Senate Republican hawk Lindsey Graham (SC) said on Fox News last night that the U.S. shouldn’t negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program until it accedes to all U.S. demands and gives up its nuclear program entirely. The remark comes after a week where Congress considered a flurry of hawkish legislation and resolutions about Iran ahead of the next round of nuclear talks next week in Baghdad.
Graham offered his curious take on what it means to negotiate — demanding that Iran accept all U.S. demands prior to negotiation — in a conversation with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who indicated that his negotiating tactic was probably a non starter. Graham first emphasized his hawkish bent by noting that the “only way” for an agreement to be reached between the sides was for the U.S. to threaten “a strike by the United States.” He went on:
GRAHAM: Here’s what we should do. We should tell the Iranians, no negotiations, stop enriching, open up the site on the bottom of the mountain, a secret site. Then we will talk about lifting sanctions. You are not going to get to enrich uranium any more, period.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think they will probably stay “go fish” on that one.
Watch the video:
Leave aside that the Fordow site is not “secret” (it’s under U.N. inspections and monitored by camera) and that reports on U.S. and Israeli estimates state that these intelligence agencies don’t believe Iran has made a decision to build nuclear weapons (Graham doubts the intelligence), Graham’s position prompts one to ask: What’s the alternative to negotiations, since Graham is proposing pre-conditions that Iran would never meet? The Senator from South Carolina’s been busy on that front, too — and falsely citing the Obama administration to back himself up. The House yesterday passed a resolution that seeks to shift U.S. “red line” for an attack to an Iranian “nuclear capability” — something Graham mentioned on Fox News — from an Iranian push for nuclear weapons.
While the CIA has laid out a specific definition, the “nuclear capability” language is a complex issue. The word “capability” has a special meaning in the non-proliferation context, but it’s not always clear exactly what. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), one of the Sentae’s most vociferous Iran hawks, said this year, “I guess everybody will determine for themselves what that means.”
Before the House version passed, co-sponsor Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) clarified what he meant by “capability,” defining it as Iran mastering all elements of a weapon and kicking out U.N. inspectors. (The move allayed the fears of some critics that the measure could be interpreted as taking Graham’s hard-line on “no enrichment.”) House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) forthrightly noted that the “capability” language was a shift in U.S. policy that stood in contrast to “decision to develop nuclear weapons.” But Graham was most circumspect in defending his version of the bill on the Senate floor yesterday, conflating “capability” with the Obama administration red line of “weaponization.”
But Graham is wrong that blocking an Iranian nuclear “capability” is, as he said, an “echo (of) a policy statement made by President Obama.” In March, Obama committed (again) to “preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and that it was “unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon” — not a “capability.” He added, “I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said: “The United States… does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”
While a potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, as well as the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The intelligence estimates give the West time to pursue a dual-track approach of pressure and diplomacy to resolve the crisis. Questions about the efficacy and consequences of a strike have led U.S. officials to declare that diplomacy is the “best and most permanent way” to resolve the crisis.