Last week, we wrote on this page that given the Obama administration’s lack of leadership on Iran in this “period of consequences,” Congress should step in to fill the void. As our editorial went to press, a bipartisan group of 44 senators began to do just that. In a letter organized by Senators Robert Menendez and Roy Blunt, the group outlined a series of steps Iran would have needed to take at the June 18-19 Moscow talks to justify further negotiations. These included shutting its previously covert enrichment facility near Qom, freezing enrichment above 5 percent, and shipping its stockpile of uranium enriched above that point out of the country.
The letter noted, “Absent these steps, we must conclude that Tehran is using the talks as a cover to buy time as it advances toward nuclear weapons capability.” And the senators called on the president to “reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists.”
With the subsequent failure of the Moscow talks, President Obama should heed this sensible advice from nearly half the Senate. At this point, the futility of further talks is pretty clear to any honest observer. The United States and our allies have made proposal after proposal, imposed sanction upon sanction, and even apparently deployed covert tools which we learn about on an almost daily basis as administration officials desperate to burnish the president’s image leak sensitive national security information. Despite all of this, the centrifuges continue to spin, the stockpile of enriched uranium grows, and Iran gets closer and closer to a nuclear weapons capability.
As “technical experts” meet in the coming weeks, and the Obama administration clings to a “process” that is going nowhere, Iran will undoubtedly use the intervening period to create additional facts on the ground, install more centrifuges, enrich more uranium, and continue to wreak havoc in Syria and plot attacks against U.S. interests and those of our allies. Iran’s strategic calculus remains unaffected.
Stephen Rademaker, one of the witnesses at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 20, testified that Iran has not been “sufficiently persuaded that military force really is in prospect should they fail to come to an acceptable agreement to the problem.”
The key to changing that is a serious debate about the military option. But even in the wake of the collapse of the talks, far too many otherwise serious people continue to hold out hope for a negotiated settlement brought about by increased economic pressure. All additional sanctions should be explored and enacted as soon as possible, but what the track record of more than a decade of negotiations with Iran tells us is that this is not a country about to concede. This is not a regime on the ropes or on the cusp of compromise, as many would have us believe.
This is a regime committed to developing nuclear weapons, despite the cost to the Iranian economy and the toll on the Iranian people. Time is running out and the consequences of inaction for the United States, Israel, and the free world will only increase in the weeks and months ahead. It’s time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Jamie Fly & William Kristol
In Moscow last week for the third round of talks with Iran over its nuclear weapons program this year, the Obama administration came up empty—again. So the White House, with nothing to show for investing in talks with Tehran, now has nothing left to say. The negotiations—aside from a scheduled round of meaningless low-level “technical discussions”—are over.
Perhaps the only surprise is that Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili offered the administration no concessions, no fig leaf, nothing that the White House might be able to package as a breakthrough, or even a building block. But then again, why should the Iranians give Obama anything when he has already given them gratis what they most sought—more time?