Foreign delegations visiting Iran to talk business ahead of a final nuclear deal send the wrong message to Tehran about its temporary sanctions relief, two Obama administration officials said today.
But the officials themselves sent mixed messages during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, saying that while they'd prefer investors not go to Iran until a final deal is in place, those visits might actually help talks after all.
A temporary deal, signed in November between Iran, the U.S. and five other major powers, requires Iran to halt some of its uranium enrichment activities in exchange for a six-month loosening of some economic sanctions. The Obama administration has stressed that these concessions are limited and easily reversible, and that they don't mean Iran is yet open for business.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Congress should have passed a bill, now stalled, sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
That bill would have imposed additional sanctions on Iran if the interim deal expires with no prospect of further talks.
Without that trigger in place, Iranians have no disincentive to exploit loopholes in the interim agreement, Dubowitz said, like they did with Turkey, signing an oil-for-gold exchange because the sanctions relief in place now loosened restrictions on the gold trade.
"Without that credible threat, we are going to start to see the macroeconomic data shifting in Iran's favor," Dubowitz told the panel.
He also noted that Russia may also sign a similar deal with Tehran. Over the weekend, executives from the Russian producer Lukoil reportedly discussed such a deal with the country's Iranian ambassador.
"Despite Undersecretary Sherman's assurances that everybody has read the riot act to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, I am a little concerned that Putin isn't necessarily deterred by administration riot acts," Dubowitz said.