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Senate should support stronger sanctions legislation against Iran

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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)

This week in Washington there is much discussion on what to do if Iran either reneges on its promises in the Geneva or refuses, in the end, to give up most or its entire nuclear program. 

The Senate will consider further sanctions that would give the president, if diplomacy fails, the ability to act boldly and swiftly to pressure the Iranians into an agreement acceptable to the West.

There is some precedent here as the president asked Congress for legislation on the use of force to enhance diplomacy to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capability just months ago. And, historically, the Senate has played a major role in crafting American foreign policy. 

Additional sanctions against Iran are important because the mullahs have strong reasons to keep their nuclear program going.

From its early approval of the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the United Nations in 1945 and Marshall Plan in 1948 to Senate authorization of World War I and World War II and Persian Gulf War I and Persian Gulf War II, the Senate has played a role in all of these important foreign policy decisions.

Many key Senators, from J. William Fulbright, Chuck Percy and Jacob Javits to John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, have played significant roles in helping to craft American foreign policy. So why doesn’t President Obama welcome Congressional legislation creating additional sanctions to back up his efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program?

These additional sanctions are important because the mullahs have strong reasons to keep their nuclear program going. Iran is now within striking distance of exploding an atomic bomb, which would make it a major power in the Middle East and threaten countries it sees as hostile (such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE).   

Domestically, the nuclear program is a big winner politically, as it is favored by 80 percent of Iranians. And, nuclear weapons would deter any Western effort, as in 1941 and 1953, to overthrow the regime.

Just how dangerous is a nuclear Iran? 

A nuclear Iran would rapidly lead to an arms race in the Middle East, with several countries probably acquiring nuclear weapons. 

The radical Islamist forces in the region will be reinforced and the more moderate pro-American states discouraged and feeling under threat to their very survival. 

By 2020, according to a dated report, Iran may will have ICBMs that could hit the East Coast of the United States. Even before then Iran may well be able to hit Western and Central Europe with nuclear weapons. Therefore, the diplomatic effort to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program is vital to American national security.

Tough sanctions have worked and brought Iran, for the first time ever, to the bargaining table. 

Iran remains highly vulnerable to economic sanctions because of the pitiful state of its economy.  

A United Nations study ranked Iranian GDP/capita 82nd in the world, below that of Botswana. 

A World Bank study showed the ease of doing business in Iran is 152nd in the world, below that of Libera. 

Another World Bank study showed that in getting electricity Iran ranks 166th in the world, below that of Swaziland. A new round of sanctions will ensure that Iran will have to choose between total economic destitution (with likely political unrest as a consequence) or give up their nuclear program.

Have the mullahs in Iran ever given up before? Yes, but only under extreme duress.  

In 1987 Grand Ayatollah Khomeini “drank from the silver chalice” and ended the war against Iraq when he realized that even more massive casualties would not bring victory. 

In 2003 Grand Ayatollah Khameini slowed down the nuclear program when the American army took Baghdad. 

This new round of sanctions will give President Obama the leverage to ensure that Iran will have no choice but to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  Adelman has written several books on Russia and was Condoleezza Rice’s doctoral adviser.  

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