For too long, the Iranian regime has played hide and seek with the U.S. and other countries regarding its nuclear weapons program. Last week, the House took a critical step to end this deadly game.
Just days before the 30th anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs took up the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. This bipartisan legislation, which Rep. Howard Berman, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I introduced, and which enjoys the support of well over 300 co-sponsors, targets one of Iran’s major weaknesses, namely its need to import gasoline and other refined petroleum products. By placing financial sanctions on U.S. and foreign companies providing Iran with this crucial resource, Iran’s already weak economy would be crippled.
We must take tough measures such as this because it is now clear that the diplomatic route alone will not work. The revelation that Tehran has been building a second secret uranium enrichment plant is proof that the policy of “accommodation and concessions” pursued by the Bush Administration in its second term and augmented by the policy of “direct engagement with the Iranian regime” followed by the Obama Administration has failed.
Years of proposed negotiations and repeated offers of cooperation have done nothing to slow Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon. The clerical regime’s acceptance of repeated pleas by the U.S. and our European allies to participate in discussions on improving relations has been coupled with expressions of contempt, the first being its statement that the nuclear issue is off the table, the other the recent launch of advanced missiles capable of striking U.S. forces and our allies, Israel foremost among them.
Endless efforts to persuade our allies and other countries to take measures to pressure Iran have produced next to nothing in terms of effective sanctions. Those adopted by the United Nations Security Council were gutted by Russia and China to little more than slaps on the wrist. Far from alarming Tehran, these baby steps have convinced the regime that it is free to proceed without fear of punishment.
This situation is unlikely to change. Russia and China will continue to serve as Iran’s protectors and veto any harsh measures. And our allies in Europe and elsewhere are unlikely to strengthen sanctions sufficiently to inflict real pain on Tehran.
That is why the U.S. must be prepared to act alone, if necessary, and bring every weapon in its arsenal to bear. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is one such tool. But, while imposing these sanctions would be a major step forward, it is not a magic bullet and must be coupled with actions on all fronts.
Some would be virtually effortless. At a minimum, the U.S. should specifically reject Iran’s claim to an inalienable right to produce nuclear fuel and instead openly state that we will not allow the regime to use this claim as cover for a nuclear weapons program.
Although we must do all that we can to persuade our allies to act with us, we can no longer allow them to restrain us. Given the urgency of stopping this rapidly growing threat to our security and that of the world, the U.S. must make clear that we will reassess our relations with other countries around the world, including our allies, depending on their actions to help us.
The stakes go well beyond Iran. Every regime dreaming of nuclear weapons is watching the West’s huffing and puffing and learning that defiance is likely to be rewarded by bribes and pleas, a path already blazed by North Korea. We cannot allow another demonstration of our weakness to embolden our enemies to ever-greater threats.
Chamberlain’s plea to talk over problems with Hitler in order to satisfy his “reasonable” demands brought not peace but catastrophe.
We must put away the begging bowl and pick up the stick. For only when we have convinced Iran that we are prepared to act will there be a chance of preventing this nightmare from becoming a reality.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), is the Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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