The international community is close to making a deal with Iran that will block its pathways to nuclear weapons–provided the U.S. Congress does not derail the best chance in over a decade to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
In a blatant attempt to undermine U.S. foreign policy and the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran, 47 Republican Senators wrote to Iran’s leadership warning that the next president could revoke a nuclear deal or that Congress could change the terms.
The March 9 letter, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is denouncing a deal that has not been reached and threatening to move the goalposts – although that is hardly surprising given Cotton’s comments earlier this year that sabotaging the negotiations is his intention.
The deal that the Obama administration is negotiating with its P5+1 allies (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) will not be perfect. Negotiations require comprise—neither side will get all they want out of deal. But the deal the P5+1 is pursuing would effectively block Iran’s uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb and put in place enhanced monitoring and verification to guard against a covert program.
A question for Senator Cotton and his colleagues who want to blow up the deal is: do you have a viable, alternative strategy to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon? It appears not.
Cotton says he wants to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program completely. But Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability since 2007. That program, that knowledge, cannot be sanctioned or bombed away.
Cotton and many in the Republican caucus appear to cling to the misguided belief that more pressure on Iran will lead to a better deal. It won’t. No Iranian leader would agree to eliminate their entire nuclear program, especially under the threat of more sanctions or military force.
More pressure now threatens to alienate the international coalition supporting the current sanctions regime, could lead to the collapse of talks, and invite Iran to rapidly expand its nuclear capacity.
It would derail the chances the good deal at hand, which will limit Iran’s production of nuclear material and put in place intrusive inspections and monitoring – some of which will be permanent and remain in place after the deal expires.
The P5+1 deal with Iran is clearly the most effective way to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and provide incentives to continue complying with an agreement for years to come.
The Cotton letter is the most recent attempt by Congress to setback negotiations. More dangerous is S.615 the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), the legislation bill would, among other things, give Congress the authority to have an up-or-down vote on any nuclear deal reached with Iran. While this may seem innocuous, the bill would also delay implementation of any agreement, require that Iran meet conditions outside of its commitments under a nuclear deal to receive sanctions relief, and it would send the message to Iran that any agreement may not survive in the next administration.
Congress has an important role in the Iran nuclear deal. Congress can, and should, track the implementation of the deal by requiring periodic reports on Iran’s actions and compliance.
Periodic congressional oversight hearings to review Iran’s compliance with a comprehensive agreement and the impact of such an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program can serve an important role in holding both sides accountable.
Down the road, Congress will need to carefully assess Iran’s record of implementing the deal and then act to lift sanctions.
Dismissing the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, or threatening to change its terms, before it is even finalized, is reckless and counterproductive.
A verifiable, comprehensive deal that protects U.S. national security and assures the world that Iran is not pursing nuclear weapons is within reach. Congress needs to support, not sabotage, efforts to reach this agreement.