Congress and Iran Policy

February 13, 2012

With today’s announcement by Iran that it might “fully operationalize” its Fordo facility over the coming days and claims by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that Iran is responsible for attacks on Israeli embassies abroad, it is time for a calm look at the best strategy for dealing with Iran. The administration and Congress together need options at their disposal to offer an “exit ramp” for Iran. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pointed out this weekend, the diplomatic option remains the best way to pursue American interests. She writes, “we must develop a creative, bold strategy that takes an honest look at the interests of all sides. Only then can we begin to find common ground and outline steps toward an agreement.”

Don’t confine U.S. options at sensitive time. Last week, Yahoo! News reported on a “bipartisan group of senators–Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)–are circulating a draft resolution that would rule out the United States adopting a strategy of containment should Iran acquire nuclear weapons. The measure, called a ‘Sense of the Senate’ resolution, is not technically binding. But it would put additional pressure on the administration to limit diplomatic efforts to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, without recourse to another war… Notably, one provision of the draft resolution seemingly rejects a negotiated agreement with Iran permitting any sort of nuclear enrichment, including for energy programs–a right Iran has insisted it should be permitted as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Politico reports on analysts’ concerns that the resolution is “designed to ratchet up the pressure on the Obama administration for a military response against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told Politico that, “A permanent Iranian uranium-enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, but it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and it is not realistic given the strong support for maintaining Iran’s right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities, including enrichment, across the political spectrum in Iran… [the resolution] would contradict longstanding U.S. policy and might imply that this resolution is a prelude to war and that the Congress no longer supports a peaceful resolution  to the situation.” [Laura Rozen, 2/8/12. Politico, 2/9/12. Daryl Kimball via Politico, 2/9/12]

Senator Feinstein (D-CA), joining bipartisan leaders in statecraft and security, calls for diplomatic option as best solution. In a letter to the New York Times, Senator Dianne Feinstein backs what experts in nonproliferation and international security have been calling for regarding Iran: a negotiated solution. She writes, “As calls for a military solution to deal with Iran’s nuclear program increase, William H. Luers and Thomas R. Pickering make a compelling case that a better option remains on the table: diplomacy. As Mr. Luers and Mr. Pickering suggest, we must develop a creative, bold strategy that takes an honest look at the interests of all sides. Only then can we begin to find common ground and outline steps toward an agreement… We may not succeed, but given the risks surrounding a military strike, we should at least try.” This is precisely what military, intelligence and diplomatic leaders have been calling for:

Ambs. William Luers, former ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Venezuela, and  Thomas Pickering former undersecretary of state and ambassador to to Russia, Israel, Jordan and the United Nations: “There is no guarantee that diplomacy will succeed. But that is also true of war. And only diplomacy can offer Iran’s current rulers a stake in building a secure future without a nuclear bomb. Only diplomacy can achieve America’s major objectives while avoiding the mistakes committed in Iraq or Vietnam.” [William Luers and Thomas Pickering,  2/2/12]

Paul Pillar, former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia: “What is needed now are not precondition games but serious, broadly scoped negotiations.” [Paul Pillar, 1/31/12]

Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations: “As Western leaders back Iran into a corner and as they are locking themselves into a war policy they haven’t seriously contemplated and don’t really want, now is the time to offer a deal. The peace package is simple: Iran keeps its uranium facilities but with capabilities to enrich reduced to levels fit only for civilian use. Tehran also agrees to the tightest international verification procedures. The West lifts sanctions gradually as Iran complies with both reconfiguring its nuclear plants and accepts the necessary verification. For sure, President Obama has tried similar proposals before. This time, however, Iran may find that the biting economic pressures make the deal more palatable. For sure, neither I nor anyone else knows whether Iran will accept this time. But I do know this: if we don’t at least try the negotiating track, a war of untold uncertainties and dangers can come upon us.” [Les Gelb, 1/30/12]

[Dianne Feinstein, 2/10/12]

 Voices across the board on why diplomacy is preferable to a military strike.

American military experts: Joe Sestak, former Congressman and retired 3-star Navy Admiral said: “A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security.” [Joe Sestak via Think Progress, 9/20/11]

American diplomatic experts: Ambassador James Dobbins, Bush administration special envoy to Afghanistan: “Threats of military action, and even more its actual conduct, will only have the opposite effect: reducing Iran’s isolation, increasing its influence, promoting domestic solidarity, and reinforcing the case for building and deploying nuclear weapons as soon as possible.” [James Dobbins, 11/16/11]

Bipartisan members of congress: Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: When asked about the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, Chairman Rogers said, “My argument is this is too important for us not to get this right. If Israel does a unilateral strike this could be a real problem for the national security interests of the United States.” When host Candy Crowley followed up, “Well it lights the Middle East on fire basically,” Rogers responded, “Absolutely.” [Mike Rogers, 2/5/12]

Israeli security experts: Meir Dagan, former Mossad chief, has been a passionate voice against a strike. Last year Haaretz reported that, “Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan referred to the possibility a future Israeli Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as ‘the stupidest thing I have ever heard’ during a conference held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem…When asked about what would happen in the aftermath of an Israeli attack Dagan said that: ‘It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.’” [Meir Dagan via Haaretz, 5/7/11]

Iranian dissidents: Geneive Abdo, director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation, recently reported on a meeting in Sweden of Iranian activists groups: “About 50 activists, including university professors, lawyers and students now living outside Iran, met on February 4th and 5th at a snow-covered retreat outside Stockholm. …I was an observer at this meeting and was struck by how factions who had been at odds for many years – from Kurds to staunch secularists to Green movement leaders – tried to reach common ground. Most voiced opposition to a military strike against Iran, even though they all agreed that the current government should be toppled. They felt an attack would directly or indirectly harm the population, empower the regime and cause severe instability in the region when Iran retaliates.” [Geneive Abdo, 2/6/12]

What We’re Reading

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UN diplomats prepare to vote on a draft resolution that would “strongly condemn” human rights violations by Syrian officials.

The Pakistani Supreme Court indicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt after his reluctance to pursue old corruption cases against the country’s president.

The alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing went on trial in Indonesia.

The number of Nigerians living on less than $1 a day increased to 100 million despite the country’s strong economic growth.

Japanese authorities claim a defective thermometer is likely responsible for rising temperatures inside a stricken nuclear reactor at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay member of parliament, pushes the conservative country to take on the battle for gay rights.

Former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki announced that Sudan and South Sudan have signed a pact of nonaggression, though disagreements remain regarding oil revenues.

Venezuelan candidate of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition Henrique Capriles won 62% of the vote and will face President Hugo Chavez in October.

A UN Security Council delegation arrived in Haiti to examine the situation two years after the country suffered a devastating earthquake.

Commentary of the Day

Brig. Gen. (Ret) John Adams and Phil Lopes argue against a McCain budget plan that would risk American prosperity.

Ho Pin paints a picture of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping ahead of his visit to Washington.

Leslie Gelb makes the case for not rushing into Syria.

Hossein Mousavian details options for engaging Iran.

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