The US Congress will start examining this week new measures to put more pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme even as Tehran warned at the weekend that additional threats would not work.
The proposals include a resolution that calls on the administration to support Israel if it were to attack Iran in self-defence and a new round of sanctions to build on the already strict restrictions Iran faces.
The measures come just ahead of this week’s annual conference in Washington of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, which has been an important platform for sceptical views on Iran.
They also come ahead of President Barack Obama’s expected visit to Israel this month, his first as president, when Iran’s nuclear ambitions are likely to be one of the main topics of conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister.
The bipartisan resolution and a new series of sanctions are being introduced in Congress just as negotiators from the major powers and Iran signalled some modest progress last week in talks about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, said that new attempts to pressure Iran in the negotiations would backfire. “Threatening Iran is not going to work,” he told CNN on Sunday “As soon as you say, we are ready to talk to you and work with you, but at the same time, we punish you and put pressure on you and your people – Iranians cannot accept that.”
The resolution was introduced on Friday by Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Roberto Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is also chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. It states that if Israel were “compelled to take military action in self-defence, the United States government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military and economic support”.
Mr Graham insisted the resolution was not a “green light” for Israel to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Every senator that votes for this resolution is telling the world, Iranians, Israelis, that in the event this day comes, we are going to be with the state of Israel.”
Congressional aides said the Aipac conference, which will see the group’s 12,000 members lobby Congress on priority issues later in the week, was the perfect time to launch new measures aimed at Iran.
Critics said the new congressional push on Iran could hurt the diplomatic effort. “The worst thing that anyone could do at this moment would be anything that stokes the Iranian suspicions about true US intentions,” wrote Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst now at Georgetown University. “The resolution also means happily surrendering to a foreign state the decision to start a war that would have serious repercussions for the United States.”
The talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the major powers last week raised hopes that a diplomatic solution might be reached to the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme. The six world powers offered some relief to sanctions if Iran took concrete steps to limits its nuclear activities. Follow-up meetings have been set over the next month.
Last week, Republican Ed Royce and Democrat Eliot Engel, the leading members of the House foreign relations committee, introduced legislation calling for new sanctions on Iran.
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