Congressman Says Those Pushing To ‘Zero Out’ Iran’s Nuclear Program Don’t Want A Deal

CREDIT: AP/Amr Nabil

A Democratic member of Congress leading the push for diplomacy with Iran said on Monday that it’s unrealistic to expect Tehran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and permanently cease all uranium enrichment as part of a final agreement with the U.S. and its international partners on its nuclear program.

“I don’t believe that there is a deal that Iran can agree to that will completely zero out their program,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “So I think that anyone who insists on that provision basically is insisting that there not be a final deal.” (Indeed, many who claim to support diplomacy but say Iran should not be allowed to enrich uranium have been calling for war with the Islamic Republic for years.)

Ellison, who spoke about his new book at an event at the Center for American Progress on Monday, noted that the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, allows signatories a peaceful, civilian program and treating Iran “differently from other countries who are signatories” would only force them to walk away from negotiations. “The region is a lot more secure if Iran agrees to an inspection regime and that we make sure that they do even what they themselves say they only want to do which is to have a civilian enrichment program for energy and perhaps medical uses,” he said.

The Minnesota Democrat added that the White House was correct to suggest that some lawmakers who are calling for additional sanctions on Iran are essentially pushing for war. “I’m glad they didn’t back down,” Ellison said. “I believe that their position is correct and the people who took offense to it I think there’s a certain burden on them to prove that they have something in mind other than a war.”

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in his upcoming visit to the U.S., he “would demand the complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program before sanctions are further lifted, calling for ‘zero centrifuges’ in the Islamic Republic.”

But Ellison’s statements line up with the White House on a potential end-state on Iran’s program. President Obama argued recently that the option of totally dismantling Iran’s nuclear program is “not available.” And even members of Israel’s security establishment have said that allowing Iran some kind of civilian enrichment program as part of the final deal would be a “reasonable” outcome.

Momentum for a Senate bill to put more sanctions on Iran now has completely disappeared after the White House and experts argued it would scuttle talks with Iran and could lead to war. The fight on the bill has now increasingly become a partisan Republican one. One day after 42 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calling for a floor vote on the sanctions bill, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), one of the bill’s main champions, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee backed off.

Meanwhile, the House is reportedly considering its own hard-line Iran measure but at the same time, nearly one quarter of the lower chamber’s members have signed on to a letter promoting a diplomatic solution.

“The best way to keep a nuclear weapon out of the hands of Iran is through diplomacy,” said Ellison, who also touched on other pressing Middle East issues in his interview with ThinkProgress.

Referring to recent news that the U.S. government has relaxed entry requirements for Syrian refugees applying for asylum in the United States, Ellison noted that the U.S. has done more than any other country to help the humanitarian crisis in Syria but that it could do more. “It’s important to recognize that the United States is already supplying more money to Syrian refugees than anybody else,” he said, but added that U.S. should increase its quota: “These people are in miserable, horrible circumstances and if they go back home they will be murdered.”

Ellison also praised Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together in what some, including Kerry himself, have said could be the final push for a two-state solution to the conflict. “I think that would be a huge mistake,” Ellison said, if both sides don’t take this opportunity to come to an agreement, adding that Israel risks being “defined by the occupation” of the Palestinian territories. If the talks fail, he said, “I think there needs to be some real reflection on folks here in the United States who won’t get behind a resolution.”