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Senator Tom Cotton In the Washington Examiner "On Iran, this is a moment for President Obama to be strong"

June 29, 2015

Washington Examiner

By: Senator Tom Cotton 

We are on the cusp of the latest deadline for a final agreement over Iran's nuclear weapons program. In the next few days, we may see a signed deal that reflects the framework announced by the Obama administration and Iranian negotiators back in April. It is an emerging agreement that almost no one, including former advisers to President Obama, believes would be a strong deal that sufficiently advances U.S. interests and bolsters our national security.

Indeed, the ayatollahs would have good reason to celebrate. They will likely be able to trumpet an internationally recognized right to enrich nuclear material, Iran's reentry into the global economy, the right to maintain a hardened underground research facility, the ability to stiff-arm international inspections and a 10 to 15-year glide path toward an unfettered nuclear program.

Such a deal would satisfy the ayatollahs' dual strategic goals of eliminating the international sanctions regime that has hampered Iran's economy and maintaining nuclear weapons breakout capability. The achievement of both goals would significantly enhance Iran's regional influence, insulate it from outside pressure and more deeply entrench the revolutionary regime of the ayatollahs.


But what would the United States — and our friends and allies around the world — have to show for it? In the end, close to nothing. The deal as currently envisioned would represent a near-complete strategic defeat for the United States. In short, it would be a "we give, the ayatollahs get" scenario.

The core reasons the U.S. has long sought the dismantlement of Iran's nuclear weapons program are simple. First, a theocratic revolutionary regime that is the top state sponsor of terrorism would pose an unacceptable risk should it obtain nuclear weapons capability. Iran's ayatollahs have already been killing Americans for more than three decades. They are the lead financier and arms supplier of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, terrorist organizations dedicated to destroying Israel, and they've murdered Jews around the world. If Iran commits these crimes against the West now, imagine what Iran would do with a nuclear umbrella.

Second, if Shiite Iran possesses breakout capability, its Sunni Arab rivals will also seek to obtain it, sparking a cascade of proliferation across the region. The Middle East is turbulent, with intersecting tensions and high probabilities for military miscalculation. Turning the region into a nuclear tinderbox could portend global catastrophe.

It is difficult to see how either of these outcomes would be foreclosed by the agreement likely to be signed by the Obama administration.

The pending accord would not deny Iran nuclear weapons capability. Instead — and by design — it affords Iran that capability and only seeks to persuade the ayatollahs not to order the actual construction of a nuclear weapon. This is folly. Allowing Iran to keep a significant nuclear infrastructure will enable the regime to continue research on advanced centrifuge technology and shorten the time it will take to make a dash for nuclear breakout. And Iran may use the veneer of a legitimized supply chain to mask illicit work on nuclear weapons.

Recognizing this, regional rivals will not stand idle. While the Obama administration will seek to assure our Mideast partners of Iran's best intentions and good will, the incentives for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt to produce or obtain nuclear weapons will be intense.

To prevent the nuclearization of the Mideast, we need an agreement that verifiably denies Iran nuclear weapons capability. Administration officials may deride this position as a "pie-in-the-sky" proposal that the Iranians will never accept. But this obscures the fact that it had been the consensus U.S. position for years until the Obama administration backed away from it in the current negotiations.

It is clarifying to compare the present negotiating position of the United States to what it was at the outset of talks. The U. S. previously demanded no nuclear weapons capability, full dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, disclosure of past military dimensions of the program and the closing of Iran's formerly clandestine underground research facility in Fordow. This is the type of agreement we reached with Libya in 2003, when the Qaddafi regime agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. However, on each of these demands, the Obama administration has ceded ground.

But it is not too late to reverse course. President Obama has said on numerous occasions that no deal is better than a bad deal. And make no mistake: The deal currently envisioned is a bad deal. That is not only my opinion. A consensus is building among national security experts — including former inner-circle advisers to President Obama on Iran — that the pending accord gives away the store to the Iranians.

The president should take his own counsel regarding a bad deal. He should continue talks past tomorrow's artificial deadline for however long it takes to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons capability. That would be a strategic gain for which lifting sanctions would be justified. Failing that, the president should cite Iranian intransigence, break off talks, reinstate the full spectrum of economic sanctions and fortify the credible threat of military force.

What the ayatollahs respect is strength. And this is a moment — perhaps more than any other time of his presidency — for President Obama to be strong.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the lead signatory to the open letter to Iran's leaders.