Last month, news of a second secret Iranian nuclear facility set off alarm bells in Israel and in America, and for good reason. Yes, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to insist that the new nuclear facility is part of a plan to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but his duplicity is painfully obvious.
If Ahmadinejad’s brutality toward political opponents and the fraud committed during his recent election were not sufficient reasons to distrust him, consider the illogic of his claim. Iran is the world’s number two exporter of oil and a large exporter of natural gas. Despite its energy wealth, it remains a very poor country. Poor countries with virtually unlimited supplies of cheap carbon-based energy don’t spend billions of dollars enriching uranium for peaceful nuclear energy. Iran wants the bomb.
In a further testimony to its true intentions, Iran test-fired missiles capable of hitting targets across the Middle East only weeks ago, presumably to send a message to Israel, America’s most important ally in the Middle East. Just in case Israel didn’t get the message, Iran’s defense minister warned that an Israeli attack would result in “the last breath of the Zionist regime.”
The latest developments shouldn’t come as a surprise. Iran has long flouted U.N. resolutions demanding that it suspend its nuclear-enrichment activities and open up its nuclear facilities to inspection. Its attitude toward Israel is openly threatening, from financing the terrorist group Hezbollah to explicitly denying Israel’s right to exist, and even denying the Holocaust. Most disturbing, the Iranian leadership embraces an apocalyptic worldview that celebrates violence and suicide. Nuclear weapons in the hands of such a brutal regime can only spell disaster, and even more so if Iran decides to pass along its newly acquired bomb to some of its terrorist friends.
Clearly, the status quo is unacceptable.
Washington’s current approach is wrong. The policy of “carrot and stick” diplomacy includes too much “carrot” and too little “stick.” As we engage in protracted negotiations and issue repeated threats–instead of acting–we are giving the Iranians the time they need to develop nuclear weapons.
Consider the administration’s current message to Iran. President Obama warned Tehran that it “must pursue a new course or face consequences”—either open up its nuclear program to international scrutiny or face sanctions. This strategy is exactly backwards. Iran long ago lost the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt. Ahmadinejad will coast on the U.S.’s naïveté as long as we let him. Instead, the administration should waste no time in imposing the toughest possible economic sanctions and say: “We will lift the sanctions when you suspend your nuclear program and permit comprehensive verification.”
Many in Congress understand the importance of using the diplomatic “stick.” The vast majority of members of Congress in both the House and the Senate are sponsoring legislation to do that.
The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is a bipartisan bill that would require President Obama to sanction foreign firms that sell, ship, or insure gasoline and diesel fuel to Iran, unless Iran agrees to drop its nuclear ambitions. To date, 75 senators and 321 representatives have co-sponsored the legislation.
The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act would authorize state and local government to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with large investments in Iran’s energy sector. To date, 34 senators and 247 representatives in both parties have co-sponsored this important legislation.
As a U.S. senator, I would strongly back both measures.
The question for Pennsylvanians is: Why aren’t Sen. Arlen Specter’s and Rep. Joe Sestak’s names on either of these bills? The vast majority of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, including Sen. Robert Casey, has signed on to one or both of these bills. There is a bipartisan consensus that it is time for the U.S. to trade in the carrot for the diplomatic stick. Unfortunately, Senator Specter and Representative Sestak are content with the status quo.
Mr. Sestak went one step further last week, criticizing Israel for prioritizing the increasingly dangerous Iranian situation over the Palestinian conflict. This is in keeping with his history of aligning himself with anti-Israel groups. In 2007, he was the keynote speaker at a banquet and fundraiser for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR is famous for refusing to acknowledge that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations.
Make no mistake: Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons and will not be deterred by hollow warnings. Ultimately, the Iranian rulers will drop their nuclear-weapons program only when they are convinced that their power is more secure without nuclear weapons than with them. This is a difficult sell. But more conversations and dialogue, without real sanctions, will certainly not achieve that goal. We must maximize the Iranian regime’s discomfort immediately, in the hope of avoiding a dreadful choice someday between living with a nuclear-armed Iran and joining Israel in a war to stop Iran from going nuclear.
– Pat Toomey is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.