- - Sunday, May 17, 2015


In our effort to halt the Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, timing is critical.

While the Obama administration has been clumsily stumbling from one negotiating deadline to the next, Iran has been working hard to destabilize the Middle East and threaten U.S. interests. The time is past due for the White House to take to heart the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon and get serious about changing Tehran’s behavior.

To maintain President Obama’s policy of capitulation would be catastrophic. American values should never be compromised, and the president’s word must be meaningful. But despite Mr. Obama’s promises to keep Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Iran’s negotiating strategy — hinged upon its ability to secure more and more time through deadline extensions, blocked inspection access of its nuclear facilities and simply waiting out the Western powers — has largely worked.

Many observers of the Middle East, myself included, have derided the president for putting concerns about his legacy before concerns about the safety of the free world. But if he allows Iranian intransigence to prevail as the terrorist regime spins clandestine centrifuges, then the legacy he achieves will be dubious at best.

America is backing an airstrike campaign by a Saudi-led coalition targeting Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. There is also the Strait of Hormuz episode, in which Iran seized the MV Maersk Tigris cargo ship April 28 and did not release it until May 6. This incident prompted a U.S. policy change: All American-flagged ships in this area are now to be escorted by Navy warships.

In response, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced that Iran would not negotiate with world powers over its nuclear program while under so-called military threat. The president told us that the diplomatic process was building trust, but it certainly does not appear that way.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Vice President Joseph R. Biden recently unveiled details concerning the termination of sanctions against Iran if such a nuclear deal is reached in June.

In a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Lew said it is Mr. Obama’s intent to use executive authority to suspend sanctions against Iran’s oil, banking and trade sectors if Iran fulfills the first requirements of the imminent nuclear deal. Mr. Lew explained that during the Obama presidency, Congress would not be asked to remove sanctions, stating, “Only after many years of compliance would we ask Congress to vote to terminate sanctions, and only Congress can terminate legislative sanctions.”

This approach is inherently flawed, because everyone with any sense knows that rapidly rebuilding an effective sanctions regime, even after Iran inevitably violates either the letter or the spirit of any agreement, will be incredibly hard if not downright impossible. Verifying that Tehran violated the agreement would be incredibly difficult, and verifying it to the satisfaction of China or Russia even more daunting. If the president unilaterally removes sanctions at the beginning of an agreement, then Iran will have achieved long-term sanctions relief in exchange for temporary behavior change, at best.

But the world has no substantial reason to believe that Tehran will suddenly comply with the deal under negotiation, as Iran has not demonstrated even a small degree of trustworthiness. The regime proudly remains the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism worldwide. Within its own borders, the Iranian population lives in fear of brutal human rights violations, including the inhumane persecution of women, gays, and ethnic and religious minorities.

Unless Tehran dramatically changes its behavior on all these fronts, the regime cannot be trusted. If this administration were serious about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, it would not wait until negotiating deadlines become pressing to handle tough issues, and it would not settle for an agreement that allows the deadliest weapons known to mankind to fall into the hands of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

A nuclear deal with merit would require Iran to take concrete steps to completely dismantle its nuclear program while leaving sanctions intact as a means to ensure compliance. Easing sanctions without additional conditions will not moderate Iran’s support for terrorism; it will provide more capital for this pursuit.

When the time comes to sign an agreement, the president and Congress will face substantial pressure from those who argue that walking away would only encourage Iranian intransigence. This means we must work now, not at the eleventh hour, to ensure that any agreement accomplishes something positive and that Iran’s nuclear pursuits are truly blocked.

Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.

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