OpinionOp-EdDon’t let up on Iran

Don’t let up on Iran


New York Times: Like all Americans, we strongly hope that the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts lead to the peaceful dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. 


The New York Times

By Michael Kassen And Lee Rosenbergfeb

WASHINGTON — LIKE all Americans, we strongly hope that the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts lead to the peaceful dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. To achieve this key national security goal, we support a policy that complements the current negotiations with a range of congressional actions that threaten greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government.

Some opponents of such a policy crudely characterize its proponents as warmongers, and fret that Tehran will walk away from the table. But the critics have it backward.

The approach we outline offers the best chance to avoid military conflict with Iran. In fact, diplomacy that is not backed by the threat of clear consequences poses the greatest threat to negotiations — and increases prospects for war — because it tells the Iranians they have nothing to lose by embracing an uncompromising position.

Successful negotiations between adversaries rest on the confluence of interests and goals. Iran came to the negotiating table because it sought the abrogation of sanctions; we came to the table to reach an agreement that, in the words of President Obama, would “make it impossible” for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Our message to Tehran should be clear: It will not achieve its objectives unless it satisfies ours.

Unfortunately, Iran’s leaders are acting as if they have not received that message. In recent weeks, the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has declared that his government will not dismantle a single centrifuge. Tehran also went beyond words by testing long-range ballistic missiles that could reach American military bases in the Middle East, as well as our ally Israel. It has even dispatched warships to sail close to the maritime borders of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean.

We also know the Iranians have worked to deceive us in previous rounds of negotiations. In 2003, when Mr. Rouhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Tehran issued a declaration that it was suspending uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Last year, as he ran for president, Mr. Rouhani even boasted that Iran had flouted the agreement.

Offering inducements is not enough. Diplomacy must be backed by a clear choice for the Iranian government: Either it dismantles its nuclear program so that it lacks a pathway to weapons capability or it faces greater economic sanctions and international isolation. Without this clarity, no one can be surprised if Iran rejects diplomatic overtures.

The partial recovery of Iran’s economy in recent weeks, thanks to the relaxation of sanctions, in tandem with its continuing advanced research and development of centrifuges, highlights our concerns. If Iran can achieve such progress without dismantling any part of its nuclear program, why should it make concessions?

We strongly believe that the assertion by Congress of its historic role in foreign policy can, in fact, complement and enhance the administration’s efforts by forcing Iran to recognize the stark implications of intransigence. The president should welcome such congressional initiatives, which would actually strengthen, not weaken, the hand of his administration in forthcoming negotiations.

Thus we urge Congress to outline for Iran the acceptable terms of a final accord. This must include, at a minimum, the dismantling of its nuclear program, so that Iran has neither a uranium nor a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon.

Second, Congress should exercise oversight to ensure that Tehran understands that our existing core sanctions architecture will remain in place for the full duration of the negotiations. Third, Congress must oversee continual implementation of the interim agreement: We cannot permit Iran to violate trust again by advancing its nuclear program even as it joins negotiations.

Finally, we support the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, sponsored by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman, Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and by Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois. This bill would present Iran with a menu of consequences, including new sanctions — if, and only if, the talks fail. Earlier this month, we agreed with Mr. Menendez on delaying a vote in the Senate, but we remain committed to the bill’s passage.

Historically, presidents have resisted congressional involvement that would affect or constrain their diplomatic efforts. Over the past two decades, however, both Republican and Democratic administrations have opposed Iran sanctions legislation only to embrace it later as their own. At this moment, we must not allow Iran to dictate the appropriate role of Congress.

As long as Mr. Rouhani can brazenly declare that he will not dismantle a single centrifuge as part of a final agreement, the United States Congress should proclaim that Iran will pay a steep price for its recklessness. America’s elected representatives are not the problem; the unelected theocrats of Iran are.

Next week, more than 14,000 Americans from all walks of life will carry this bipartisan message to Capitol Hill as part of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. We support the president’s diplomatic effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We also believe the best chance for success in this purpose lies with continued congressional pressure on Iran throughout the negotiations. 

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