Time is running out to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. That's the conclusion of a Sept. 16 report by a bipartisan group of former United States senators and a retired U.S. Air Force general.
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report by former Senators Chuck Robb (D-VA) and Daniel Coats (R-IN) and retired U.S. Air Force General Charles Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, calls on President Obama to devise a tougher strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
This report and others like it make clear that the President's strategy towards Iran is a failure. The Obama Administration pushed for direct talks with Tehran to discuss its nuclear weapons program by Sept. 30. However, in a clear rebuke to the United States, Iran ignored the deadline and said it would be glad to discuss almost anything else, omitting nuclear weapons from the agenda.
Oblivious to this rebuff, the Administration joined with five other nations in talks with Iran any way on Oct. 1. Another round of talks with Iran is planned before the end of this month. While it insists it will continue to raise the nuclear issue during these meetings, the Administration is negotiating from weakness.
Iran knows that anything that postpones meaningful action to stop its nuclear weapons program gives it the time it needs to finish it. The BPC report says Iran will likely have the capacity to produce at least one nuclear weapon next year.
Further complicating the situation is Russia's commitment to sell Iran its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft batteries. The delivery of this state-of-the-art system, despite pressure on Russia from the United States and Israel not to do so, would add more uncertainty to the success of a potential air attack onIran and could force Israel into taking pre-emptive action.
While the BPC supported moving ahead with talks with Iran, the BPC report correctly concludes that U.S. diplomacy needs to be backed up with the threat of more "coercive international sanctions," such as cutting off international exports of gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran.
Because of a lack of Iranian refining capacity and Iran needing to import 40 percent of its gasoline, such sanctions would have a meaningful impact on the Iranian economy. The House is scheduled to consider such a sanctions bill soon--one I am proud to have cosponsored--and the Senate leadership has also promised to consider similar legislation.
After meaningful sanctions, if Iranian defiance continues, the BPC says the United States should keep possible military force on the table. And says General Wald, despite commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one should doubt the United States has a significant amount of remaining air power to do whatever is necessary.
There is no mystery about why Iran wants nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said his intention is to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Not content to eliminate what Tehran calls the "little Satan," (Israel) the Iranian President has pledged to also destroy the "great Satan," the United States. Not only is Iran developing the weapons to do so, it is building the long-range missiles it needs to make its threats credible.
Even if Iran does not use the weapons it develops, it certainly will threaten other nations with them. With its Arab neighbors deeply suspicious of a Persian resurgence, a nuclear Iran will inevitably set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, further unsettling an already troubled region.
The Sept. 17 decision by the President to scrap U.S. plans to build anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe is yet another sign of this Administration's weakness toward Iran. The primary purpose of these sites was to defend ourselves and our European allies from missiles from Iran and other rogue states. To change course now sends another bad signal to Tehran, in addition to betraying Poland and the Czech Republic, who had pledged to host the U.S. anti-missile systems despite clear threats from Russia.
So far, with provocations from Iran, North Korea, and Russia, the Obama Administration has only shown toughness with one nation: our steadfast ally, Israel. The President has stubbornly insisted that Israel unilaterally forego building any further settlements without any corresponding concession from the Palestinians.
Despite this misguided approach, I will continue to urge the President to focus his energies on containing Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Time is running out. Rather than undercutting Israel, the President should be strengthening its hand as we face Iranian aggression together.
Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Congress and is a senior member of both the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees. He is the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Europe.