Legislation that would impose the toughest sanctions to date on Iran over its disputed nuclear program has been scheduled for a vote in the House on Wednesday, four days before the inauguration of that country's newly elected president, a moderate cleric who has made improved relations with the United States an important goal.
The legislation, if enacted into law and fully enforced, could basically eradicate what is left of Iran's diminished oil exports by coercing its remaining customers to find other suppliers. Proponents of the legislation say that with 376 sponsors, it is expected to pass the House easily. It would then move to the Senate for consideration in September.
But critics say the timing of the House vote has raised sharp questions about the kind of message it would send to Iran's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, before he takes office on Sunday. It has also laid bare a divide over Iran policy between Congress and the Obama administration, which has adopted a somewhat less confrontational approach.
Supporters of the legislation argued that the vote's timing would send exactly the type of message that, in their view, is the only one taken seriously by Iranian leaders: a threat that would force them to make a choice between self-preservation and economic catastrophe.
"We're not negotiating with folks who trained at the Harvard Negotiation Project," said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports stronger sanctions. The legislation's sponsors, he said, understand that Iran "has a negotiation strategy based on brinkmanship."