Guest opinion: Congress, give diplomacy with Iran a chance

2014-01-24T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Congress, give diplomacy with Iran a chanceBy ALLEN SECHER The Billings Gazette
January 24, 2014 12:00 am  • 

How do we stop Iran? Considering the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel and the Middle East at-large, it’s a critical question to ask ourselves.

It can’t be done easily through military force. Intelligence reports tell us that a strike on Iranian facilities might be able to delay the country’s nuclear program by a few months at best. And we all know the risks of launching another war in the Middle East.

It can’t be done through sanctions — at least not by themselves. Over the years, sanctions have not compelled Iran to abandon its program.

What they have done is bring Iran to the negotiating table, which has been our plan all along. That’s why the only way we can be sure to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is through diplomacy.

As the breakthrough agreement reached in Geneva last November goes into effect, Iran will begin to roll back the most dangerous elements of its program under the supervision of international inspectors. Meanwhile our negotiators will work to arrive at a final deal that safeguards Israeli and American interests.

I’m cautiously optimistic that we can come together to make it happen. Particularly given the dangerous alternatives, it is in our own national security interests, including our interest in Middle East security and stability, to really put the seriousness of Iran’s intentions to the test.

But I’m concerned that just as we’re poised to do so, Congress may be about to blow the whole thing. By pushing a new sanctions bill at exactly the wrong time, a group of senators in Washington are threatening to weaken our negotiators, alienate our allies and rig the talks for failure.

The bill’s sponsors say their aim is to strengthen our position in the negotiations. Nearly everyone else — the White House, our defense and intelligence establishments — says they’re dead wrong. I’m grateful that our own Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus haven’t signed on and I hope they’ll do what they can in Washington to fight it.

Far from helping our negotiators, approving new sanctions at this time would directly contradict the commitments they made in Geneva and undo everything that they have already accomplished. Iran has said that sanctions would kill the deal for good, along with all future negotiations. If talks collapsed, our allies would lay the blame at our feet, and not Iran’s.

In the long run, this kind of dispute with our partners would actually reduce sanctions on Iran. That’s not something that you hear the bill’s supporters admitting to.

Instead, they argue that the sanctions would only go into effect many months from now, if the negotiations fail. But read the fine print. Unless the president can prove that virtually impossible conditions have been met, they would begin almost immediately.

The most significant of them would tie the hands of our own negotiating team and undercut their efforts to achieve a good deal.

In these negotiations, what we want is clear: to be absolutely sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

That might be achievable. In exchange for some economic relief, Iran has expressed that it would be willing to give up the high levels of uranium enrichment that they could use to build a bomb.

What they aren’t willing to do is give in completely and abandon even the low levels of enrichment used for civilian power. That wouldn’t be a deal, it would be surrender. If that’s the kind of compromise that Congress is holding out for, it’s no wonder that they don’t get much done.

In this case, the stakes are too high to walk away without an agreement. This bill might look tough and pro-Israel, but in reality it’s gambling with Israel’s security and our one real shot at stopping Iran.

There would be plenty of time for more sanctions if it becomes clear that Iran is wasting our time. Then we’d be in the perfect position to hit back, swiftly and with the support of the whole world. Because we’d have proven that we were serious, and Iran walked away anyway.

But let’s not mess this up. Congress should forget about this misguided sanctions bill and give diplomacy a chance to work.

Rabbi Allen Secher of Montana has served congregations in Bozeman and the Flathead Valley. His radio program, “You Must Remember This”, is heard on Montana Public Radio.

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