Skeptics of the Iran nuclear talks view the recently announced extension of negotiations as a setback. But the extension is actually a win-win for the U.S: Iran’s nuclear program remains frozen and we get extra time to work on eliminating the possibility of an Iranian bomb. Policymakers in Washington should support the work of our diplomats in Vienna and refrain from actions that could undermine the talks.
We have reached a watershed moment for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Some in Washington continue to play politics with good policy, but for the American people, this is a no-brainer: work the diplomatic process or get into another bloody and expensive war in the Middle East? Put boots on the ground (again) or keep nuclear inspectors in Iran?
The U.S., in concert with our major global allies, is within reach of achieving a comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The deal will undoubtedly provide an unprecedented level of inspections and transparency into Iran’s activities for years into the future. A deal will also be able to neutralize the critical threats posted by the Iranian nuclear program, including locking down Iran’s nuclear bomb-making materials, neutralizing its advanced reactors, and decreasing Iran’s unacceptably high number of centrifuges. These provisions—for the first time ever—will provide the U.S., Israel, and the international community with the strong assurances that Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon.
Critics are already making outrageous claims that conveniently ignore that this deal was negotiated by the nation’s top national security, diplomatic and military experts. The alternative to pursuing a strong, comprehensive, and negotiated solution is a third military offensive in the Middle East, which benefits no one’s security. As Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif admitted back in February, the U.S. has constructed a unified and effective front that puts sufficient pressure on the Iranian regime—for the first time in decades—to concede their nuclear weapons program.
Clearly, in light of Zarif’s comments, those members of Congress who are insisting on new sanctions miss the fundamental point of economic pressure. Congress passed sanctions that helped bring Iran to the table and wisely gave our diplomatic team the room they needed to pursue tough negotiations. Now they must rally together to support a deal that strengthens America’s national security, regardless of political party. Passing new sanctions and imposing constraints on our negotiators could undermine the international consensus against Iran. To scuttle the talks now will put us back on a path to war.
As countless national security officials in the US and Israel have argued, war against Iran will not solve the nuclear problem. In fact, a war to prevent a nuclear Iran would only convince Iran that going nuclear is the only way to protect itself.
Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, put it more succinctly: “[attacking Iran] is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
Certainly, America will remain clear-eyed about the threats that Iran poses in the form of terrorism and disrespect for human rights. Those critics who insist otherwise are, in effect, presenting a false choice between “war now” or “war later.” With vigilance, we can rest assured that Iran’s nuclear threat is off the table. Just like President Reagan handled the Soviet Union back in the ‘80s, our leaders today must be wise enough to recognize this historic opportunity to both strengthen American national security and increase stability abroad.
Diplomatic victories are an essential part of the American legacy. We have the greatest fighting force in the world, but we must take equal pride in our diplomats and lawmakers who go to great lengths to avoid armed conflict that will put our troops in harm’s way. Supporting these continued negotiations will keep us safe and out of war. Congress should recognize that and make every effort to take advantage of this opportunity for a diplomatic victory.
Toma is a national security expert and executive director of the Peace and Security Funders Group, a network of funders and philanthropists who make grants that contribute to peace and global security. All views expressed here are her own.