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May 30, 2012

Some Truth about Iran Sanctions

Listed in: Israel, Other Foreign Policy, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally Published in Washington Jewish Week [Subscription May Be Required]

By NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris

One of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans broadly agree is the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would present a profound threat to America’s national security and would be devastating to Israel’s. In addition to having the ability to act on its threats to annihilate Israel, Iran would have a free hand to terrorize its neighbors while sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Central Asia.

To prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the Obama administration - along with key House and Senate leaders - have led and implemented the most comprehensive and devastating multilateral sanctions regime that Iran has ever faced. The sanctions have been implemented incrementally and are able to be tightened every few months in order to maximize their impact.

Unfortunately, too many Republicans - through their rhetoric - seem to want to fray the fabric of bipartisan unanimity that really exists on this issue. At other times, their votes have raised some real questions about whether we’re letting Iran sanctions become just another political issue. Worse, nobody is expressing outrage, let alone mild concern, over such political games. But some specifics are instructive here.

In the House, when faced with a choice between protecting big business and stopping Iran, Republicans repeatedly chose to stand with big business - by overwhelming, party-line votes. Last winter, they voted twice in two weeks against amendments that would have strengthened existing sanctions by closing loopholes benefitting companies that do business with Iran. In April, House Republicans similarly voted against an amendment that would have prevented tax breaks from going to companies found in violation of sanctions. And this month, they voted against a proposal mandating that the government work to prevent businesses from working with Iran’s oil industry.

In the Senate - on the eve of the Baghdad talks - Republicans blocked an AIPAC-supported Iran sanctions bill that was ready to pass because they wanted to insert an unnecessary clause regarding the use of force. By holding up the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans not only diminished the clear statements made by the president himself and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that the military option for Iran is “ready” and “fully available,” they nearly deprived the administration of another tool to take to the negotiating table.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is unfortunately no better. He has made bashing the president’s approach to Iran a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform - even doing so on the day when the president clearly articulated in front of thousands of Israel’s supporters that all options are on the table to stop Iran. With all of his bluster, smears and debunked claims, Romney has yet to name one meaningful thing that he would do differently than this president to stop Iran. Journalists and observers alike have repeatedly called out Romney for his blatant hypocrisy - and a former Mossad director even called his shameful campaign tactics “highly irresponsible” and tantamount to “playing with [Israeli] lives.”

Right now, the world is more united against Iran’s nuclear weapons program than ever before, and it is looking towards the United States to continue its leadership. And make no mistake, Iran is feeling the pressure brought on by the Obama-led sanctions: Iran’s oil production is at a 20-year low, while much of what it produces is now stored on tankers in the Persian Gulf because a growing number of countries refuse to purchase it; the value of its currency has plummeted, rendering it essentially worthless; and Iran is cut off from global financial transactions, making it nearly impossible for the country to obtain insurance for its ships, imported steel and fuel for its airliners abroad.

Now is the time for everyone - Democrats and Republicans alike - to work together to stop Iran. Yet the truth that too few want to admit is that House Republicans have repeatedly placed big business ahead of strengthening sanctions - and the Senate GOP’s last-minute delaying tactics almost deprived the administration of a key tool for the Baghdad talks. All the while, Romney uses this crucial issue to score cheap political points while others are working tirelessly and seriously to halt Iran’s drive towards a nuclear weapon. The time has come to convey a strong and utterly united front to Iran - Democrats and Republicans alike - to confront this singular issue of our time.