Recently, some optimism has surfaced among those hoping for a deal with Iran. The election of a new, more moderate president who seems to be engaged in the installation of an equally moderate cabinet, and who has taken steps to distance himself from his predecessor, seems to offer some hope for the future of nuclear talks.
Signs that Iran’s new president may be amenable to U.S. interests have led some members of congress to declare that the administration should at least test the waters. A recent bipartisan effort in the House, launched by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) urges the Obama administration to “pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran’s recent presidential election” and expresses the belief that “it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress.” The letter was signed by 131 members of Congress, and a similar effort is now underway on the Senate side.
But some have been less willing to see the light. Four days before Iran’s new president took office, and four days before he could — by any stretch of the imagination — have been expected to make changes to the country’s nuclear program, the House passed its most stringent sanctions bill to date.
The House voted overwhelmingly, 400-20, to pass the bill, which seeks to cut Iran’s oil exports by an additional 1 million barrels per day, further deny Iran’s access to foreign currency reserves, and target Iranian efforts to work around international shipping sanctions.
“New president or not, I am convinced that Iran’s Supreme Leader intends to continue on this path,” said chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Ed Royce. “That’s unless the sanctions bite so bad the regime must relent or face upheaval. That’s why this legislation dramatically steps up the pressure on Tehran.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the House vote. “Following the Iranian elections the House of Representatives has sent a clear message to the Iranian regime that international pressure will increase until Iran meets its obligations and ceases its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” he said in a statement, “We will judge Iran by its actions alone.” Netanyahu continues to feel that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
But at this point, tighter sanctions are the last thing most analysts believe to be the way forward. Experts from across the political spectrum, including us, have all said that now is the time to capitalize on the current sanctions regime. If we fail to use what has become the strongest set of sanctions ever imposed in order to secure a deal, we might as well have left those sanctions by the side of the road and moved straight to either war or containment. Sanctions are a means, not an end. And no solution will come from simply piling more on.
There’s no point in beating someone with a stick and asking them to surrender if when they start to give way you react by pulling out a bigger stick. Now is the time to react with pause. If Rouhani turns out to be the demon sheep that some would like to believe, the stick will still be at the ready. They can go for it then.