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Editorial: New bill harms potential for progress between U.S. and Iran

By Editorial Board
On January 22, 2014

After 35 years of no formal relations, the United States and Iran are interacting again, and along with the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia, they're attempting to reach an agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear program and roll back the sanctions that have crippled the country. This is a historic moment - a chance for Iran to re-engage with the rest of the world and for the U.S. to achieve its goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Everyone involved supports a deal, with the unsurprising exceptions of Israel, Saudi Arabia and congressional Republicans. What is surprising is that several Democratic senators, including Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, have crossed party lines to support a bill that could seriously harm the negotiations.
The bill is called the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, and its main purpose is to make it quick and easy to reinstate sanctions against Iran should the negotiations fail. This may seem reasonable, but given the sensitivity of the negotiations and the provisions in the bill - which go beyond the negotiations and call for things that neither country has agreed to - the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act is a terrible idea.
The bill essentially forces conditions for any eventual deal onto the U.S. negotiators. Many of those conditions are completely unrealistic and would most likely ruin the chances for a deal. For example, several provisions in the bill favor a "zero enrichment policy," which means that Iran would give up the right to any kind of nuclear activities, even low-grade enrichment that can't be used for weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he thinks this is the only option, but the U.S. and others in the negotiations have already ruled it out as totally unrealistic.
The bill would also require President Obama to certify every 30 days that a number of vague and equally unrealistic conditions were being met in order to keep sanctions from being reinstated.
This bill shows a lack of trust and an unwillingness to move forward. The senators sponsoring this bill claim that it supports the diplomatic process and gives the president something to bargain with, but to Iran, it may look like we've already given up a peaceful agreement with them. Suspicion, antipathy and outrageous demands are not the way to normalized relations. We can't squander this opportunity for progress.

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