Safely tucked between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, many in the United States do not consider a nuclear capable Iran a threat.

On American college campuses, it is often believed that preventing a nuclear capable Iran, at the expense of domestic interests and global nonproliferation, is not something in which we should be investing our time and money.  As a geo-strategic threat to Israel and American regional interests, Iran has been the focal point of the American legislative policy agenda, and unfortunately, also the focal point of partisan political scrutiny.  Iran as a nuclear power threatens regional security and stability of the Middle East and the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 will back the current diplomatic efforts with pressure and ensure that American interests, our regional allies, and Middle Eastern rational actors will not fall to radical extremism.  

The following w
as originally published in the Duke Chronicle on 1/27/15 and has been updated for this post.

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As the Iranian nuclear talks continue, diplomatic success – and peace – hinge on increased pressure and Congressional oversight.

After years of negotiations and sanctions relief, Iran still shows no sign of seriously dismantling its nuclear weapons capability. The regime continues to postpone negotiations despite concessions from President Obama and the P5+1 powers. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 that will soon be brought to the Senate floor, coauthored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), leaves the door open for diplomacy, enables and supports President Obama in the short term, and seeks to force concessions from Tehran so that a deal is finally reached. This bill does not introduce sanctions now, but creates conditions so that Iran will take this round of negotiations more seriously. A nuclear capable Iran poses a threat to American interests and allies in the region and threatens nonproliferation efforts globally.

There is no doubt that the path to an Iranian nuclear issue resolution should be a diplomatic one. In the tumultuous Middle East, where nation states erode under pressure from terrorist organizations and warring factions threaten stability across the region, reliance on force alone will only yield chaos and the loss of many innocent lives. The Obama Administration and the rest of the P5+1 powers should be applauded for their hard work in the current negotiations.

However, while Iran’s visible progress has stopped in its non-peaceful nuclear ambitions, its nuclear capability largely remains. With a plutonium reactor, the construction of a heavy-water reactor in Arak, and an estimated 9,000 centrifuges currently in operation with 11,000 more on standby, Iran is only months away from a bomb.

Getting Iran to come to the table was the direct result of crippling sanctions, but keeping them there was the result of roughly $10 billion in economic sanctions relief. After the first extension late last July, the world remained cautiously optimistic that a good deal was on the horizon. After those negotiations were extended yet again in November, the world was right to question whether Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, was biding for time. With the Iranian economy now in recovery, it is time to increase pressure once again and rely on the single tactic that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place: economic sanctions.

American policymakers from both sides of the aisle agree that Iran must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. Deception and non-compliance have plagued the Iranian nuclear negotiations for over a decade. IAEA investigations have been turned away, Iranian weaponization efforts have been deceitfully hidden, and nuclear intentions have been wrongfully misrepresented to the international community.  Just this week, in an interview with Israel Radio, IAEA agency head Yukiya Amano said that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not addressed concerns regarding its alleged attempts to develop atomic weapons and as a result, a nuclear deal is unlikely to realize by the March deadline.  

Extensions of the current efforts will yield no significant results. If Iran walks away from the table because of the “threat of sanctions,” then they were never serious partners in peace. The call for increased sanctions against the Iranian regime is not an end in itself but a means through which the West can achieve its diplomatic goals.

The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 gives Congress the power of foreign policy oversight as the current negotiations reach their final deadline this summer. This bill will impose no immediate sanctions, but will rather enable President Obama in the short term allowing him the diplomatic dexterity he needs with the Iranians; the Iranian delegation will know that a hard-lined Congressional threat is waiting around the corner. In the event of an unacceptable deal, Congress will then have the power to review and propose alternative action to the President. In the event that no deal is reached by this summer’s extended deadline, this act will require President Obama to apply for a Congressional waiver every thirty days to both hold off on sanctions and extend the talks once again.

This piece of legislation does not immediately nor imminently increase sanctions, it does not violate the international Iranian interim agreement, and most importantly, it gives Congress the power to evaluate and determine whether a deal is truly within reach so that we finally end this dangerous diplomatic loop.

In a region that knows little calm, American policymakers have a unique opportunity to disarm one of the world’s most dangerous regimes through entirely diplomatic means. The Nuclear Free Iran Act of 2015 will embolden our elected officials’ ability to reach this goal and it is our responsibility to support them. Tehran tests intercontinental ballistic missiles that have historically only been used to carry nuclear payloads, endangers American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, jeopardizes our economic interests and the international trade balance of oil, threatens our international allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, imprisons American journalists, suppresses the rights of women and homosexuals, funds terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and continues building on its nuclear ambitions that would deliver a deathblow to nonproliferation efforts world-wide. A nuclear Iran would have international bargaining power to assert dominance commercially, diplomatically, and militarily across the planet.

A nuclear Iran is not a regional issue, but an international conflict and a very American problem.
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