The phone call from President Obama to Iranian Prime Minister Rouhani has opened up the potential for serious diplomacy between the two countries for the first time since the 1970s. Yet this extraordinary opportunity is filled with danger coming from a group of legislators who are deeply hostile to a diplomatic outcome. In a nutshell, they are anti-diplomacy
I. Legislative Meddling
The legislative meddlers represent the “No” faction in the Senate and House. They are Democrats and Republicans. Senators Mendenez (D-NJ), Graham (R-SC), Schumer (D-NY) and McCain (R-Ariz) lead in the Senate. They are joined by Congressman Royce (R-Cal) and Engel (D-NY). Their effort, if successful, will place severe limits on the ability of the US to negotiate diplomatic agreements. They are willing to use legislation to block successful diplomatic efforts by insisting on more sanctions and preventing the Executive from having its customary authority to exercise waivers on specific items that have been sanctioned.
They will start with Senate hearings that will be perfunctory. I have learned that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under Mendenez’s leadership, is blocking witnesses from testifying who believe in lifting economic sanctions to get a verifiable diplomatic result that bans Iran from a nuclear weapons capability.
If such legislation reaches the Senate floor it will set back, if not halt, diplomacy from going forward. HR 850, which has passed the House, can reach the Senate as an Amendment to other legislation. The Senate’s rule of permitting non-germane amendments–a rule used by liberals and conservatives– makes for a potential open season on finding ways to block Obama’s Iranian diplomatic efforts. Keeping such legislation from reaching the floor is paramount if no harm is to be done in getting Iran to back off from building nuclear weapons
II. What Is Agreed Upon
1. Everybody among US officials –Executive and Legislative branches– believes that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons or have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. That is different from Iran having the capacity to have a domestic nuclear energy capability, much the same as many other countries.
2. Everyone agrees in all branches of the US government that Iran must subject its nuclear facilities to vigorous inspection by international bodies. What it holds, and where it holds, has to be inspected and verified.
3.In addition, US intelligence, among our multiple agencies, all agree that Iran at this point is not building a nuclear weapon. That has been true since 2003. Furthermore, Israeli intelligence comes to the same judgment as US intelligence.
4. If agreement is reached on Iran being prohibited from having a nuclear weapons capability, a verifiable agreement that is subject to rigorous inspection, economic sanctions, which have been effective, will have to be modified or lifted. Iran’s people are hurting economically. That’s why the moderate Rouhani won. The Iranian situation spurs Iran’s incentive to pursue diplomacy. But Iran too needs results. Rouhani has to tame his hard liners.
III. Diplomatic Setting
Under President Obama’s direction Secretary Kerry is conducting vigorous diplomacy with Iran. That’s what the Obama-Rouhani telephone call started. The military option stays on the table for the US if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. If Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon that would seriously kill US efforts to strengthen and foster nuclear non-proliferation. It also threatens everybody’s security– Israel’s to be sure but that threat is not limited to Israel. Nuclear weapons Iran runs the risk of war. That’s why every effort, and then some, must be made towards a diplomatic solution that meets US security needs
That provides a difficult road, made more so by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu is functionally aligned with the No Congressional faction. He uses don’t trust because you can’t verify, to provide cover for blocking a diplomatic agreement. This strengthens the Congressional meddlers and can harm achieving a workable diplomatic result.
IV. Larger Stakes
The Senate meddlers will build counter pressure by seeking to authorize the use of military force if diplomacy fails (Graham’s efforts). Others will seek to prevent any sanctions from being lifted no matter whether an agreement on blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons capability can be secured. They oppose Iran ideologically. Their opposition must not be allowed to stand in the way of gaining a diplomatic result that advances nuclear non-proliferation, and more importantly, keeps Iran from getting nuclear weapons. To oppose such an outcome is mindless and results in weakening security
for the US.
This reminds me of the paranoia of the 1950s when right wing Republicans–and today it is not limited to Republicans– tried to scare us away from having valuable relations with the Soviet Union, not based on trust, but on verification. Obama and Kerry follow the Reagan mantra: if you trust you must verify.
V. Action Needed: legislators Have to Step Up
What is sorely needed now are legislators–Senate and House members– who will take to the floor and make the case for diplomacy and negotiations that is rigorously substantive. Short of that I fear the debate will be abandoned to the loud voices of Mendenez, Graham, Schumer and McCain. We need wise voices to counter this group
of reckless and irresponsible Senators.