The 'Spirit of Geneva'
On Wednesday morning, while US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Iranian President Rohani announced that Iran will build two more nuclear power plants. For 'peaceful' purposes, of course.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the country would build two more nuclear plants in the southern city of Bushehr in line with the peaceful use of nuclear energy.A bit later in the day, while the meetings in Geneva were still going on, Iran announced that it would place a Washington Post reporter whom it has been holding for months on trial for undisclosed crimes.
The president made the remarks on Tuesday while visiting the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Press TV reported.
"The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is different from the power plants of other countries since this power plant is the symbol of a nation's resistance," he said.
"The construction of this power plant and making it operational showed the world that should a nation have a will to attain a goal, it would take steps in that direction, stand up for its rights and attain its goal."
The Iranian chief executive said the plant is an example that shows Iran "is only after peaceful use of nuclear energy and electricity production.
A Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for months has been indicted and will stand trial, Iran's state news agency reported Wednesday, without elaborating on what charges he faced.
The report by the official IRNA news agency came the same day as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif before talks with world powers resume over the Islamic Republic's contested nuclear program.
It wasn't immediately clear if the two events were connected, though Zarif earlier said he hoped the case against reporter Jason Rezaian could be "resolved."
"We will have to wait for the judiciary to move forward, but we will try to provide all the humanitarian assistance that we could," Zarif told journalists in Geneva. "We hope that this issue could be resolved but unfortunately there are judicial issues involved which the judiciary has to deal with."
IRNA quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi saying Rezaian, the newspaper's bureau chief in Tehran since 2012, had been indicted. He was previously charged last month, but the bill of indictment clears the way for his trial.
Given all this 'spirit,' it's not too surprising that Congress is about to defy the Obama administration and take up sanctions.Rezaian, an Iranian-American who holds dual citizenship, has been held since July 22. The IRNA report did not disclose what charges he faces. However, the report says he will stand trial in Iran's Revolutionary Court, which mostly hears cases involving security offenses.
The US House of Representatives has begun working on its own Iran sanctions bill rather than simply agreeing to pass whatever the Senate comes up with, Al-Monitor has learned.
"We feel very strongly that the House needs to play an important role, not just rubber-stamp whatever the Senate decides to do," the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told Al-Monitor. "So we're going to put our heads together [with Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.] and see what's the best way to proceed."
The two lawmakers are expected to hunker down next week to decide on a strategy for moving forward, Engel said. Separately, Royce told Al-Monitor that he was planning to sit down Jan. 15 with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for an update on the Senate strategy.
The Senate bill will largely replicate 2013 legislation from Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that would trigger new sanctions on Iran's energy sector if the country doesn't agree to a nuclear deal that's acceptable to Congress. The two senators are said to be tweaking their legislation, which never came up for a vote while Democrats controlled the Senate, to try to sign up a veto-proof majority of 67 senators before unveiling it.
In a sign of how quickly things are moving, the Senate Banking Committee, which would have jurisdiction over such legislation, has announced a hearing Jan. 20 on the "perspectives on the strategic necessity of Iran sanctions."
Menendez and Kirk hope to get most of the remaining 10 Democrats who originally co-sponsored their bill back on board as well as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., according to sources close to the issue. One potential change could be a weakening of the bill's ban on uranium enrichment, those sources say; the 2013 version would have prevented President Barack Obama from suspending the bill's new sanctions unless he certified that Iran had agreed to a deal that would "dismantle Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities."
"I believe that sanctions have brought Iran to the bargaining table," Engel told Al-Monitor. "I respect and understand the White House arguing that sanctions — even triggered sanctions — could be counterproductive or even harmful. That's their judgment. It's not necessarily mine."