Local View: Keep the Negotiations Going
The following guest editorial appeared in the Monday, February 3, 2014 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star.
February 02, 2014
Lincoln Journal Star
By Paul A. Olson and David Forsythe
We should watch what our senators are saying about Middle Eastern negotiations. Nebraskan for Peace and the United Nations Association of Nebraska do not agree on all matters of war and peace (we have differing foci for our work). However, we agree on three principles concerning American negotiations with Iran that we see our Nebraska senators as potentially going against: that we (1) should not bomb Iran in the present circumstances; (2) should work with the interim agreement with Iran and support ongoing UN negotiations; and (3) should not blow-up the present negotiations though imposing further sanctions.
The Iranians recently elected President Hassan Rouhani. In his campaign and presidency, he has repeatedly indicated, most recently in a speech at the U.N., that Iran would be willing to "engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties,” and that “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions."
Under the present interim deal, Iran has pledged to halt its most sensitive nuclear efforts, those that might lead to nuclear weapons, under international inspection, and the West has agreed to provide modest sanctions relief.
This interim agreement should be observed. The Iranians seem to be implementing the agreement so far, and it keeps Iran far below the threshold that would have to be passed for bomb development. It is not reasonable to ask them to go to zero development of nuclear technology. The Israeli demand along these lines would require that Teheran fully capitulate and lose all face. We can ask that Iran change. We cannot ask that it abase itself before the world community, what we once did when the Eisenhower administration removed Iran’s duly elected president, Mosaddegh, with dire consequences for later history.
We should observe whether President Rouhani can get Supreme Leader Khamenei to moderate and give the U.S. and U.N. a chance to deal with a more peaceful Iran. History tells us that all revolutions calm down sooner or later.
The Menendez-Kirk bill, supported by both Johanns and Fischer from Nebraska — as well as nearly 60 other senators, would add further sanctions on Iran now and eliminate any incentive it has to negotiate. Though the bill is stalled, it could have political force at almost any near- future time. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the bill requires the president to certify that Iran has not conducted missile tests, supported terrorism in the past, and that it has dismantled all of its uranium enrichment, including that for peaceful nuclear power. It also has to perform other actions touching on past history or future intentions that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Further, the bill provides that we are to support Israel if it takes action against Iran on the grounds of the possible existence of a nuclear weapons program.
The president and secretary of state are charged with the conduct of foreign policy, the secretary of defense with that of military policy, in this case through the United Nations. The Congress should not burden them with further sanctions that will prove to the Iranians that we are not negotiating seriously. We should let the current interim agreement test the Iranian political will to step back from a possible nuclear weapons program.
There will be time in the future to return to full sanctions, or increase them, if the Iranians cheat. Adding sanctions now may blow up the best chance in a long time to: (1) get Iran to open its nuclear energy program to international inspection (Tehran already has moved somewhat in that direction); (2) set the stage for a better deal when this one runs out; and (3) bring a more moderate Iran into the mainstream of international relations with implications for Syria, Iraq, and the balance of power in the Middle East.
Pentagon gaming and other studies indicate that a U.S. or Israeli military strike will have multiple negative consequences without preventing Iran from expanding its nuclear efforts. The interim agreement could change the course of Middle East politics. We should give it a chance. If the Iranians are just buying time, there will be time to react later.
Paul A. Olson is anti-war committee chair of Nebraskans for Peace. David Forsythe is president of United Nations Association of Nebraska.