Let Iran Be the Side That Failed the Talks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges.

— by Steve Sheffey

Those who favor the Kirk-Menendez Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act are not warmongers. They favor the bill because, in their view, it will increase the chance for diplomacy to succeed.

Those who oppose the bill are not soft on Iran and are no less concerned about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. They oppose the bill because, in their view, the bill violates the interim agreement, would lessen the likelihood of a diplomatic solution, and weaken the sanctions architecture.

This is not some kind of a litmus test. There are strong friends of the U.S.-Israel relationship on both sides of this issue. No one should equate support for new sanctions with support, or lack of support, for Israel.

Some people are judging the interim agreement by the standards of what we hope will be the final agreement.

The purpose of the interim agreement is to delay, not end, Iran’s progress, so that Iran cannot run out the clock while we negotiate. It cannot and will not be the final agreement. If Iran does not fulfill its obligations under the interim agreement, it will lose even a limited sanctions relief.

More after the jump.
If talks with Iran fail, the world must know that they failed because of Iran, not because of the U.S.

If talks fail, we will need a unified international community to back us on increased sanctions or military action. If we impose sanctions that might contravene the interim agreement, the world will perceive — with some justification — that we, not Iran, are the intransigent party.

As Steven Spiegel wrote in Roll Call, “if the interim agreement is seen to have been upended by actions of the U.S. Congress, both the potential sanctions and military options will be threatened.”

It will be much more difficult, even almost impossible, to gain international support for sanctions and military action if the talks were seen to have broken down because of a controversial action by the U.S. Congress.

In that sense, voting for sanctions now could create the worst of both worlds: Iran will walk away from the talks as the offended party, and sanctions will be diminished as the Iranians develop an excuse to complete their nuclear ambitions. Congress should not give Tehran an opportunity for such a victory.

In a long but important article in the New York Review (I do not agree with all of it, but I agree with most of it), Jessica Matthews wrote that, “The bill’s authors, Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, argue that it strengthens the president’s hand. It does the reverse by making even more acute Iranian doubts that the president can deliver the relief from sanctions they are negotiating for.”

Its passage, as an act of bad faith on the U.S.’s part after having just agreed not to impose new sanctions during the term of the six-month deal, would probably cause Iran to walk away from the negotiations. Rouhani would risk political suicide at home if he did not.

Alternatively, in the all too familiar pattern of the past decade, he might stay at the negotiating table and match unacceptable American demands with his own so that blame for failure would be muddled.

America’s negotiating partners and others whose support makes the sanctions work would feel the sting of bad faith as well. The sanctions regime that has been so painstakingly built through ten years of effort by determined American leaders of both parties could easily unravel.

Mathews concluded that, “A final agreement is by no means assured, but the opportunity is assuredly here.”

The price of an agreement will be accepting a thoroughly monitored, appropriately sized enrichment program in Iran that does not rise over 5 percent. The alternatives are war or a nuclear-armed Iran. Should this be a hard choice? Astonishingly, too many members of Congress seem to think so.

In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg wrote that, “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has just stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges. I would also like to note that this unequivocal statement, if sincere, means that there is no possibility of a nuclear deal between Iran and the six powers set to resume negotiating with it next month.”

And if that is the case, we will need all the international support we can muster for whatever comes next. Maybe now is not the time to muddy the waters with sanctions legislation that could scuttle the talks and undermine our international coalition.

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