Monday, November 7, 2011

Iran Back on Washington's Front Burner

The mullahs in Tehran have got to be starting to feel the heat, with an IAEA report slated for release on Wednesday expected to detail Iran's advances in building a nuclear weapon and chatter growing in Israel about a preemptive strike.

The rhetoric is ramping up in Congress, as well, and the IAEA report will likely only strengthen the hawks on Capitol Hill. Already, the revelation last month of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States have prompted calls for punitive measures, as my colleague Tim Starks and I reported at the time.

Since then, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has marked up and passed an aggressive bipartisan sanctions bill that would force the administration to pursue a wide array of international companies doing business with Tehran. The Senate outlook for the bill is hazy at the moment (CQ, $) -- different blocs of senators are pursuing different tracks which makes action this year unlikely. But freshman Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL, is now threatening to try and enact one of the toughest measures in the House bill -- sanctioning companies doing business with Iran's Central Bank -- through an amendment to pending appropriations legislation.

That no doubt is making the Obama administration uneasy. However, it's going to be difficult for the White House to resist the drumbeat for stiff countermeasures against an ever-defiant Iran. What remains unclear is whether any amount of international pressure can shift Iran's calculations at this point. It has not looked promising up to this point.