House Dems Send Letter on Iran

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A group of powerful House Democrats—Steny Hoyer, Howard Berman, Ike Skelton, Silvestre Reyes, Henry Waxman, Gary Ackerman, and Robert Wexler—have sent Barack Obama a letter seeking to draw limits around his proposed policy of engagement with Iran. Specifically, they state that Iran “must verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program within at most a few months of the initiation of the discussions” and calls for a variety of sanctions ot be leveled if Iran fails to do so.

I think the real meat of this is not so much in the call for an expedited time frame, but in the framing of the goal. It’s one thing to demand that Iran verifiably not build a nuclear weapon. It’s another thing to demand that Iran verifiably not engage in uranium enrichment. Iran is not obliged to eschew enrichment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a number of countries around the world in good non-proliferation standing—Japan, Germany, etc.—are in the position of having demonstrated that kind of know-how. But they’re considered non-nuclear weapons states because they don’t have nuclear weapons. Thus, adopting the more aggressive goal as a red line combined with the more aggressive time frame is basically a way of making it more likely that talks break down.

The perspective reflected in this letter is the ideas that the Israeli government and its proxies in the United States have been pushing for some kind. I appreciate that many members of congress wish to be seen as tough on Iran and as friends to Israel, but I hope members will give deeper consideration to the issues in play here. This approach makes Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon more likely. It also makes more likely an Israeli preventive military attack on Iran that will do more to diplomatically isolate Israel and the United States than it will to deter Iranian acquisition of military nuclear weapons.