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Washington's Warmongers Take Aim At Iran Diplomacy

Congressional hawks are trying to scuttle a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran by pushing for sanctions.

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The Obama administration has expressed concerns that Iran’s civilian nuclear program is advancing in such a way that it could eventually be weaponized. However, based on a consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies, the administration acknowledges that there is no evidence that Iran currently has a nuclear weapons program. Despite this, the letter by the Menendez and the others claims that Iran already has a “nuclear weapons program.” Furthermore, this bipartisan group—which also includes Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Robert Casey (D-PA), Christopher Coons (D-DE),  Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—insists that only after completely dismantling this non-existent program will they “be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner.” Until then, the letter states, “we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively.”

Noting that there are other issues with Iran, such as the regime’s political repression and denial of civil liberties to Iranians, the Senate hardliners insist that sanctions must remain in place even if the nuclear issues is resolved. Even putting aside the obvious double-standards—such as their support for allied Middle Eastern governments with similarly poor human rights records—a refusal to consider lessening sanctions in return for a nuclear agreement is clearly a non-starter. In other words, they—like their counterparts in the House—appear to want the talks to fail.

Other members of Congress are weighing in against the president’s initiative as well. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)—who, ironically, came to office in a special election earlier this year  with the support of Peace Action and other progressive groups—insists that the United States “should not relax the sanctions one inch while Iran’s intentions are still unknown.” Similarly, Daniel Harsha, a spokesperson for Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee  stated, “Tehran must know that Congress will not acquiesce to lifting sanctions until they completely and verifiably dismantle their nuclear program.”  Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) observed, “If the president were to ask for a lifting of existing sanctions, it would be extremely difficult in the House and Senate to support that.”

These Democratic hawks are quite influential with their colleagues: Sen. Murray and Rep. Israel, for example, respectively chair the Senate and House Democratic campaign committees.

Sanctions or War?

Giandomenico Picco, a former assistant UN secretary general for political affairs,  noted how these congressional proponents of further sanctions are “going to complicate the negotiation process significantly” and bolster hardliners in Iran suspicious of American intentions. Similarly, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association,  notes that although ending all enrichment would be ideal, it is “clearly a non-starter” if the goal is to prevent nuclear proliferation. “If the P5+1 were to insist upon zero enrichment and the dismantling of its core facilities, it’s more than likely that the Iranians will simply just walk away.”

Anyone who has studied conflict resolution recognizes that, in order to get the other party to do what you want them to do, there must be incentives as well as punishment. Imposing harsh sanctions without the hope of partial relief short of capitulation is completely unrealistic, especially against a country with a strong a sense of nationalism and a history of humiliation by the West. There must be ways for both sides to declare victory. This is what a majority of congressional Democrats as well as Republicans is trying to prevent.

Unfortunately, the alternative to a successful negotiated settlement appears to be war. Some Republicans, at least, are being honest about it: Congressman Trent Franks (AZ) and Sen. Lindsay Graham—declaring  that the time for talking with Iran is over—have introduced a resolution authorizing the use of military force. According to the resolution, even the complete elimination of Iran’s nuclear program would not be enough to avoid war, since the resolution includes a number of unrelated demands, including Iranian recognition of Israel. Some Republicans want to go even further. For example,  Sheldon Adelson, chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, recently called for a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran.

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