Congress Must Pass Sanctions Against Iran After Obama's Surrender

On January 14, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted, “Our relationship [with] the world is based on [the] Iranian nation’s interests. In Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to [the] Iranian nation's will.”

While the tweet has since been deleted, the point is clear: when negotiating, you know you’re getting a bad deal when the other party interprets your acceptance as surrender. Yet this is exactly what happened last week after the Obama Administration signed an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

The interim deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries has now gone into effect. Iran will supposedly freeze components of its nuclear program, and in return, we will undo our most important sanctions against them, to the tune of $20 billion. Iran will benefit even more than that though when foreign companies are allowed to re-enter its markets. 

Iran’s oil and gas industry alone would see billions of dollars pour in. After the initial deal was agreed to in December, European energy companies wasted no time before meeting with the Iranian oil minister. If foreign companies are fully allowed back in, $20 billion would be a drop in the oil drum compared to what Iran would then get in energy investment alone. This would also make it tougher to re-introduce sanctions should Iran renege on its side of the deal.

It is clear how much Iran benefited from this agreement, but what did the rest of the world get? Unfortunately, not much except for a guarantee that the world could very soon be a more dangerous place.

The Geneva Accord stipulates that Iran limit uranium enrichment to five percent—the level needed to produce electricity. It also forces Iran to dilute or convert its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, a key component for making nuclear weapons. On the surface, these terms might sound plausible if they were permanent changes to the regime’s capabilities, but they are not. 

Hours after Iran signed the agreement, its deputy foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, boasted on Iranian state television that Iran could “return to the previous situation in a day.” At any moment, Iran can flip the switch and start enriching weapons-grade uranium. Our sanctions will not be as easy to resurrect. If they do start enriching again, the international community would have very little leverage to stop them. What then?

The agreement also bars Iran from installing nuclear equipment at its heavy water reactor in Arak but allows it to continue constructing it. This is a grave mistake. Iran claims that it wants to produce isotopes for nuclear medicine, but reactors also play an essential role in nuclear weapons programs. The Arak reactor’s size and design is too big for a peaceful reactor. Experts say it more closely resembles a nuclear weapons facility. When asked if he thought the Arak reactor could be used for peaceful purposes, former State Department non-proliferation official Robert J. Einhorn said, “Yes it could. A 12-inch hunting knife also could be used to spread jam on your toast in the morning.”

Even if one believed that Iran only wanted the reactor for medicinal use, it’s still a potential threat. That’s reason enough to give the world concern. Once the reactor is built and filled with nuclear material, either for scientific or military purposes, it will be nearly impossible to destroy. The reactor is essentially invincible. A military strike on it would release dangerous radioactive particles into the air like a Persian Chernobyl.

Instead of inking a bad deal, the Obama Administration should have taken the time to get the terms right. No deal is better than a bad deal. Yet that’s exactly what we got.

Now, the responsibility falls on Congress to protect the world from a potential nuclear Iran. In July, my colleagues and I in the House overwhelmingly passed legislation to strengthen our sanctions against Iran. The world waits for the Senate to take up these sanctions. It’s the Senate’s turn, and it’s the Senate’s responsibility. The Obama Administration is trying to bully the Senate into inaction, but I hope they recognize the gravity of the situation and continue forward to pass these sanctions.

We cannot allow Iran to have its cake and eat it, too. In six months, this deal will expire, and a final agreement will have to be signed. The United States and its allies cannot “surrender” again. Iran is already an international danger. A nuclear Iran would be a threat like we have never seen before. We must stop them now before it is too late. We simply do not have the time for do-overs. That’s just the way it is.

Congressman Ted Poe (TX-2) is Chairman of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee.


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