A big day for diplomacy with Iran

CREDO action
A big day for diplomacy with Iran

Dear 5849376,

Today could go down in history as the day we took our first step toward a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran that prevents the country from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But the peaceful resolution of international concerns about Iran's nuclear program is by no means assured.

While there are many parts of the diplomatic process we cannot influence, CREDO activists have an important role to play in preventing one of the largest threats to the success of diplomacy: sabotage by members of the House and the Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are unwilling to give President Obama the time and political space necessary to finish the process we have begun and strike a historic deal with Iran.

We're proud to say CREDO members have been the largest single source of grassroots activism in the United States supporting diplomacy and opposing an almost certain march to war with Iran. In 2013 alone, CREDO activists sent nearly 300,000 petition signatures and reported nearly 4,500 calls to our elected officials.

And CREDO activists will continue to have a key role to play in maximizing our chance of preventing another unnecessary and costly war.

So we thought today, the day that Iran begins to implement an interim deal it has made with the United States and our international partners, would be an important opportunity to talk about where we are and what we need to do going forward to stop another war of choice in the Middle East.

Where We Are Today

Starting today, Iran's nuclear program will be frozen and subject to the most intrusive inspections in history.

And for the next six months, while Iran's nuclear program is halted, negotiators will try to reach a comprehensive diplomatic agreement between Iran, the United States and various world powers to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.

President Obama has been a strong voice for peace despite opposition from many within his own party. Now more than ever, he needs our strong and vocal support.

These negotiations represent the best chance in a decade to resolve this issue peacefully. But they will be tough, both substantively and politically. President Obama himself has only given the talks a 50/50 chance of success.

It's worth emphasizing that the stakes of these talks are high. The alternative to a negotiated deal will be either a continually growing Iranian nuclear program or another American war in the Middle East.

So we shouldn't take counterproductive actions that make the negotiations even harder than they need to be.

Yet that is precisely what hawks in both chambers of Congress are trying to do.

The Biggest Danger to Diplomacy – New Sanctions.

Among the leading political dangers that could sabotage ongoing diplomatic talks is the belligerent and reckless move to impose new sanctions on Iran while negotiations are ongoing, in violation of our commitment to our international partners and Iranian diplomats as part of an interim nuclear deal.

Right before the holidays, news broke that 14 Senate Democrats led by New Jersey's Robert Menendez and New York's Chuck Schumer had joined Republicans (led by Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois) in pushing a new sanctions bill (S. 1881) that would blow up diplomacy with Iran and set us on a path to war.

Initially, the new sanctions bill seemed to have momentum. The number of co-sponsors quickly jumped to 59, but almost all the growth came from Republicans.

And last week the momentum shifted in our favor, due in no small part to the work of CREDO and our allies who flooded the Senate with calls demanding that Senate Democrats not help the Republicans start another war.

CREDO alone reported over 4,000 calls to Senate Democrats. And for the first time since we've been engaged in this fight, our friends in DC were reporting that some Senate offices were getting calls overwhelmingly supporting diplomacy (a far cry from a year ago when voices for peace were being drowned out by those clamoring for war).

And as of this morning, there are more Senate Democrats on the record opposing new sanctions at this time than there are Democratic co-sponsors of the new sanctions bill.

The National Iranian American Council, a strong ally of ours in this fight, has a helpful breakdown of here various senators stand on new sanctions. You can see their whip count by clicking here.

The Second Biggest Danger to Diplomacy – Tying President Obama's Hands

Iran is currently under an extremely onerous sanctions regime. Sanctions have already crippled the Iranian economy and led to widespread economic pain, like rampant unemployment and shortages of medicine and other humanitarian supplies.

While the purpose of sanctions has never been to punish ordinary Iranians, they are the ones who overwhelmingly feel the pain caused by sanctions.

It's widely understood that if a deal is struck, the basic contours would be our agreeing to ease sanctions with a goal of ending them in exchange for a verifiable agreement with Iran that prevents it from ever building a nuclear weapon.

But some members of Congress want to move the goal posts and are trying to pass legislation that lays out the contours of what an acceptable final deal than ends sanctions would look like -- and the standards they want to establish are so unrealistic that nothing that's actually on the table would ever satisfy them.

For example, the new sanctions bill in the Senate can be read to require Iran to completely dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure, including parts that are clearly and verifiably civilian. Iran has already rejected this demand, and there is no serious expectation that Iran will backtrack on this.

And this kind of legislation is not only dangerous if it passes.

In the world of international diplomacy, words matter. And congressional meddling a in the middle of negotiations is deeply counterproductive.

Support in Congress for limiting President Obama's flexibility also reasonably raises the question among Iranian diplomats about whether President Obama can deliver should they strike a deal with him. The Iranian negotiators must deal with the hardliners in their own country, so they are less likely to go out on a limb and agree to potentially politically unpopular provisions if they don't believe Congress will back up President Obama by supporting the deal he cuts.

The bottom line is that Congress needs to give President Obama the space he needs to cut a reasonable deal. Legislation that seeks to tie his hands not only makes it less likely that diplomacy will succeed (which in turn makes war much more likely), it also makes it more likely that the failure of diplomacy would be blamed (perhaps justifiably) on the United States.

What Can We Do Now?

The short version is that we need to do all that we can to provide time and space for the administration to negotiate a verifiable deal that protects our interests and advances our security in a peaceful manner. Congress will try to prevent that, and it's our job to ensure that it doesn't.

In terms of strategy, we need to keep the pressure on Democrats in both chambers of Congress not to help the Republicans start another war.

The Democrats are key targets because the political cost of them undermining President Obama in a way that leads to another war are high, because we have the most power to move them toward our position, and because a strongly bipartisan push to undermine the president's diplomatic initiative will limit the political space he has to a much greater degree than a push that is seen as overwhelmingly partisan.

And because Democrats control the Senate, Senate Democrats are our top targets.

Although momentum has slowed on the new Iran sanctions bill, we remain in a dangerous position. If anything goes even a little awry in the ongoing negotiations, then move for new sanctions could quickly regain momentum.

So getting more Democratic senators on the record opposing new sanctions now is a priority, as is holding accountable those who are pushing for new sanctions.

The accountability part shouldn't be ignored because senators pushing for more sanctions that will blow up diplomacy need to know that their constituents want them to support the president. Indeed, according to an article in CQ.com (a Capitol Hill trade publication that is sadly behind a pay wall), an aide to Senator Menendez admitted recently that constituents calling into his office have been mostly opposed new sanctions and supported diplomacy.

In the House, we need to make sure Democrats don't give bipartisan support to any bill, even a nonbinding resolution, supporting new sanctions or setting down markers about what an acceptable final deal will look like. For the reasons we explained above, even a nonbinding resolution undermines the president's pursuit of diplomacy.

And Democrats in both chambers need to be reminded that should President Obama cut a reasonable deal with Iran, we will need them to back him up by passing legislation that reduces sanctions in exchange for a verifiable agreement that stops Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear bomb.

We have a lot of work to do, but the payoff of keeping the pressure on is that we can play a big role helping to create the political space for a fundamental and historic change in our relationship with Iran – one that keeps Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means.

As I said above, CREDO activists have already made a big difference. Now we just need to keep it up.

Thank you. Your activism matters.

Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

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