Last week, negotiators from the P5+1 group of countries and Iran agreed to extend their talks regarding a comprehensive nuclear deal until late November.
Missing from the discussion about the extension is a fundamental question that the Obama administration is glossing over. What is the U.S. relationship with Iran going to look like after the negotiations even if a nuclear deal is concluded? Administration officials have avoided discussing this, just as they did before finalizing the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). At that time, the administration was loath to admit that an Iranian enrichment capability would be acceptable after years of U.S. policy that clearly stated that Iran must halt all enrichment. The reality is that no credible deal with Iran would allow for domestic Iranian enrichment at any level.
Similarly, the White House claims that the JPOA and now this four-month extension of negotiations do not limit America’s ability to target ongoing Iranian support for terrorism or its human-rights abuses. But the administration has avoided any provocative actions on these issues since the negotiations began.
This approach is the opposite of that of past American presidents, most notably President Ronald Reagan. Reagan coupled arms-control negotiations with a clear-eyed assessment of the nature of the regime he was dealing with and spoke out clearly and consistently about what the Soviet Union represented. He forcefully advanced a human-rights agenda in concert with talks about nuclear disarmament.
This method of negotiation began with the Ford administration and was realized, in part, through the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which introduced a human-rights basket into what were primarily security discussions between the United States, Europeans, and the Soviet Union. This focus on Soviet human rights was subsequently championed by the Reagan administration. It laid the groundwork for increasing Soviet transparency about internal matters and, eventually, for political change.
In the case of Iran, the U.S. government speaks frankly, but only through arcane State Department reports and fact sheets. The latest Country Report on Terrorism states that in 2013, “Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished.” Not mentioned is the fact that this sponsorship of terrorism is now abetted by the sanctions relief provided by the United States and Europe.
In reality, one need look no further than the headlines from Gaza, Iraq, or Syria to see the reach of Iran and its terrorist proxies. Less reported, but even more worrisome, are the efforts of Iran to develop a presence in our own hemisphere. In 2011, the regime went so far as to plot an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant.
Five years after the brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement, and under the supposed moderate rule of President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian people continue to suffer. Human-rights groups report that more than two people are executed every day in Iran. Violations of press freedom and denial of Iranians’ fundamental rights are routine.
Yet these issues related to Iranian behavior are not raised in the gilded salons of Geneva and Vienna where negotiators are meeting.
We need to recognize Iran for what it is — the world’s leading exporter of terrorism that violates its citizens’ rights on a daily basis. Iran’s record goes to the heart of whether it can be trusted to comply with any deal that may be reached over the next four months.
So how should we use the four-month extension?
First, do not make additional concessions to Tehran. President Obama should stop simply declaring his willingness to walk away from a “bad deal” and actually follow through on his threats. If his goal is to prevent Iran’s dash toward a nuclear weapon, then, on the technical merits, the negotiations seem to be failing.
Second, we need to increase pressure on Iran on all fronts. This means increasing, not halting, sanctions, including those related to terrorism and human-rights abuses. Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. As any good negotiator knows, it is only with pressure that the best deals are achieved.
Third, we need to remember that Iran in the past has halted key elements of its nuclear program only when military force was threatened. We should ensure that the U.S. threat of military action, which even President Obama insists remains on the table, remains credible.
So, in essence, go big, Mr. President. Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, tackle the core issue — Iran’s behavior and its trustworthiness as a negotiating partner.
In his memoirs, President Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz recounted telling his Soviet counterpart that when a regime suppresses its own people, “the international community can never be sure that such a nation will be bound by its commitments.”
This remains as true in 2014 as it was in 1987. Unless we are honest about the people we are dealing with, any deal that is reached in the next four months won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.
— Marco Rubio, the junior U.S. senator from Florida, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Select Intelligence Committee.