Time for Obama to use sanctions against Iran

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Wednesday, Obama administration negotiators will join China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany to try once again to talk Iran out of its illicit nuclear program. Secretary of State Clinton recently said these negotiations are about “testing” Iran’s intentions on its nuclear program.

There was news this morning that Iran had agreed to start the process of cooperating with an international investigation into its nuclear program. While I am hopeful that the Iranians are serious, it’s not the first time they have promised cooperation.

Iran has failed every test we’ve given over the past three years. The Obama administration refuses to admit it. Vice President Biden bragged recently about this administration’s leadership on Iran. Rather than blaming Iran, he blamed America for problems with Iran in the past.

President Obama’s first test of Iran came in his Inaugural Address. He said to Iran: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” The President reportedly followed-up on his rhetoric by sending two letters to Iran’s Supreme Leader in 2009. Iran responded by clenching its fist even tighter.

In September 2009, the U.S. intelligence community confirmed that Iran was continuing to build a covert uranium enrichment facility.

Undeterred, negotiators attempted again to engage Iran. In October 2009, western countries cobbled together a proposal known as a fuel swap.

Iran claims it needs to enrich uranium for “medical purposes.” Under the deal, Iran would give up much of its less-enriched uranium and other countries would swap it for uranium enriched to the necessary level of purity.

Iran rejected this offer.

In February 2010, Iran announced that it would enrich the uranium itself. Obviously it was interested in having the ability to enrich uranium, not just having the finished product for medical purposes.

In November 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was installing more advanced equipment to speed up the pace of its enrichment. This enhanced capability will make it possible for Iran to build nuclear weapons even more quickly.

Last month, the US tried once more to negotiate with Iran. Secretary Clinton declared at the time that what came out of the first meeting was “a commitment to a second meeting.” That second meeting will begin Wednesday in Baghdad.


It is clear from Iran’s recent history that more meetings are unlikely to yield real results. In the words of a 2009 Bipartisan Policy Center report, Iran “will make minor diplomatic gestures in order to forestall the possibility of tougher measures and disrupt any international resolve.”

This morning’s report of progress in the latest negotiations is consistent with this history. The Iranians are continuing to stall, and the Obama administration refuses to hold them accountable. We cannot afford for the White House to continue to send mixed messages on Iran.

The president needs to make clear that all options are on the table. He has paid lip service to that position in the past.

Media reports suggest he has backed off in private.

The administration reportedly has done all it can to persuade Israel not to protect itself against the threat from Iran. If a military option is taken off the table, Iran has very little motivation to restrain its nuclear ambitions.

It is time for President Obama to vigorously enforce sanctions on Iran. There may still be Chinese entities violating current sanctions, while the Chinese government is headed to the negotiating table. There were also reports recently about an Iranian trade delegation traveling to India seeking to increase ties between the two countries.

The White House has been lukewarm on sanctions for the past three years. Each time Congress seeks to strengthen the president’s sanctions authority on Iran, the Obama administration opposes the effort. When it becomes clear Congress is going to pass the bills, the administration seeks to water down the sanctions.

A new bipartisan bill giving the president increased sanctions authority passed the Senate on Monday. President Obama should push Democrats in Congress to quickly resolve differences between this bill and the House-passed version. Then the President should use the new authority.

The United States should also do more to support opposition forces inside Iran, not the dangerous regime in power there today. Time and time again, the Iranian leadership has made clear that conversation will not change its conduct.

Iran must stop enriching uranium and follow through on its new promise to cooperate with international inspectors to prove it has stopped. Until that happens, there is nothing to talk about.

It’s time for President Obama to admit that Iran is not interested in peaceful solutions. It’s time for the president to get serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program.