Eye on Iran: Senate Grants Obama Weeks-long Reprieve on Iran Bill

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Politico: "The Senate will give President Barack Obama a few more weeks of breathing room as he seeks to lock down a political agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. After negotiating all week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Robert Menendez, the committee's top Democrat, said they will wait until mid-April before voting on legislation that would allow Congress to weigh in on a nuclear deal with Iran. Though Corker (R-Tenn.) had been hoping to reach an agreement with Menendez (D-N.J.) to vote on the bill next week in his committee, Obama and the White House this week put major pressure on Democrats to hold off on supporting the legislation as the administration seeks to strike a deal to wind down Iran's nuclear ambitions... The bill was never going to get to the floor before the Easter recess anyway, so the bill's supporters decided the best way to keep their voting bloc intact was to delay a committee vote until after the two-week break, which has the practical effect of giving Obama three weeks beyond Senate Democrats' initial deadline of March 24. Floor consideration could easily drag into late April given how slowly the Senate moves. 'We have been working together very closely to ensure we have the strongest vote possible on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and to achieve that result, we have agreed to a markup of the bill in the Foreign Relations Committee as soon as we return on Tuesday, April 14,' Corker and Menendez said in a joint statement." http://t.uani.com/1bjMj9b

NYT: "A dispute over what limits should be placed on the development of new types of centrifuges has emerged as a major obstacle as negotiators try to work out an initial accord on Iran's nuclear program, Western officials said on Thursday... Though Mr. Kerry declined to describe the major barriers, the issues that have not been settled include the pace at which sanctions on Iran would be removed or suspended, how many years an agreement would be in effect and what monitoring would be put into place when it expired. France, for example, wants the agreement to last for 15 years and then be followed by 10 years of stringent monitoring measures, a Western official said. The question of what limits should be set on the research and development of new types of centrifuges is also a major sticking point. Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for civilian uses only, has complained that a prohibition on the development of advanced centrifuges would force it to make do with antiquated technology. Yet the United States and some of its negotiating partners have been worried that allowing the Iranians to perfect more sophisticated centrifuges would make it far easier for Iran to make a dash for a nuclear bomb if it decided to break out of an agreement or tried to do so after the accord expired." http://t.uani.com/1bjM3ac

WSJ: "When international sanctions on Iran would be lifted has emerged as one of the largest remaining stumbling blocks to an agreement to constrain Tehran's nuclear program by a March 31 deadline, according to U.S., European and Iranian officials. Tehran's negotiators in Switzerland, according to these diplomats, have hardened their position that United Nations sanctions on their country be repealed at the front end of any deal reached this month with the U.S. and other global powers. The U.S. and its European allies are demanding the U.N.'s sanctions be suspended or terminated in a phased time-frame over years. They believe sanctions relief should only come after Iran addresses concerns about its past nuclear work and is given a clean bill of health by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency... The two sides have narrowed some of their differences on the sanctions issues, however. There is wide agreement that many of the unilateral sanctions the U.S. and European Union imposed on Iran could start to be suspended within months, if not weeks, of a deal being stuck. This would boost Iran's economy as the EU could resume purchasing oil from Iran and restrictions on Iranian banks could be lifted. Iran could also begin repatriating some of the over $100 billion in oil revenue frozen in overseas accounts." http://t.uani.com/1AP5k9p


Nuclear Program & Negotiations

AP: "The United States and Iran are drafting elements of a nuclear deal that commits Tehran to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines it could use to make an atomic bomb, officials told The Associated Press on Thursday. In return, the Iranians would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lift of a U.N. embargo on conventional arms... Officials said the tentative deal imposes at least a decade of new limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium, a process that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material. The sides are zeroing in on a cap of 6,000 centrifuges, officials said, down from the 6,500 they spoke of in recent weeks. That's also fewer than the 10,000 such machines Tehran now runs, yet substantially more than the 500 to 1,500 that Washington originally wanted as a ceiling. Only a year ago, U.S. officials floated 4,000 as a possible compromise... It's unclear how complete the draft is. Iran's deeply buried underground enrichment plant remains a problem, officials said, with Washington demanding the facility be repurposed and Tehran insisting it be able to run hundreds of centrifuges there. Iran says it wants to use the machines for scientific research; the Americans fear they could be quickly retooled for enrichment." http://t.uani.com/1APeDWE

NYT: "Two weeks after Senate Republicans issued a letter to the Iranian leadership warning that any nuclear agreement Iran signs with the administration may be temporary, President Obama has issued a missive of his own: A video directed at Iran's young people, urging them to pressure their leaders to accept the deal on the table. The ostensible reason for the video was a greeting for Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebration that Mr. Obama has used before to deliver messages to the Iranian populace. But after mentioning a celebration held at the White House, he wasted no time making his case that an agreement that freezes Iran's nuclear program could open the way to a far larger relationship. He describes such a relationship in terms meant to appeal to a young Iranian population that the White House believes cares little about Iran's nuclear capability and desperately wants access to the West, its culture and its universities. 'Iran's leaders have a choice between two paths,' Mr. Obama says in the video. 'If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it's on today - a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve.'" http://t.uani.com/1EAnteV

