GOP Overtake of Senate: What Does It Mean for Iran Negotiations?

GOP Overtake of Senate: What Does It Mean for Iran Negotiations? November 6, 2014

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I’m sure I don’t to inform you that today the Republicans completely defeated the Democrats in Midterm elections, and the GOP took over the Senate as well and that means that Mitch McConnell will become the Majority Leader of the Senate. I don’t think any liberal would consider this good news, but it’s especially bad news considering that United States is right now negotiating with Iran as part of the P5+1 to solve the nuclear issue peacefully and diplomatically.

Right now the Iranian administration is in the hand of people who want to amend relationships with the USA and the world and follow a more rational pragmatic approach. Hassan Rouhani, the president, was called “the Diplomat Sheikh” before being elected the President. He had overseen the previous round of negotiations under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami. His Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was called “the American Javad”, and as Iran’s envoy to UN for many years he was known as Iran’s most formidable diplomat and a pragmatist. In the USA Barack Obama has proven more willing than any other US president in history to work with Iran through diplomacy. With Rouhani in Iran and Obama in the United States, Iranians were hopeful that the curse was about to finally end and that this irrational enmity was about to end.

Last night results however made this hope a bit dimmer.

Rouhani is already boggled down by opposition more powerful than him in Iran. The Parliament is controlled by conservatives, and the fundamentalists have proven competent so far in crippling his agenda in many aspects. The armed forces like the Revolutionary Guard and the Office of Supreme Leader have begrudgingly accepted his approach towards the USA with a lot of disclaimers – the Supreme Leader has repeatedly said that he is “pessimistic”.

Obama was also slowed down by a conservative Congress, and last night’s results make it even tougher for him.

The most important thing is that while the negotiations are still underway, the Congress should pass no new sanctions against Iran. If they do so, the Geneva agreement will be violated. The Geneva agreement is the basis on which these new rounds of negotiation are taking place, and one of its clauses is no new sanctions. If the Geneva agreement is violated, the talks are all moot, and P5+1 and Iran move back to the situation of pre-Rouhani era. If that happens, most likely the Supreme Leader will revoke his reluctant permission to let the talks proceed, and this would mean the end of diplomacy.

The Congress had already attempted to enact new sanctions on Iran while the talks were underway. Obama threatened the Congress with a veto. The Congress decided not to pass them then.

Now that the GOP has at least 52 out of 100 seats in the Senate, it’s much easier for them to pass these sanctions. That’s because many Democrats also help the GOP with this. While two of the anti-Iran democrats were voted out last night (Mark Pryor and Kay Hagen), the most important anti-Iran democratic voices, who voiced support for the previous Bill, such as Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and others remain.

Point is, if the Congress wants to pass a new sanctions bill after January 3rd, it’s very likely that the Senate will have the 66 votes to bypass Obama’s veto.

One reason for worry is that we should mourn the fact that Harry Reid is not a majority leader anymore. Harry Reid was one of the few allies Obama had on this issue, and he used his leadership position to help the diplomatic approach.We know that McConnell will do no such things, and this in itself will make the situation worse.

Many analysts have said that these results might pressure p5+1 and Iran to reach an agreement sooner. I find this to be very unlikely – even if they reach a political agreement by January 3rd 2015, technical agreements will surely take more time.

The time is running out on diplomacy. The window of opportunity is smaller than we thought, and there is a great chance that Rouhani-Obama will not be able to break the spell. Not good news.

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