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By Jamal Abdi
Congress should not be derailing the ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
In the aftermath of this weekend’s negotiations between Iran and the United States, with an agreement for a second round next month in Baghdad, congressional hawks are going to try to ram through new sanctions.
The House and Senate will return this week after a two-week recess, and there are many tripwires in place that could disrupt the U.S.-Iran dialogue.
The Senate may take up a sanctions bill that was previously blocked by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who demanded an amendment that would clarify there is no authorization for war with either Iran or Syria and that only Congress has the authority to declare war.
The House and Senate also have a “red lines” resolution that effectively says the United States will go to war if Iran achieves the “capability” to build a nuclear weapon — something most countries with civilian nuclear programs, including Iran, already have.
There is also a partisan “Happy birthday, Israel” resolution introduced in the House and co-sponsored by more than 60 Republicans that endorses Israeli strikes on Iran if “peaceful measures do not succeed in a reasonable amount of time.”
In February, when the new round of Iran talks were being formulated, a bipartisan group of 12 senators sent a warning shot to President Obama warning that any deal short of a “full resolution” of the Iranian nuclear issue would be inadequate. “The time for confidence-building measures is over,” the senators wrote, and insisted we must expand sanctions.
This is dangerous not only because it sets the bar for talks unnecessarily high — nobody expects we can solve the Iranian nuclear issue in a single weekend — but also since it would disregard Iranian concessions that are valuable in their own right. In the near term, securing a confidence-building deal to cap Iran’s nuclear program would address our most pressing concerns about Iran’s capabilities. It would ease, too, the “loose talk of war” surtax that is costing Americans $5 for every tank of gas due to energy market jitters. Such a deal would then buy time for the United States and its allies to establish the inspections and transparency mechanisms to ensure once and for all that Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. Sanctions or war cannot do this. Only a sustained and successful diplomatic process can resolve the nuclear dispute while also effectively addressing critical issues with Iran that are too often neglected, particularly Iran’s dire human rights situation.
But any one of the measures before Congress could be used to sabotage diplomacy before it even gets off the ground. This would be a big mistake. Congress shouldn’t slam the door on peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute and set us on the course for yet another disastrous war of choice that will spike gas prices, pummel our economy, devastate Iran’s democracy and human rights movement, and — according to the overwhelming majority of military and civilian experts — make an Iranian nuclear weapon far more likely.
We need to give negotiations a real chance.
Jamal Abdi is the policy director of the National Iranian American Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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