Iran Framework Could Yield Middle East Nuclear Proliferation | Commentary

Posted April 17, 2015 at 10:00am

By Rep. Charlie Dent A robust national discussion on the recently presented framework regarding the Iranian nuclear program is critical and congressional review is essential. First, we need to be clear: There is no nuclear agreement with Iran. We are told a framework exists — although neither side apparently agrees on its details.  

Consider Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s April 9 declaration that all sanctions be removed the day an agreement is signed. This demand directly and irreconcilably contradicts President Barack Obama’s interpretation of the framework. This is not a mere technical disagreement, but a fundamental one that must give us pause. In 2013, I co-authored a bipartisan letter with Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., that encouraged Obama to test the then newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to determine if his more welcoming, moderate rhetoric (contrasted to his zealot predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) was sincere and could be translated into concrete concessions over its nuclear program through constructive engagement with the regime. My thinking at that time was straight forward and predicated on the reality of the Obama administration’s self-imposed constraints.  

While administration policy stated the objective was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there were many who doubted that they meant it. Recall former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s infamous gaffe during his Senate confirmation hearing that administration policy on Iran’s nuclear program was not one of prevention, but containment. For many of the administration’s foreign policy skeptics this was less a misstatement and more a revelation of fact. While the Obama administration repeatedly stated that the use of military force remained on the table in dealing with the Iranian nuclear question, no one, regional allies nor adversaries alike, found it credible.  

A pre-emptive American military strike would not be desirable, but completely ruling it out meant that ensuring Iran does not get the nuclear bomb could only be achieved through a combination of sanctions and negotiations.  

The United States and other P5+1 countries entered these negotiations from a position of strength, thanks to the successful impact of congressionally driven sanctions reluctantly endorsed by Obama and some of our negotiating partners. Now, lower oil prices have made the pain of sanctions even more pronounced causing real economic hardship on Iran and lessening its capacity to influence and destabilize the Middle East. Imagine how much worse the situation in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen would be with a less constrained Iran.  

That raises a key point made by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in a compelling op-ed recently: “… negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.”  

The high-stakes nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran must be re-evaluated in the context of the broader global and regional dynamics at play.  

Some of the nations involved — Russia and China – are, at times, motivated in ways antithetical to American and Western security interests. Russia wants to diminish American power and influence in both Europe and the Middle East. Tellingly, Vladimir Putin recently authorized the sale of a powerful anti-aircraft missile system to the Iranians. Perhaps, Russia should be sitting on the Iranian side of the bargaining table?  

China, always a very reluctant partner on Iranian sanctions, is driven by its insatiable appetite for oil as well as to pursuing its aggressive posture in the Western Pacific.  

Since the announcement of the nuclear framework on April 2, there has been no abatement by the Iranian regime of the anti-Western, anti-American rhetoric, or of genocidal “wipe Israel off the map” threats.  

What few are discussing, but may matter most with this potential agreement is the reaction of America’s Sunni Muslim partners in the region. The stated goal of the proposed framework is to stop Iran’s nuclear weapon program, yet, if the deal is a bad one, the very real possibility exists for further nuclear proliferation by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and maybe others. We are faced with the strong potential of a nuclearized Middle East during a time of state instability and irrational non-state actors. How would deterrence or mutually assured destruction unfold under these circumstances? The dangers would be incalculable, the potential for escalations near infinite.  

I argue that now is the time to demonstrate resolve to the world by reaffirming our original objective – no Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. Let low oil prices take their toll on the Iranian regime and their Russian backers. Leave existing sanctions in place and enact stronger ones if it’s not too late.  

If Iran is to survive economically, the Ayatollahs need a deal more than we do. Let’s act like it.  

Rep. Charlie Dent is a Republican from Pennsylvania.

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