Iran: Congress must provide urgency

As we woke up this morning, the Islamic Republic of Iran was supplying money and weapons to radical terrorist organizations and governments in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, and it was advancing further down the path toward producing its own nuclear weapons. Since the president began negotiations with the Iranians, their efforts in each of these areas have expanded, not contracted. Iran is playing us for fools, and time is running short before the most dangerous regime in the world has the most destructive weapon in the world. If the White House lacks a sense of urgency about this unfolding nightmare, then Congress must provide it.

Soon, the U.S. Senate will consider restoring economic sanctions on Iran to prod its extremist theocratic government into giving up its nuclear-weapons program. I support that effort and want to see the legislation contain three essential elements.

First, we should pass a sanctions bill at least as strong as the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013, which had considerable bipartisan support and included some of the more rigorous ideas I am now advocating.

President Obama has opposed the Nuclear Weapons Free Act of 2013, arguing that the mere passage of these prospective, conditional sanctions would cause the Iranians to abandon negotiations. If the president is right, then Iran is not serious about reaching an agreement, and we might as well know that now. If Iran is serious about negotiating an end to its nuclear-weapons pursuit, then the threat of additional sanctions will clearly communicate to the Iranian regime that we raise its cost of acquiring nuclear weapons to an unacceptably high level. Only when Iran is forced to choose between the economic viability of its country and possession of the bomb will the mullahs be likely to forego the bomb.

Second, the President should seek to preclude any uranium-enrichment capability by Iran in a final agreement. In a statement on November 23, 2013, President Obama said: “Iran, like any nation, should be able to access peaceful nuclear energy. But because of its record of violating its obligations, Iran must accept strict limitations on its nuclear program that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.”

The capacity to enrich uranium is not necessary for a peaceful nuclear-energy program. Many countries operate nuclear generation with enriched uranium bought from others. The only reason a country would insist on maintaining uranium enrichment is that it wishes to retain the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is now willing to permit Iranian enrichment of uranium. Instead of insisting on making it “impossible” to develop a nuclear weapon, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told the Senate Banking Committee that “the critical test is whether we reach an agreement that makes sure that it would take [Iran] at least one year to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon.”

Clearly, the benchmark for a good agreement has been changed, in Iran’s favor, since President Obama initially took us down this path. An agreement permitting meaningful uranium enrichment leaves America and our allies in grave danger.

Finally, Congress should vote on any agreement that pertains to Iran’s nuclear program. Congress has often voted on treaties and trade agreements that allow for the exchange of peaceful nuclear technology and material between the United States and other countries – such as Japan and India.

A nuclear-weapons deal with Iran is certainly no less important. In addition, congressional approval would make a pact more durable. Our national-security interest in preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons will extend far beyond the 18 months that will remain in this administration’s term by the time a deal might be reached. Such a consequential step should have the national commitment that comes from a bipartisan consensus in Congress.

We must act now. Congress should pass a strong sanctions bill, to go into effect prospectively and conditionally, if by the June deadline Iran fails, for a third time, to agree to end its nuclear-weapons program. We should require Iran to eliminate its uranium-enrichment capability so we are never mere months away from an Iranian nuclear bomb. And any agreement must be ratified by Congress before becoming effective.

Iran has shown neither good faith nor restraint. It has serially violated the terms of the current interim agreement and is now rampaging through the Middle East, continuing its control of Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, propping up Syria’s President Assad while he massacres hundreds of thousands of his own people, exerting more power in Iraq, and, last week, through proxies, overthrowing a pro-American government in Yemen. Yes, we should be negotiating with Iran. But, no, we cannot trust it. We must apply pressure on Iran consistently and firmly.

Restoring the threat of tough sanctions and ensuring that Congress will have the final say on any agreement may be our only hope for keeping this destructive weapon out of dangerous hands.

Toomey is the junior U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.