The US must be clear and unequivocal: there will be no reductions in sanctions without verified steps to show that Tehran is abandoning, not just freezing, its nuclear weapons program.
Bushehr nuclear power plant. All eyes have been on the terrorist army Islamic State (IS) as it slaughters its way through the Middle East. IS is the most infamous villain on the world stage today, leaving Americans more fearful than ever about an attack on the homeland. With shocking headlines of beheadings and mass graves, it seems IS has stolen the spotlight from another world villain, the largest state sponsor of terrorism: Iran. For over a decade the United States along with the rest of the UN Security Council has tried – and failed – to reach a deal with Tehran on its clandestine nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear ambitions became public 12 years ago when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered that Iran had covertly violated the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) for years by falsifying reports of its nuclear development activities. Since then, Iran has defiantly marched toward developing a nuclear weapon, while refusing to negotiate in good faith with anyone – especially the United States. Instead, its leaders have continually called for the destruction of America and our ally Israel. Iran’s actions over the years are not surprising; after all it is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Using both its own military operatives and its proxy, Hezbollah, Iran has planned attacks around the globe. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps funds, trains, arms, and directs Hezbollah, one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations. Hezbollah is the puppet; Iran pulls the strings. Finally, after years of Iran stalling and defying calls to halt its nuclear weapon development, the West played hardball.
In 2012, the US and the European Union implemented sanctions primarily targeting Iran’s banking and energy industries. Tehran’s economy felt the pinch. In 2012, the Islamic Republic’s net exports of petroleum dropped to their lowest level since 1990. Its GDP dropped for the first time in 20 years. The Iranian Central Bank acknowledged an annual inflation rate of 45 percent in late July 2013 and many economists believe it was more likely in the 50%-70% range.
The sanctions worked, and Iran finally came to the negotiating table. In 2013, Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment of uranium in exchange for some relief from the sanctions imposed in 2012. The US and our allies agreed to some relief incrementally over six months. Loosening up on sanctions just when Iran was beginning to feel the consequences of its actions was a monumental mistake. Since then, Iranian leaders have been emboldened by the economic relief they have experienced, and they have reverted to their defiant ways.
Then along came IS. The US and Iran have oddly enough found themselves on the same side of the war against IS terrorists.
Both nations are aiding the Iraqi government but in different ways. The US so far has fought the enemy from the air. In contrast, Iran has fought on the ground. Iran is well aware that it could be a valuable asset to the US in the long-term fight against IS, especially since the US administration has already publicly said no American boots will be on the ground. In a recent interview with CNN, the speaker of the Iranian parliament said: “Terrorists cannot be destroyed by bombing them. You cannot solve terrorism by occupation. And in order to fight them effectively, you have to choose another method. And you know that we have good experience in that, because we have actually fought against them.
The leaders in Iran are now publicly using this fact as leverage in US media outlets, as surely they must be doing behind closed doors. The question is: have they convinced this administration? Apparently they have. According to a troubling New York Times report, the administration plans to bypass Congress and sign a deal with Iran. The report cites a senior administration official who allegedly said, “We wouldn’t seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years.” According to the report, the administration believes it has the authority to suspend sanctions without Congress’ approval. This is interesting timing, just days out from the midterm elections. President Obama knows that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, a deal with Iran that allows Iran to continue developing nuclear weapons would not pass either Chamber. This does not give him the authority to unilaterally make a backroom deal with the devil. Sanctions have worked; now is not the time to retreat. If anything we should increase them. Just this week, a top advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “Obama is the weakest of US Presidents.”Now is the time for the leader of the free world to prove Iran wrong. The world, including our enemies, are watching. The US must be clear and unequivocal: there will be no reductions in sanctions without verified steps to show that Tehran is abandoning, not just freezing, its nuclear weapons program. Sanctions are what have brought Iran to the table to talk in the first place. But getting to the table is not good enough. Actions speak louder than words, and we have seen Iran’s tentacles spread to terrorist attacks across the world. We cannot trust this country’s leaders, and we should not take any steps to ease the sanctions without verifiable actions by the Iranian regime. Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons anyway. It’s our responsibility to the world to make their defiant march forward more difficult, if not impossible. Easing sanctions will leave us right back to where we started in 2002. Why? Because without these sanctions and without US leadership, no one will stop them. And that’s just the way it is.
**The author is a US Congressman.