In the U.S. Senate competition to prove who is the most hawkish towards Iran, lawmakers just upped the ante.
In what analysts equated with throwing another torpedo at the diplomatic process, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday pulled an unusual procedural maneuver in attempt to force a vote on a series of "poison pill" amendments to Sen. Bob Corker's (R-Tenn.) Iran bill currently on the Senate floor.
The amendments would provide further obstacles to sanctions relief for Iranians, including by barring reprieve until Iran has "publicly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state."
The Corker bill, which mandates congressional review of any Iran deal, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, following compromises between Republicans and Democrats.
Thanks to Thursday's political move, if Senators "want to continue and debate other amendments as they intended in the compromise, they would have to vote on the Cotton and Rubio amendments, and that would violate the deal struck between Republicans and Democrats," explained Jamal Abdi, political director for the National Iranian American Council, in an interview with Common Dreams. "They now have to vote on the bill itself, without further amendments, so they can avoid voting on the Rubio and Cotton amendments."
Abdi said that he ultimately predicts the Corker and Rubio amendments will not be inserted.
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Huffington Post reporters Jessica Schulberg and Sam Stein also note that the the amendments "would likely sabotage the bipartisan coalition" that favors the Corker bill. "That's because President Barack Obama would likely veto the revised bill, viewing it as irreparably damaging to ongoing negotiations with Iran. At that point, the Senate would need to muster up 67 votes to override his veto."
However, critics warn that the Corker bill, even without the amendments, could be used as a tool to bludgeon diplomatic talks. The legislation has the full backing of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has vigorously opposed diplomacy with Iran.
"We are seeing a battle between those who want to stop the compromise bill now and appear to be the most opposed to a final deal—in other words, more hardline folks—against a more AIPAC crowd, which wants to defeat a deal, but by voting it down in July," said Abdi. "The AIPAC crowd is saving their fire power for July when they hope Congress will have the power to vote down a deal."
Meanwhile, Abdi warns, the human implications of the diplomatic process are being left out of the political battles waged by Senators concerned with their own careers. Rubio is seeking his party's presidential nomination for the 2016 presidential election, and Cotton, a freshman, has been making a name for himself with his hawkish talk on Iran.
"What's at stake in these talks is either finding a peaceful resolution or going in the other direction and potentially starting a war," said Abdi.
"The humanitarian implications of sanctions is completely in the blind spot of Congress," he added. "Punishing ordinary Iranians does not enhance stability and undermines the chances of Iranians being able to empower themselves, have a say in their own government, and steer the country towards peace."