressed complaints about the sanctions and how they have damaged Iran's economy and harmed its people."
"It is true, sanctions have harmed the Iranian people and economy but they have been also harmed with mismanagement and lack of vision," Amirahmadi said. "To just blame sanctions is to avoid acknowledging that the governments in Tehran have mismanaged the country. I believe more sanctions can harm Iran more but nations have red lines and so does the Islamic Republic. At some point, the Iranian Revolutionaries are going to say no to further concessions."
Iran's GDP shrank by 6.6 percent and 1.9 percent in 2012 and 2013. Rouhani took office in the second half year of 2013, and according to the International Monetary Fund, Iran's GDP growth reached 3 percent in 2014. The World Bank's estimations are less optimistic than IMF, putting the country's GDP growth at 1.5 percent for 2014, but both international entities admit that Iran's economy could get rid of depression after two consecutive years. Rouhani's administration has blamed the predecessor Ahmadinejad's government on mismanagement and massive corruption.
Coming to the US senators' effort to make more restrictive pressures on Iran, Amirahamdi said that this bill was introduced in the winter of 2013, just before the parties agreed to the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). "It resurfaced in the fall of 2014, as the parties were closing in on the deadline for a comprehensive deal, only to announce an extension of the talks," he said. "Once again, this 14-month-old bill is making headlines, this time to pressure Iran to make maximum concessions on the political framework deal."
Iranian-US expert Amirahmadi said that each time the bill had been introduced in the past it had led to more concessions from Iran. "The bill is essentially a pressure tactic," he said. "The White House is using the Congress as a "bad" cop so that it can present itself to Tehran as a "good" cop. President Obama is trying to use the bill both to frighten Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and buy favor from him. I am not sure if Tehran understands this game, but one thing is certain: the bill has worked in the past," he said.
Dalga Khatinoglu is an expert on Iran's energy sector, head of Trend Agency's Iran news service. Follow him on @dalgakhatinoglu