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By FLAME (Facts and Logic About the Middle East)

Is this the time to relax or rather increase sanctions on the Islamic Republic?

Despite evasions, denials and equivocations, it is clear that Iran continues to pursue the holy grail of nuclear weapons. A temporary agreement recently struck between Iran and Western powers does nothing to disable Iran’s nuclear weapons development, yet it does loosen hard-won economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. In fact, Iranian diplomats brag that the agreement fails to inhibit them in the least and that their nuclear program will not be stopped. Does it really make sense to relax pressure on Iran, or should the U.S. and Western powers line up additional sanctions should Iran fail to discontinue nuclear weapons development?

What are the facts?

The P5 + 1 group of world powers—the U.S., China, Russia, France, Great Britain and Germany—celebrated when Iran recently agreed to a six-month interim agreement calling for the Islamic Republic to suspend enrichment of 20% uranium. In return, the P5 + 1 agreed to allow Iran to access $4.2 billion in previously blocked funds, and the U.S. agreed to apply no new economic sanctions for six months. Yet Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif says, “We did not agree to dismantle anything,” and its president Hassan Rouhani promises Iran will absolutely retain its enrichment capability.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged that if Iran fails to abide by the interim agreement or to dismantle its nuclear weapons development, he would seek additional economic sanctions and possibly resort to military action. A bill currently before Congress—the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act—would impose just such additional sanctions on Iran if it breaks the interim agreement or does not cease its nuclear weapons program following expiration of this agreement. In other words, the bill formalizes exactly the diplomatic consequences the President has threatened. No wonder the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act is currently supported by at least 59 U.S. Senators, a clear majority.

Distressingly, the President has threatened to veto this act if passed by the Senate. The White House fears that the threat of new sanctions—even though they would not go into effect unless Iran fails to comply—could derail current nuclear disarmament talks.

What are the stakes? The primary targets of the Iranian ayatollahs’ fanatical zeal are the U.S. (the “great Satan”) and Israel (the “little Satan”), perceived as being America’s agent in the Middle East. Since Iran now possesses long-range ballistic missiles, the United States, Europe and many Arab nations are in mortal danger of attack by that country. Indeed, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Richard Durbin notes, “If these [current] negotiations fail, there are two grim alternatives—a nuclear Iran, or war, or perhaps both.”

Even short of such a war, a nuclear-armed Iran would be in unquestioned dominance of the Middle East and of its oil supply, the energy life blood of the entire world. It would surely cause intolerable disruption of the U.S. and international economies.

Israel, however, is the most immediate target of Iran’s fury. Iran’s unquenchable hatred of Israel is based on the conviction that “nonbelievers” have no legitimate place in the Middle East. Iran’s leaders have repeatedly threatened Israel with destruction once they come into possession of nuclear weapons.

Israel is such a small country that one or two nuclear weapons strategically dropped on its narrow coastal territory would destroy it. Indeed, the effects of a nuclear attack on Israel are too horrible to consider. There can be little doubt, for example, that such an attack would turn the entire Middle East into a war zone, leaving wide-spread destruction and a worldwide economic disaster in its wake. Clearly this outcome must be prevented at all cost, and no effort should be spared to keep the hands of the ayatollahs off the nuclear trigger.

What is the solution? Of course, most Americans share the President’s hopes that Iran can be persuaded to set aside its nuclear ambitions—and its vendetta against Israel—through diplomacy and other peaceful means. But one thing is certain: It is crippling Western economic sanctions, backed by the threat of force, that have recently driven Iran to the negotiating table.

Above all, Iran must decommission its nuclear weapons infrastructure. Yet with Iran’s nuclear capability still intact and moving forward and its leaders vigorously asserting that the Islamic Republic will never reduce its 20,000 centrifuges or shut down its Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor or its Fordow enrichment facility, does it make sense to reduce the pressure of economic sanctions now? Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee believes it’s a mistake to relax sanctions: “I am convinced that we should only relieve pressure on Iran in return for verifiable concessions that will fundamentally dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.”

Since sanctions brought the Iranians to the table, sanctions are clearly the most powerful, peaceful means at our disposal for convincing the Iranians to abandon hopes of acquiring nuclear weapons. But because the Iranians continue to declare themselves steadfastly committed to nuclear development, it’s time to ratchet up the economic pressure. The Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act should be passed now. The survival of the world is at stake.

By FLAME
Facts and Logic About the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159

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