The State Department scrambled on Monday to respond to a weekend New York Times scoop revealing that the Obama administration intends to bypass Congress in reducing sanctions on Iran - the Times' exact language was that "President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on" an agreement with the Islamic republic - as both lawmakers expressed opposition and journalists pressed for clarification.
had quoted a senior official declaring that the White House "wouldn’t seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years," and gestured toward what is expected to be widespread opposition on the Hill to being frozen out. Bipartisan majorities of lawmakers have demanded that
Congress be given the ability to help shape an acceptable agreement, and most analysts had long assumed that the administration would need to seek legislation rolling back previously passed financial restrictions on Tehran. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) - a group that has been accused
by members of Congress of peddling "propaganda put out by the Iranian regime" - had explicitly called on the White House to work with Congress in unwinding sanctions, prompting Congressional Quarterly
(CQ) to identify the lobby's stance
as a rare point of convergence between opposite sides of the Iran debate. Subsequent months had seen a steady erosion in the West's negotiating posture toward Iran, as American diplomats reportedly caved on Iranian red lines involving uranium enrichment, plutonium production, and ballistic missile development. The Obama administration is now thought
to have among other things given up on the long-standing demand - codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions - that Iran dismantle centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. Bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate months ago identified
the condition as a prerequisite to any acceptable deal with Iran, and lawmakers have started
reacting to Sunday's Times
story by vowing to fight "unilateral action" on sanctions by the White House. The administration for its part is suggesting that Congress will certainly have a role to play in reducing sanctions, but White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Shultz told reporters at a gaggle today that he couldn't describe that role because "it's way too early to speculate on which sanctions will require legislative versus executive action to suspend or lift." The point was echoed by State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf, who told reporters that it was "too early" to identify which sanctions the administration would seek to lift in the near-term. Journalists pointed out that in fact the sides have drafted precisely worded documents lining up specific Iranian concessions with specific financial relief, and that in any case a senior State Department spokesperson told reporters last week
that negotiators "have isolated" the precise sanctions in play. Associated Press (AP) journalist Bradley Klapper later took to Twitter
to highlight that juxtaposition. Meanwhile the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) announced that Iran was continuing to deny the agency access to areas where the international community suspects military-related atomic work - including work related to the creation of nuclear warheads - has been conducted. Reuters described comments made Monday by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as indicating that
"little headway [had been made] in an inquiry into suspected bomb research," and the Associated Press assessed that
Amano's comments were aimed at "sounding a note of caution about Iran's claims that it is not interested in nuclear arms." Harf described the IAEA chief's concerns as "nothing new."
Gazan Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently turned to an Israeli hospital again for help, this time for emergency medical treatment for one of his 13 children. Hebrew media reports say Haniyeh’s daughter was hospitalized for about a week at the Tel Aviv Soraski Medical Center earlier this month. Haniyeh’s mother-in-law sought medical treatment in Israel earlier this year and his granddaughter was cared for in an Israeli hospital last year. According to a Haaretz report, the Tel Aviv Soraski Medical Center (also known as Ichilov Hospital) confirmed that Haniyeh’s daughter was one of the more than a thousand patients from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority who are treated at the hospital on an annual basis. Hospital officials did not publicize what treatment Haniyeh’s daughter received. (via Israel21c)