August 7, 2015
By Representative Kathleen Rice (NY-04)
Washington, DC – Three weeks ago, President Obama announced that American and international negotiators reached a final agreement with Iranian leaders restricting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. I’ve since taken time to study the text of the proposed deal, and I’ve consulted with negotiators, nuclear experts, and my constituents.
President Obama entered into negotiations with Iran because he is a president interested in peace, in Israel’s security, and in avoiding the human and financial sacrifices of another American war in the Middle East. I share these goals, and I genuinely believe the President sees this deal as the best chance of achieving them. But I do not.
It’s inarguable that Iran’s top policy priority is to obtain a nuclear weapon. Our top policy priority in this region is to prevent them from achieving that goal. If we are to believe this is a good deal for our interests, then we must believe that Iran has either entered into a deal against its interests, or that Iranian priorities have changed. The former would be illogical and we’ve seen no evidence of the latter. The only alternative conclusion is that Iran believes this deal does not compromise their agenda – and that’s deeply problematic.
This deal represents a pause, not an end, to Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. While no deal or action – whether economic, diplomatic, or military – can ensure a disarmed Iran in perpetuity, this deal’s search for peace seems too willing to gamble on social progress in Iran, especially when Iranian leaders show little interest in helping to foster it – and even less in becoming anything near a responsible ally in the region. Here, the President is displaying an admirable political vision and optimism, but I just don’t trust the progress of that social experiment enough to pay the cost of this gamble’s security risk.
And the fact that sanctions can snap back into place if Iran cheats doesn’t give me enough confidence to counter that risk. The sanctions we imposed on Iran that proved successful were only successful over time. No matter how quickly we can re-impose these measures in the event we catch Iran cheating, it will take years to recreate the economic pressure that we know influences their decision making.
One of the biggest questions throughout this process has been whether outside inspectors will have the ability to tell if Iran is abiding by this deal. I'm skeptical that they will. The fact that Iran would not agree to “anywhere, anytime” access is troubling – and an apparent continuation of Iran's history of deception.
And what if they do cheat? How will Iran be punished if they commit minor violations, if they operate even one centrifuge more than the allowable limit? How far will Iran have to cross the line to warrant sanctions snapping back? Who will decide what sanctions are re-imposed and how quickly we will have them in place? This ambiguity gives me little confidence that Iran will be sufficiently deterred from bending – if not breaking – the rules of the pact, and all the while they will continue to reap the financial rewards of our concessions.
Iranian nuclear ambition isn't the nation's only irresponsible agenda. Iran wants international legitimacy. I'm bothered that we seem poised to grant such legitimacy without requiring Iranian concessions on its sponsorship of terror. I'm unwilling to help economically empower an Iranian regime that could use the cash influx to make more muscular its support of terror and more aggressive its antagonism of Israel and our other allies in the region. And I'm unwilling to grant such economic and political legitimacy to a regime that prides itself on its persecution of women, children, journalists, religious minorities and political dissidents.
I find the main argument for this deal – that the only alternative is war – to be a false choice. As President Obama has stated, his actions and economic sanctions brought Iran to the table. If that is true, and I believe it is, then why wouldn’t continued political and economic pressure improve our leverage in forcing Iran to agree to a better deal? The tipping point in such leverage must be Iran giving up its nuclear arms ambition, and renouncing and defunding its terror tentacles in the region and abroad.
Diplomacy was working, and we shouldn’t pull the plug on it. Instead, we need to convince our P5+1 partners that a better deal can be had by keeping the sanctions in place. With China and Russia eager to trade with Iran, that won’t be easy. But imagine how difficult it will be to rally this group to force Iran’s hand after they begin reaping the benefits of Iranian trade.
I suspect this deal will pass. I hope that history will ultimately prove President Obama right in his gamble on diplomacy and social progress in Iran. But for me, it is a risk I cannot support. It’s a gift of political legitimacy and economic empowerment that requires too little Iranian maturation across too little of its dangerous agenda. For the sake of peace, we can do better.