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There Should Be No Sanctions Relief

November 13, 2013
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks out about Iran before meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90

All the parties with a stake in the negotiations with Iran need to take a deep breath. Rather than continuing the heated rhetoric emanating in the wake of a near-deal in Geneva, it’s time to forge a better strategy that will achieve what the world most needs — an Iran no longer on the path toward producing nuclear weapons.

After the weekend talks in Geneva between the world powers and Iran failed to produce an agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he felt the Obama administration was pursuing “a very bad and dangerous deal.” And he may be right.

While the full details of the collapsed deal have not been revealed, it reportedly included some easing of sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing its nuclear program for six months while a more comprehensive agreement is negotiated. It also would have allowed some continued uranium enrichment, which Israel believes would enable the Iranians to progress toward a weapon.

The idea of a six-month complete freeze on Iran’s nuclear activity is a good strategy — if the necessary conditions to verify compliance are put in place.

But such a freeze should not be coupled with any rewards. Lifting any sanctions at this time would be a colossal mistake. Nearly all parties agree that it was the international economic pressure that brought the Iranians to the table in the first place. Loosening any restrictions, no matter how minor, would threaten the global resolve — possibly irreversibly — that took years to consolidate.

In the end, it appears that both France and Iran had their reasons for scuttling the deal. The Iranians reportedly are insisting that any agreement include a clause that codifies their right to enrich uranium. Iran has no such right nor should it be allowed to think it does.

If Tehran really wants to strike a deal, it must agree to roll back its nuclear program, eliminate its weapons capability and be open to vigorous monitoring to ensure compliance. Only then can sanctions relief be negotiated.

The parties are slated to return to the negotiating table later this month. We can’t give up on a deal because the fact remains that a military option is the last — and least desirable — resort for Israel and the United States. But the intense desire to find a diplomatic solution cannot be clouded by naive expectations that giving in prematurely will propel a resolution.

Congress is currently considering strengthening sanctions, not lifting them. It is important to let our lawmakers know that sanctions should remain a powerful stick even as the diplomatic process continues.

The threat from Iran remains clear and present. We don’t have the luxury of risking a bad deal.

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