In a recent address to the nation, President Barack Obama acknow-ledged Iran “has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the interna-tional community.” In the same speech the president vowed to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
But then the president announced a deal that permits Iran to continue enriching uranium — a key ingredient of nuclear weapons. An agreement allowing Iranians to continue enrichment activity is a profound and dangerous reversal of long-standing U.S. policy toward Iran.
President Obama lauded the plan as a breakthrough that “achieves a great deal.” The question is, a great deal for whom?
This interim agreement abandons entirely a firm international consensus and unanimous U.S. Senate view regarding curtailment of Iran’s enrichment capabilities. Six United Nations Security Council resolutions have called for Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. All five of the permanent members of the Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — voted for these resolutions.
Additionally, I co-sponsored a Senate resolution calling on Iran to accept the terms of these U.N. resolutions and abandon all enrichment activities. The resolution passed the Senate unanimously, including the vote of then-Sen. and now Secretary of State John Kerry. The recent agreement with Iran ignores and undermines all of this and instead concedes an ability for the country to enrich uranium in perpetuity.
In return, the six-month agreement lifts an estimated $7 billion in sanctions levied against Iran, turning on a spigot of money to a country that has backed terrorism, repeatedly threatened Israel and seeks to upend the balance of power in the volatile Middle East region.
The existing and critical sanctions regime took years of negotiations with our allies. Under this new plan, the United States and its allies would begin to dismantle sanctions before we can verify that leaders in Tehran have lived up to their part of the bargain and taken tangible steps to stop the growth of their uranium enrichment capabilities. This policy of trust-then-verify is completely backwards.
Then there is the question of compliance.
Time and again the Iranians have broken, disregarded and ignored U.N. agreements and Security Council mandates. The U.N. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons prohibits the proliferation of nuclear weapons while protecting the right of countries to develop nuclear power. Although Iran signed this treaty and claims it is only pursuing nuclear energy, it has defied the world by enriching uranium to levels far beyond what is needed for nuclear power and in amounts greatly exceeding its needs.
Additionally, Iran has a history of denying or blocking U.N. inspectors from examining its most critical and sensitive nuclear sites, including those developed in absolute secrecy — contrary to its international commitments.
Iran’s pattern of noncompliance with this treaty and numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions is reason enough to question its reliability, credibility and intentions, and to justify continued sanctions.
Short of any potential military options, sanctions are the best leverage we have to preclude a hostile state from becoming another nuclear power. I am deeply concerned the administration’s interim deal with Iran weakens our leverage in exchange for only cosmetic concessions and self-imposed, unreliable and inadequate limitations on Iran’s nuclear program.
If these sanctions are lifted by even the slightest amount, what would discourage Iran from obtaining more centrifuges to enrich uranium? How easily could Iran reverse its promised steps and re-establish the links needed to enrich uranium to weapons grade? And once Iran accesses its frozen accounts and receives an influx of cash, will it be too late to determine compliance before the damage has been done?
Given the consequences at stake, Congress must exercise strict oversight and demand answers from the administration to ensure any agreement with Iran is verifiable and monitored closely to identify issues of non-compliance. We must at the very least ensure any sanctions relief follows — not precedes — complete and verified Iranian compliance with the terms of this agreement.
We all share the goal of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. However, until Tehran proves to the United States that it is committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions, we must remain steadfast in exerting the utmost pressure on Iran.
Sen. Dan Coats is a Republican from Indiana. Contact his Washington office at 202-224-5623.