A key Senate Republican on foreign affairs said on Wednesday that diplomacy with Iran has its limitations and that negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program will ultimately fail, resulting in U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) — who serves on the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, and is a presumptive GOP presidential candidate in 2016 — spoke on the Senate floor this week in favor of voting on a measure to impose additional sanctions on Iran, a move that Republicans have been pushing in recent weeks without much success.
But Rubio added that “additional sanctions are no guarantee that [Iran] will never get a [nuclear] weapon,” saying that if Iran is allowed to keep elements of its nuclear processing capabilities as part of a final agreement currently being negotiated with the P5+1, “they will build a weapon.” Rubio added, “That is not a matter of opinion; in my mind, that is a matter of fact.”
Either way, the Florida Republican — whose top foreign policy aide has called for war with Iran — said that he doesn’t believe diplomacy can end the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear program. “I appreciate the work that diplomats working in the State Deparment do. There is a role for diplomacy in the world,” he said, but he added:
“But, I think diplomacy also requires you to understand its limitations. It is very difficult to negotiate settlements and agreements with governments and individuals who don’t ever feel bound by them. Who see them as one way streets. Who see them as tactics and vehicles to buy time. And that’s what we’re dealing with here.”
So if, according to Rubio, the U.S. is dealing with a government that can’t be reasoned with, what happens next? As he said later in his floor speech, Rubio believes the U.S. military will ultimately have to step in. “[I]t is our men and women in uniform we are going to turn to — when this thing ends up the way I know it will — and ask them to take care of this problem”:
“If in the end these negotiations fail, and I tragically have to say they are destined to fail, and Iran retains their enrichment capability and eventually develops a nuclear weapon, it is the men and women in uniform of these United States — our sons, our daughters, our neighbors, our friends, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, and our fathers — whom we will ask, as we always do, to go solve the problem for us.”
“But if we put in place sanctions that clearly articulate and lay out the price they will have to pay to continue with these ambitions, we may be able to delay that, and even prevent it; otherwise, that day will come,” Rubio concluded.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) quashed attempts by Senate Republicans to include an Iran sanctions measure to military sexual assault legislation and a bill to help the nation’s veterans. “Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix,” Reid said on Wednesday, “insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans.”
Many Republicans, as Rubio said in his floor speech on Wednesday, say they will accept nothing less than a final deal with Iran that totally dismantles its capabilities to enrich uranium. But most experts believe that outcome is unrealistic. Even President Obama has said that option is “not available” because “the technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet; the knowledge of creating a nuclear weapons is already out there.”
Indeed, many Iran hawks who want more sanctions and “zero enrichment” have been calling for war with Iran for quite some time. “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 recently. “So I think that anyone who insists on that provision basically is insisting that there not be a final deal.”
Perhaps this is why the White House last month called out senators for pushing more Iran sanctions. “If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” a White House spokesperson said. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a [sanctions] bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”
Polling shows that most Americans disagree with Rubio and favor a diplomatic approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. Moreover, a new bipartisan expert report found that passing new sanctions on Iran now would lead to a break-down of diplomacy, isolate the U.S. from its negotiating partners and embolden hard-liners in Tehran.