By Colonel Richard L. Klass (USA, Ret.)
Some Senate Republicans are promising that one of their first orders of business this month as the chamber’s leaders will be a vote on a new Iran sanctions bill while the U.S. and the other nations continue to make progress in negotiations to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
A group of senators, led by Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., proposed similar legislation last year, after the six world powers and Tehran agreed on a temporary freeze of Iran’s nuclear program while talks progressed to a final agreement.
That sanctions bill faltered and stalled, thanks to the leadership of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and others. But now, with the GOP in charge, there is likely to be a renewed push for a bill that would ultimately derail diplomatic efforts — and curtail options for a peaceful resolution.
Indeed, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — who hasn’t exactly been a fan of the negotiating process over the years — recently said “there will be a vote” on the Kirk-Menendez bill in the coming weeks.
But imposing new sanctions on Iran, whether triggered or not, was wrong last year when the bill was first pushed and it’s just as foolish now. Such a move would not only scuttle the negotiations, but would raise the prospect of another conflict in this volatile region. Fortunately, Kirk and Menendez failed in their previous push, and their efforts deserve to be defeated once again.
Here’s why: First, one of the primary reasons Iran has come to the negotiating table is because it wants to eliminate the burden of crippling oil, banking and other sanctions that have been imposed by the U.S. and its international partners, including Russia and China.
Imposing new sanctions now would lead our partners — also eager to see business opportunities in their own countries expand with an end to Iran sanctions — to conclude the U.S. isn’t serious about getting a deal done. Thus, the broad international coalition on sanctions is likely to weaken and ultimately collapse. Indeed, at a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, two of Menendez’s expert witnesses said plainly it would be a bad idea. Without those sanctions in place, Iran can walk away from the table unscathed with an unfettered nuclear program.
Second, more sanctions now would violate the terms of the interim nuclear agreement — or the so-called Joint Plan of Action — providing the Iranians yet another justification to pull away from the talks. In this scenario, with the interim deal most likely dead, fewer United Nations inspectors would be on the ground monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, and the Iranians would have a freer hand to move closer to a nuclear weapon.
What then? With the interim agreement dead, the international sanctions coalition on Iran evaporated, and Iran’s nuclear program unrestricted, the United States would be left with few diplomatic options to restrain any Iranian nuclear program. And if the Iranians expand their nuclear program, or we no longer have confidence that we know what they are doing, Obama or his successor will face enormous domestic pressure and pleas from Israel to use military force. I agree with those experts who believe military force would at most delay, not terminate the Iranian threat. But bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would strengthen the regime internally and provide the incentive for the Iranians to build a nuclear weapon.
Further, a U.S.-led military strike on Iran would attract few, if any, allies and cause greater regional instability and undermine the battle against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear scientists will always know how to build a nuclear weapon. That knowledge cannot be bombed away. So what, then, is the solution — regime change? We have seen that movie before and it does not end well, if it ever ends.
Regrettably, there are some in Congress who appear to be pushing for this course of action. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. — who supports a new round of sanctions on Iran — recently said he hopes Congress’ role going forward “will be to put an end to these negotiations.” He and others advocating ending the diplomatic approach should be pressed to answer the question, “And then what?”
Now is not the time for new sanctions. Congress should hold off in order to give the White House, and diplomacy, more space to complete a final nuclear deal with Iran.
Richard L. Klass is a retired Air Force colonel and currently serves on the board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He flew more than 200 combat sorties as a forward air controller in Vietnam. Klass was a Rhodes Scholar and White House fellow and served with the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His decorations include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
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