Yesterday a bill sanctioning companies that supply fuel to Iran was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was sponsored by two U.S. Senators. In a joint statement Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) said,
Time is running out for Iran to give up its illegal nuclear weapons program…This provision sends a message to companies that put profits over security — you can do business in our $13 trillion economy or Iran’s $250 billion economy.
It is understandable that two lawmakers would try and capitalize on growing concerns about Iran. In this case, however, the two have miscalculated.
Diplomatic talks with Iran are still in their infancy, and the negotiators for both sides should be allowed more time to do their jobs. This is especially true when U.S. intelligence reports have stated repeatedly that Iran is not currently seeking to build a nuclear weapon, and that the international community has years until Iran would be capable of obtaining one.
After the first day of negotiations, a tentative agreement has been reached that Iran will ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing as medical grade uranium. Both sides also agreed to more talks, to take place before the end of the month. This new Congressional legislation is akin to amputating a limb before discovering if a band-aid might suffice. It has the potential to have a massively destabilizing effect on the (currently impressive) unity within the P5+1.
In diplomacy even a simple handshake can send a powerful message, so imagine what message Congress’ actions have sent to the Iranian government. Congress essentially said: “Thanks for those concessions yesterday in Geneva, we’re going to go ahead and sanction you anyway.”
The focus of the Geneva talks should be an opportunity for trying to use diplomacy to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains specifically civilian in nature, and for pressuring Iran over its human rights abuses. That is exactly what happened yesterday, thanks to our clear-thinking diplomats (led by Bill Burns).
Congresses lack of focus on the issues that matter, including human rights abuses in Iran calls to mind two quotes. The first comes from the 13th-century poet Sa‘adi,
All Adam’s race are members of one frame;
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When by hard fortune one limb is oppressed,
The other members lose their wonted rest:
If thou feel’st not for others’ misery,
A son of Adam is no name for thee.
The second quote is more recent. It comes from U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who on the topic of shared humanity said:
In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
U.S. lawmakers should not be so fixated on a potential serious future problem, Iran’s nuclear program that they forget that it is morally incumbent upon them to make a concerted effort to help those Iranians who have been tortured by the Islamic government. One of the requirements of being human is to recognize a basic connection with other humans, and to help them when they require it.
Sanctioning Iran is unlikely to bring about the end of its nuclear program, and will almost assuredly be more harmful to the Iranian people than the government. Sanctions will also help the Islamic regime to crush the country’s growing, but fragile, democracy movement. Congress should wait to see the fruits or failures of the Geneva diplomatic talks before moving on to alternative methods.