Bloomberg: "U.S. lawmakers should wait at least a decade before voting on lifting sanctions as part of any nuclear deal with Iran, a top Obama administration official said. 'Congress will have to exercise its authority to lift sanctions at the end of an agreement if Iran complies,' Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, as negotiators in Switzerland sought a deal that would last at least 10 years. 'And, indeed, keeping that until the end, until we see that Iran is complying, is the best way to sustain' leverage on Iran... The administration has taken the position that the agreement isn't a treaty requiring the advice and consent of the Senate, although ending sanctions permanently would require legislation. The administration plans to use presidential waivers to suspend sanctions while monitoring Iran's compliance with an accord. That arrangement would permit the quick 'snap-back' of sanctions in the event of Iranian violations, Blinken said." http://t.uani.com/1OdC45c

The Hill: "A bipartisan letter on Iran signed by 360 members of Congress will be sent to President Obama on Thursday, one of its House signers said. The letter, like one 47 Senate Republicans sent to Tehran's leaders, reminds the administration that permanent sanctions relief on Iran as part of a deal to rollback its nuclear program would require new legislation from Congress. It comes as international negotiators approach a March 24 deadline to reach a framework agreement. 'Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation,' the letter says. 'In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief,' it adds. The letter stops short of supporting legislation pursued by the Senate that would allow Congress 60 days to weigh in on any final deal before its implementation. However, it adds, 'We are prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine its long-term impact on the United States and our allies.'" http://t.uani.com/18Ojpwn

National Journal: " Throughout the contentious debate between the White House and Congress over the Iran nuclear negotiations, one important piece of the equation has been largely overlooked: American public opinion. If voters were confident that President Obama was striking a good deal with Iran that would prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, he'd have little trouble getting support from the legislative branch. But the reason the president is facing such bipartisan backlash is that an overwhelming number of voters are deeply worried about the direction of the negotiations. Think about how rare, in these polarized times, mobilizing a veto-proof majority of congressional Republicans and Democrats is for any significant legislation. Yet despite all the distractions, Congress is close to achieving that goal: requiring the administration to go to Congress for approval of any deal. The administration is so focused on process and protocol in attacking the opposition because it's a useful distraction from how unpopular the administration's eagerness to strike any deal with Iran has become." http://t.uani.com/1MQlWFg

Pew Research Center: "It is difficult to predict how the public might react to an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. But polls conducted over the past two years portray a public deeply concerned over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and distrustful of Iran's leaders. And when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, as with so many other issues, there are deep divisions in the way that Republicans and Democrats view the situation." http://t.uani.com/1C51wVo

Reuters: "The British, French and German foreign ministers are due to meet Iranian nuclear negotiators in Lausanne on Saturday, European diplomatic sources told Reuters, adding that a final decision would depend on talks among officials on Friday. It was not immediately clear if the foreign ministers would be joined by the Russian, U.S. and Chinese counterparts who are part of a process aimed at ending a confrontation over Tehran's nuclear program. The sources spoke after the French, German and British leaders met the EU foreign policy chief in Brussels. 'The meeting today on Iran was useful to consolidate a European line,' one diplomatic source told Reuters after European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini met British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for about 40 minutes before a second day of wider talks at an EU summit." http://t.uani.com/1C4Z6pX

Iraq Crisis

Politico: "Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus says the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is not the biggest threat facing the United States in Iraq. 'In fact, I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq's long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by - and some guided by - Iran,' Petraeus said in written comments to The Washington Post's Beirut bureau chief, Liz Sly. The Iranian regime 'is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution' to the region's issues, Petraeus said... He cautioned that merely pushing ISIL out of Iraq could make the Iranian-backed militias the most powerful force in the country, which he said would be harmful to regional U.S. interests. Petraeus said he has 'several thoughts' on Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani being in Iraq, but most of them 'probably aren't suitable for publication in a family newspaper like yours.'" http://t.uani.com/1CEdkA5

Human Rights

IranWire: "Police launched a large-scale operation to combat 'obscene and criminal websites,' arresting 241 people in in Sistan and Baluchistan province in mid-March. The head of Sistan and Baluchistan's cyber police, Mohammad Hosseinipour, told journalists that 200 men and 41 women had been arrested on charges of setting up and operating up to 900 illegal websites. Hosseinipour told the press conference that all websites operating from the province were being monitored on a '24-hour basis.'" http://t.uani.com/1CEe4Fz