Forty-seven Republican Senators this week joined their House colleagues in unprecedented interference in the conduct of American foreign policy, interjecting rank partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, whose special nature depends upon continued and true bipartisan support.
The letter they sent to the leadership of Iran is a clear effort to sabotage the Obama Administration’s negotiations to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons breakout capability. Following Speaker John Boehner turning over the House chamber for an address by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, something the speaker did while violating all diplomatic and Congressional protocol, it is clear that the GOP-led Congress opposes any realistic opportunity to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions, short of military action.
In reality, the desired date to reach a framework for an agreement with Iran is two weeks away. Two weeks can be a lifetime in deal making; the most give and take occurs as target dates approach. To take rumors and snippets of news about what is being negotiated, weave them into the entirety of an agreement, and then attack it as bad, creates an illusion of reasoned opposition.
In a perfect world, Iran would renounce terrorism, create a domestic oasis of human rights for its citizens, and stop threatening Israel and its neighbors. But that is not what is on the table in Geneva. What is on the table is a simple choice: do we prefer an Iran that remains hostile to Israel but does not have a quick path to nuclear weapons, or do we effectively end the possibility of a deal by insisting on something perfect but unattainable, increasing the likelihood that the result will be no deal whatsoever and an Iran with nuclear weapons?
The only substantive policy alternative Congressional Republicans have endorsed is the imposition of additional, unilateral U.S. sanctions. However, the most likely result of that policy would be dissolution of the first major power coalition to even bring Iran to the bargaining table.
Sanctions only brought Iran to the table when they were joined by Russia and China, thereby enabling central banking restrictions that severely squeezed Iran’s ability to obtain foreign currency and credit. Not only had Russia and China continued to trade with, and provide military support to, Iran prior to joining the P5+1 multilateral sanctions program, but even those who now argue most vehemently for new sanctions decried the failure of U.S. sanctions to cripple Iran’s economy for the decade before Russia and China joined the effort.
The Administration and our international partners believe additional sanctions, even those with “triggers” and “delayed imposition,” would violate the Joint Plan of Action (“JPA”) that is the foundation of today’s negotiations. They believe such sanctions are counterproductive. Not only would Iran have an excuse to walk from the table but, more importantly, Iran would have real proof it is the U.S. that cannot be trusted to keep its word, not Iran. The propaganda victory we would hand Iran under these circumstances is incalculable.
Such sanctions would also pose a threat to U.S.-Russian relations. The U.S., working with other oil-producing states, has pushed oil prices well below recent levels. This calculated effort pressures President Vladimir Putin and his adventurous ambitions in Ukraine and beyond. The currency of power in today’s Russia is not the threat of the gulag but the ability to dispense lots of cash. By shutting down the spigot of oil revenues to Russia, the U.S. has put Putin in a box from which he is struggling to extricate himself without losing popular support. Allowing Putin to point at the U.S. as acting in bad faith to unnecessarily break an international coalition would give him a way out of that box.
Republicans have also argued that the status quo is worse than no deal. This argument ignores the reality that under the JPA, Iran has, for the first time in a decade, rolled back its nuclear program and submitted to frequent international inspections. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak estimated that the JPA has set back Iran by at least six months. Should no deal be reached and Iran kick out the inspectors and freely ramp back up its capabilities to where they were before the JPA, the status quo will look like paradise.
Let us be clear. There is universal agreement that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Negotiations are ongoing and the shape of a final deal is not known to anyone, since it does not yet exist. Everyone agrees that Iran is a rogue, terrorism-sponsoring state. If an agreement is ultimately reached in Geneva and Iran breaks it, all doubt will be removed that some other actions must be taken to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, and we will be in a much better position to do so and to persuade our allies to come along with us.
We are in the home stretch of negotiations. We do not need U.S. senators attempting to undercut a deal by telling Iran that the United States cannot be trusted, nor do we need a Republican speaker injecting partisan politics into the U.S.-Israel relationship. It is time to leave politics at the water’s edge, support the Administration’s efforts to get a good deal in Geneva, and if a deal is consummated, evaluate the deal on its merits. We simply cannot afford to ruin our last best hope to peacefully prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.