U.S. lawmakers will be sending two letters to President Obama later this week.
Both letters purport to send strong messages regarding Iran. Both disappoint. What’s worse, the Senate’s letter may actually be an admission of retreat.
LETTER FROM HOUSE LEADERS
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have sent a letter addressed to the president to their colleagues, from whom they hope to collect signatures.
A letter, of course, does not have the power to direct the president to take the action congress wishes. It is of even lesser weight than is a resolution, which the House passed last summer, urging stricter sanctions to be adopted against Iran.
The letter recounts what everyone should already know: that given Iran’s history of deception, lies and delaying tactics, everyone should be worried that the Islamic regime is merely duping the West and will use the lengthy negotiations process as a way to “make progress towards a nuclear program.”
The flaccid language of the letter must be alarming to U.S. allies in the Middle East who recognize the real danger of a nuclear Iran, while providing glee to the Iranian regime.
We are hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities, such that Iran will not be able to develop, build, or acquire a nuclear weapon.
We do not seek to deny Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program, but we are gravely concerned that Iran’s industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.
This is the strongest language someone with the alleged clout of Rep. Eric Cantor could rustle up?
The lawmakers finally start in with the “must” word about halfway through the letter. Iran must be transparent, allow inspections, provide interviews, and answer questions already issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but long left unanswered.
Iran, of course, has been ignoring those requirements for years, even when the U.S. and other western nations girded the requirements with far more stringent language than is found in this letter. The idea that these demands might be met when the U.S. has already signaled its willingness to retreat when met with intransigence borders on an insult to constituents.
SENATE’S LETTER RELEASED BY AIPAC
Over on the Senate side, a somewhat stronger sounding letter is being circulated to colleagues by Charles Schumer (D-NY), , Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). This letter was released to the public by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, March 2.
AIPAC desperately needed a show of strength, or at least activity, with respect to Iran. This is because its support for tougher sanctions against Iran shamefully petered out in the face of a strong pushback by the administration, with forceful assistance provided by certain members of congress who share the president’s political party.
But despite the rhetorical bravado, there is something very frightening about the way the letter ends.
Should negotiations fail or should Iran violate the Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions. We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality.
Most importantly, Iran must clearly understand the consequences of failing to reach an acceptable agreement. We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions, including further limitations on Iran’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products.
Do you see it? Now the greatest threat Iran faces is that the U.S. may impose strict sanctions. Before, the sanctions were in place in order to bring Iran to the bargaining table, and the ultimate threat was that “all options remained on the table, including the military one.”
Something has been pulled from the table. We’re marching backwards.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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