U.S. Congress Mulls Bill to Force Obama Adminstration Into Direct Talks With Iran

Current American policy prohibits direct contact with Iranian officials without State Department permission.

A new legislative initiative in U.S. Congress, if passed, is liable to force the American president to open direct, official diplomatic channels with Iran in order to convince it to abandon its nuclear program.

The „Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act“ is being put forward by ten members of Congress, nine democrats and one republican, who are leaning on Obama’s obligation to use all means necessary, including sanctions and diplomacy, to prevent Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

Barack Obama - AFP - 26012012

Current American policy prohibits official government representatives from meeting official Iranian representatives without permission from the U.S. State Department. The new law would oblige the Obama administration to cancel the „no contact policy“ with Iran and to appoint a special representative responsible for direct talks between the two countries.

"The representatives would handle direct, bilateral negotiatons with the Iranian government with no pre-conditions, with the aim of reducing the tension, preventing war and the distribution of nuclear weapons, advancing human rights issues, and finding solutions to issues that affect the U.S. and the international community,“ the draft of the proposal said.

At this stage, it is not clear what the extent of support for the bill is, and when it is expected to come under debate, although the fact that the bill has been drafted is an indication of the feeling among the U.S. public that an American strike on Iran, without first taking all diplomatic steps, is not in the U.S.‘s interests.

"The bill is not intended to bash President Obama or Secretary of State hillary Clinton, who opposes direct negotiations with Iran,“ an assistant to a member of Congress who is on the Congress Foreign Relations Committee told Haaretz.

"Those behind the bill really feel that the government is still not doing enough, apart from issueing warnings, in order to advance diplomacy.“

This feeling is also expressed in a public opinion poll carried out by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. According to the poll, only one out of every four Americans supports an Israeli strike on Iran, 69 percent support a continuation of diplomatic efforts, and only 25 percent support U.S. provision of military assistance to Israel if this is requested ahead of a strike on Iran.

But if the bill is passed, there is no guarantee that Iran itself will agree to direct negotiations with the U.S., even though in the Iranian President past Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested a meeting with President Bush to discuss direct talks „on all global problems.“

While diplomacy has sofar been hard pressed in yield significant results in a dialogue with Iran, the effect of sanctions also raises certain question. On the one hand, the International Atomic Energy Agency expects Iran's oil exports to drop by some 50 percent as European Union sanctions come into effect in July.

According to IAEA figures published on Wednesdsay, Iran’s oil production has fallen to a three year low, and its oil exports are down to 2 million barrels a day, as opposed to 2.8 in November.

In contrast, the Iranian Oil Minister, Rostam Qasemi, rejected the IAEA’s figures, pointed out that there has not been any fall in oil production, and that Iran;s oil export levels correspond to the allocation agreed with OPEC.