In the six months since President Rouhani assumed office, the Iranian nuclear program has continued to progress towards hostility and away from peace. A 75 percent increase in installed centrifuges raises the question of how long it will be before Iran achieves its nuclear goals, which are of concern to the entire global community. Although experts’ predictions vary from days to years, the truth is that too soon, Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon.
The devastation following a nuclear attack is unfathomable to many of us. We can only wonder in fear: to what extent would the impacts of a nuclear attack devastate our environment and the human condition? Aerosols and incandescent light bulbs might seem like a walk in the park to an environmentalist in a nuclear-war-torn world.
Even if Iran does not utilize its weapons for destructive terror attacks on Israel or the United States (as it has many times threatened to do), the regime will be capable of tampering with the global economy. Using legitimate nuclear threats, Iran could grasp the reins of the international oil industry and manipulate the global economy to field even more support for its nuclear program. A trade industry dominated by rhetoric creates economic vulnerability.
It is imperative that Congress does all that it can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Past bipartisan commitment has been strong, and we must urge our members of Congress to continue their support for a freeze-for-freeze deal in which the United States will halt sanctions only if Iran completely freezes the development of its nuclear program.
Indeed, we should applaud the diplomatic efforts of Kerry’s administration, but it is also crucial to understand that the interim deal reached in November requires progress in follow-up negotiations in order to secure a reliable deal with Iran. Under the Joint Action Plan, which was agreed upon by the P5+1 in November, Iran is not required to dismantle any of its nuclear program, leaving 9,000 centrifuges spinning and an additional 10,000 in place. Senator Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explained that under the interim deal, “We basically have the Iranians running in place… Their centrifuges are spinning. Basically we are going to roll back some of our sanctions, but they are rolling back nothing.” Keep in mind: the conditions of the interim agreement violate six U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Concerns with the interim deal have echoed in the halls of both the House and the Senate. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has made clear that, “unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything.” Representative Sherman (D-CA) adds that, “…[T]he deal… has a significant flaw, namely that it allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium up to a level of 3.5-5 percent, as long as it converts this from gas to uranium oxide metal.”
If centrifuges are spinning, a nuclear weapon is being developed. The idea seems obvious, but it has been neglected in the P5+1’s interim deal.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama suggested that he sensed opposition to diplomacy. By no means do I oppose diplomacy. Diplomacy is essential to a sustained relationship between nations. However, in the context of Iran, diplomacy on its own has failed us historically, and in order to deliver its complete potential, it must be paired with leverage in sanctions. To assume that Iran will remain at the table without any economic pressure, as imposed by sanctions, is too optimistic.
Rouhani recently announced that he would not dismantle centrifuges “under any circumstances.” Rouhani’s closed mind requires us to send a strong message of no tolerance for its belligerent nuclear intentions. Without sanctions, we will have no means by which we can get Iran’s attention to initiate productive negotiations. Additional sanctions will give President Obama the power to keep Iran at the table, and eventually reach a sustainable agreement.
The Iranian nuclear program is undeniably dangerous. Iran’s notorious human rights record, as confirmed by the State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights last month, is yet another reason why Iran should not attain the responsibility that comes along with a nuclear weapon. Ignoring the impending threat or easing sanctions on the Iranian regime leaves the United States with minimal tools to protect itself and its strongest allies. Sanctions have served as the most effective tools in Kerry’s tool belt, especially when paired with diplomacy. Sanctions brought Iran’s leaders to the table, and will continue Iran’s participation in the dialogue.
Last week, 14,000 Americans and I met with our members of Congress following AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference. Despite our unique backgrounds and upbringings, one thing that all of us can most certainly agree on, democrat or republican, New Yorker or Bostonian, grandparent or grandchild, is that sanctions are essential to achieving a safe and sustainable nuclear deal with Iran.