Weekly Column

Nov 15 2013

Lessons from History

Recently, United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, joined other foreign leaders in Geneva to participate in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, a source of great concern to our nation and many of our allies. Negotiators returned home without reaching an agreement. 

At this point, most members of Congress haven’t been briefed on the terms of the deal offered by Secretary Kerry. However, the Secretary did update members of the Senate Banking Committee and Senate Democratic leadership this week behind closed doors. Despite this lack of information, what is perfectly clear is that the proposal created great unease among our allies.

The French Foreign Minister described the deal as a “fool’s deal” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that, “the deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal, it’s a very bad deal.”

Press reports indicate their concerns are well founded.

According to these media reports, the administration was prepared to “unfreeze” billions of dollars in Iranian assets by Executive Order – meaning without Congressional approval – in exchange for an agreement by Iran only to “slow its nuclear program.

Many in Congress share our allies’ concern with this basic equation and believe that U.S. sanctions should only be reduced if Iran clearly demonstrates its commitment to a peaceful nuclear program. This would require that the Iranians take tangible steps to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolutions and its treaty obligations.

Suspending the enrichment processes, which the Security Council has demanded Iran do since 2006, would help rebuild the international trust and credibility that Iran has destroyed over the past decade.

Instead, Iran is apparently demanding we concede that it has a “right” to enrich nuclear fuel. Despite the Iranians’ claim, there is no “right” to enrich uranium recognized in international law.

It’s important that we also remain mindful of Iran’s history. Tehran has repeatedly violated their treaty obligations, thwarted international weapons inspectors from doing their jobs, and successfully used negotiations with the West to buy time for their nuclear program to progress.

North Korea used a similar strategy in the 1990s, when it agreed to forego nuclear weapons, only to continue its weapons program in secret. The similarities between recent negotiations with Iran and past negotiations with North Korea do not end there, either. In fact, some of the same negotiators continue to represent U.S. interests. The world knows how that story played out.

Winston Churchill famously stated, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I believe it is critical – both to our national security and to stability in the Middle East – that the same mistakes of the past not be repeated again. 

The United States and our allies must require Iran to take verifiable steps to comply with its international obligations. The Senate Banking Committee is expected to consider additional sanctions on Iran. Though Secretary Kerry is urging lawmakers to stand down, it is exactly this financial pressure that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place.

The administration insists that passing additional sanctions could undercut negotiators.  However, I believe that increasing pressure would demonstrate resolve and make clear to the Iranians that the United States will not weaken its position until Iran dismantles its illegal nuclear program.

The Senate may also consider this issue during its upcoming debate on the defense authorization bill. Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), has indicated he intends to offer an amendment on this issue. I look forward to reviewing proposals put forth and working with my colleagues to move forward towards an effective solution.

I continue to believe our best foreign policy – and our best negotiating position – is one of “peace through strength.” I will push for policies that strengthen, not weaken our hand at the negotiating table.

Thank you for taking part in our democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you again next week.