Quite a two-fer, unusual to have an op-ed and letter to the editor in the same paper on the same issue on the same day! Well done Norman and Nina!
To the editor:
Via patient, persistent diplomacy, the Obama administration and its international partners are in the home stretch of negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its nuclear program. A framework agreement to ensure Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting punishing U.S. and international economic sanctions, is within reach by the July 1 deadline.
Unfortunately, some senators are now introducing a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations fail. This bill will almost certainly scuttle negotiations and lead to calls for military action against Iran. Why would any reasonable person want to risk another Middle East war when a peaceful resolution is possible?
While Senator Portman will vote for sanctions, Senator Sherrod Brown has not yet taken a position. An agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully could well have other benefits in improving U.S.-Iranian economic and political relations, including working together more closely to bring badly needed stability to the region, a key shared interest of the U.S. and Iran.
Senator Brown would be wise to support the President and stand up for diplomacy, not more war.
McLellan is Co-President of Cleveland Peace Action.
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are fast approaching a major battle — not with Iran, but within the United States.
On one side, the Obama administration has created conditions for productive talks with Iran, with tougher sanctions, an agreement that Iran could continue to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power, and outreach to a new more moderate Iranian president. The strategy by President Barack Obama is apparently to negotiate a final package that provides far better insurance against Iran developing a nuclear weapon than any obtained during the previous 12 years of futile negotiations. Since polls of Americans (including American Jews) have consistently supported a negotiated solution, the Obama strategy would make it difficult for hard-liners to wreck a reasonable final agreement.
On the other hand, a senatorial challenge is taking shape: A bill which would impose new sanctions if negotiations fail includes a “Sense of Congress” section demanding that Iran “reverse” its development of nuclear infrastructure so that it is “precluded from a nuclear breakout capacity.” Since any peaceful enrichment of uranium or related technology could be considered building “capacity” and thereby could be “precluded,” the clause amounts to a poison pill. The same section of the bill preserves other sanctions unless Iran opens up its military facilities to inspection, improves its human-rights record, and stops supporting Hezbollah and the Syrian government. Thus, the extent of presidential waivers of sanctions could be greatly constrained.
If this bill achieves a veto-proof majority of 67 votes, administration officials believe Iran will consider this a violation of the interim understanding that promised no new sanctions during negotiations. In addition, the bill delays any new sanctions relief for a number of months (per the bill’s timetable), and it indicates to Iran that most sanctions will not be relieved for the foreseeable future. If, as a result, Iran walks away from negotiations, many of our sanctions partners would blame the United States and might resume trade with Iran.
This potential disruption of negotiations is of no concern to many senators who are not interested in any agreement with Iran. Freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas summarized that view, saying that ending the negotiations “isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it is very much an intended consequence.” But the biggest problem with this hard-line position is that it takes no account of the consequences of scuttling the negotiations.
First, the gains in security already agreed on under the interim agreement will be canceled. During this interim period, Iran has fully complied with its commitments to freeze its stock of low-enriched uranium, to eliminate or make less usable its stock of higher (20 percent) enriched uranium, to stop construction and alter the design of a plant that could generate plutonium, and to allow more inspections. If the new Senate bill passes and Iran leaves the table, these major concessions would be lost. Worse yet, if negotiations collapse, Iranian leaders have threatened to respond to new sanctions by ratcheting up uranium enrichment. Will the hard-line senators argue that losing the gains already achieved through negotiation and facing a recalcitrant Iran increases the security of the United States or Israel?
Then again, the underlying agenda of some hard-liners is really regime change — using Iran’s refusal to accept draconian terms for relief of sanctions as a justification to bomb Iran. For instance, without repudiation by their parties, a major Republican funder, Sheldon Adelson, proposed dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, and a major Democratic Party donor, Haim Saban, reportedly said he would “bomb the living daylights out of Iran.”
Unfortunately, the possible Iranian reaction to a military attack has been heedlessly downplayed by those who would undermine the negotiations. Iran’s population is three times Iraq’s, is highly nationalistic when it comes to outside attack, is heavily armed and adept at unconventional warfare, has 30,000 American sailors and soldiers within range of its missiles and attack boats, and could temporarily block transport of 20 percent of the world’s oil through the Persian Gulf.
Thus, if hard-liners win this Senate battle with the administration, the result will be far less security for the United States and Israel, and far greater risk of another ruinous trillion-dollar war. Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman should take heed and vote against the new sanctions bill.
Norman Robbins is an emeritus professor at Case Western Reserve University and an Iran consultant for Cleveland Peace Action.