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No Deal without Congress

March 27, 2015
Weekly Columns

With the March 31 deadline for initial negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 just days away, I am very concerned by the president’s failure to consult Congress and his lack of stated intention to do so. Concern over what the new framework could include for Iran’s nuclear program is not a partisan issue. In fact, members on both sides of the aisle have told the president to err on the side of caution and remember the history of our relationship with Iran. 

Since 1984, Iran has been designated by the U.S. Department of State as a sponsor of terrorism around the world. Without question, this designation has set a precedent in our relationship, causing the distrust and understandable caution in our dealings with the country. And for years, Iran’s tendency to deceive has only become more pronounced, further alienating the Iranian regime from the United States and our allies. 

A few days ago, out of grave concern about the direction of the negotiations, I joined my colleagues in urging the president to think long and hard about the deal he reportedly intends to secure. In the bipartisan letter signed by 367 House members, we reminded the president that a “final comprehensive nuclear agreement must constrain Iran’s nuclear infrastructure so that Iran has no pathway to a bomb, and that agreement must be long-lasting.” 

As we reminded the president in the letter, Iran hasn’t complied with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by fully reporting its past bomb work, so its real progress in acquiring and building the bomb is essentially unknown. In addition to this lack of cooperation with IAEA, inspectors have voiced their concern about questionable military activity in Iran, including design of a nuclear payload for a missile. Obviously, these signs add doubt that Iran should be a negotiating partner at all. Because the Iranian regime has been deceptive in the past, it’s to be expected that the same precedent will hold—no matter what they promise or how nicely they promise it.

Unfortunately, the president appears to be more interested in reaching a historic deal, rather than being shrewd about what the terms of the agreement will mean long-term for America’s safety and security, as well as for our allies. Once again, he’s going about it alone when Congress could and should be able to help come to the right deal—or recommend that we walk away if that proves to be impossible. 

Even though the Administration wants a deal, the only acceptable agreement in my view is one that permanently eliminates Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Iran cannot be allowed to build an atomic bomb, and the only way we can prevent that from becoming a reality is by eliminating—not simply limiting—the means to do that. 

Unfortunately, several concessions have already reportedly been made. Nuclear infrastructure in Iran will remain robust, and inspections will lack the ability to enforce sanctions for violations. Even if sanctions were imposed, Iran only has to wait until the agreement has expired in 10 years before the country would legally be allowed to continue pursuit of nuclear weapons. 

We should absolutely not reward past bad behavior and deception with fewer restrictions. Gambling on the remote possibility that Iran actually honors any so-called agreement with the rest of the civilized world is risky and highly unlikely. 

Until and unless we are certain that Iran can be trusted—and that time doesn’t appear to be in the immediate or foreseeable future—there’s no reason to risk a bad deal simply for the sake of reaching a deal. As I’ve said before, I believe the president has a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure Iran doesn’t acquire the atomic bomb. If his negotiations fall short of that objective, Congress has an obligation to reject and block his actions.