Commentary: In the threat of Iran sanctions, a show of resolve
Palm Beach Post
January 16, 2014
Over the weekend, it was announced that the Joint Plan of Action – an agreement between world powers and the government of Iran reached in Geneva this past November – would finally go into effect on January 20. Starting next week, the gears of the deal will start turning: immediate sanctions relief, followed by additional phased sanctions relief. In exchange, Iran will halt some progress on some parts of its nuclear program.
We all want a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But achieving this goal will require an effective diplomatic process between the West and Iran in the coming months. Without giving our negotiators the tools they need, it will be impossible to resolve successfully this impending crisis.
While the P5+1 continues to negotiate with Iranian leaders, Congress should send a clear message to Tehran: that the U.S. is prepared to hold Iran accountable if they breach the terms of the interim agreement or fail to agree to a final deal. Iran must understand that if they seek to rejoin the global economy, they will have to verifiably dismantle their military nuclear program, and that there will be serious economic consequences if they fail to do so.
Iran has a history of employing stalling tactics, failing to honor agreements with the international community, and refusing to answer questions regarding covert aspects of their nuclear program. This time around, Congress must ensure that Iranian leaders understand that they are risking their country’s economic future if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
Democratic and Republican senators, led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill., have put forward legislation that would implement sanctions if negotiations fail. By giving Iran the time to prove they are willing to honor their commitments, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S 1881) does nothing to violate the interim agreement. Rather, it exerts pressure on Iran, making the prospect of a final deal to end Iran’s nuclear capabilities much more likely.
Virtually everyone agrees that without severe economic pressure, Iran would never have come to the negotiating table in the first place. It logically follows, however, that it would be a serious mistake not to visibly maintain the threat of further sanctions in the event that Iran chooses to violate the Geneva agreement. When the Obama administration recently designated new companies for violating sanctions, Iran’s diplomats briefly left the negotiating table – but quickly returned. This is because Iranian leaders need to continue negotiations to end their international economic isolation.
Congressional action, then, would not jeopardize diplomacy. By making it clear that significant sanctions relief will be out of the question until Iran gives up their nuclear weapons program, the Senate’s bill would only strengthen diplomacy.
Experience has shown us that we must take a cautious approach with Iran. Last August, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported that Iran continues to violate multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions by enriching uranium. They further expressed concern about the possibility of secret nuclear weapons facilities in Iran. Iran has frequently denied inspectors access to their underground enrichment bunker and other facilities that are critical components of their nuclear program. Last month, the State Department reaffirmed Iran’s status as one of the top state sponsors of terrorism. A world in which the Iranian regime has everything they need to build nuclear weapons whenever they want would be a very dangerous one indeed.
The best way to avoid military conflict is to provide our negotiators with the leverage that they need to achieve a diplomatic solution that eliminates the specter of Iranian nuclear weapons for good.