December 15, 2005
U.S. Must Act on Iran Nuclear Threat
Outrageous statements by Iran's president calling for Israel's destruction put Iran back on the front page for a few days in October. Such belicose rhetoric should surprise no one; the destruction of Israel has been Iranian state policy since the 1979 revolution.
What should be surprising is that even after the Sept. 11 wakeup call, we still have no effective policy for dealing with Iran. After a series of revelations regarding the advancement of Iran's nuclear program in 2002 and after the revelation of Tehran's significant assistance to Al Qaeda, we still have no policy for stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Our latest intelligence guesstimates that Iran is about six to 10 years from developing a nuclear weapon. We must take action now, however, if we are going to have any hope of delaying and hopefully stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program.
For five years, the Bush administration has been deadlocked and immobilized on our Iran policy. The purpose of this article is to outline steps we can take -- short of war -- to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. These same measures should be used to stop Iran's massive support for international terror and improve its abysmal human rights record.
Our current strategy, to the extent we have one, has relied on European -- and now Russian -- negotiations with Iran. Hanging over Iran is the threat that should negotiations fail, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will refer it to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. But when the IAEA board met over the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States and Europe chose not to force the issue of referral, due to opposition from Russia and China.
That's the fatal flaw in the strategy. Even if Iran were referred to the Security Council, Russia, and especially China, are likely to veto any meaningful sanctions, no matter how blatant Iran's continuing violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In order to secure future sources of energy, China plans to invest $70 billion in Iranian oil fields. This creates an imperative on the part of the Chinese to use their veto in the Security Council to benefit their "partner." So relying on the United Nations as the exclusive forum for pressuring Iran is a dead end.
President Bush has not only failed to take action against Iran; he also has made unilateral concessions to Tehran that are baffling. Earlier this year, he agreed to drop U.S. objections to Iran joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is critical to Iran's economy. The Bush administration also announced that it will allow the sale of Boeing parts, so that Iran can repair its aging commercial aircraft fleet.
So for five years, we have done nothing to pressure Iran, save our still unsuccessful efforts to get the IAEA to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, a forum Iran would like to avoid. Instead, we must use every available stick and offer some major carrots to stop Iran's nuclear program.
Among our nonlethal resources are:
1) Economic pressure on oil companies to deter investment in Iran's aging oil fields.
2) The hint of economic pressure on China to secure cooperation at the United Nations.
3) Ending our trade with Iran.
4) Conditioning Iran's entry into the WTO on a change in its nuclear policy.
5) Expanded support for Iranian pro-democracy forces
6) Broadcasting designed to influence the Iranian people.
7) Continued refusal to take the military option off the table.
We need to aim these resources at two separate targets. The first is the leadership in Tehran, which needs to conclude that it is simply too expensive to continue its nuclear program. The second target is the people of Iran.
Although pork may not be halal, any government that wishes to be popular with its people, even dictatorships like Iran, has to bring home the bacon. Iran's population tops 68 million, while oil revenues total $602 per capita annually; so oil cannot alone substitute for a functional economy. We must convince the people of Iran that their already bad economy will get worse if government policies remain unchanged.
I will soon be introducing tough legislation designed to prod the Bush administration into adopting an effective position on Iran. First, my bill would close loopholes in a current law, the Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which was passed by Congress in 1995.
Under this law, European and Asian firms that invest in Iran's oil sector are subject to U.S. sanctions. The infrastructure in Iran's oil fields is aging and crumbling, and Iran's capacity to bring oil to market is eroding. Western technology is badly needed if the Iranians are going to avoid a serious decline in oil production in the coming years. If these firms fear sanctions in the United States, they are likely to forgo investment.
Instead, the Clinton and Bush administrations turned a blind eye to every foreign investment in Iraq. My legislation would end this practice and require the president to impose sanctions.
My legislation also would impose a total embargo on Iranian goods in the United States. Unbelievably, we currently buy about $150 million a year in Iranian carpets, caviar, nuts and fruits. It would require us to oppose WTO membership for Iran and stop the export of Boeing parts to Iran.
It would allow the president to reduce U.S. contributions to the World Bank and other financial institutions should they loan money to the Iranian government. Since 2000, the World Bank has approved loans of more than $1 billion to Tehran. My bill also would end the reprehensible practice of U.S. companies doing business in Iran through their foreign subsidiaries.
I remain hopeful that this type of nonlethal leverage will cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism and to improve its human rights record.
If necessary, military force must remain an option. A full-scale invasion of Iran is not possible, but a bombing raid or covert action to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities has been discussed in Washington and Jerusalem.
There are many problems with a military approach. In any event, we should not consider the use of force until we have exhausted our other options.
We need to act now. Forcing the Bush administration to adopt a tough policy on Iran -- one that uses all economic, political and diplomatic measures at its disposal -- should be the highest priority of Congress.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.