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The Obama administration has pursued a foreign policy that ranges from feckless to reckless, from pursuing fantasies like a global nuclear summit to acts of genuine irresponsibility, like diminishing longstanding relationships with allies like Poland, Israel and Britain.
But of all the national security imperatives facing the administration, none is more critical than preventing Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, from developing nuclear weapons. Now President Barack Obama’s actions have actually made the situation more dangerous, not less so.
Obama pledged during the 2008 presidential campaign to negotiate with Iran without preconditions, a naive and utopian promise that has yielded predictably disappointing results.
On taking office, as part of a diplomatic offensive, Obama videotaped a greeting to the Iranian people for Nowruz, the 12-day holiday marking the New Year in Iran. Tough talk about Iran’s nuclear program would wait.
Months passed. In June, the Iranian regime rigged an electoral victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shot protesters in cold blood and arrested others, sentencing them to the Iranian gulag in show trials.
Obama was slow to condemn the violence, apparently still hoping for Iran to voluntarily relinquish its nuclear program–even as Tehran boasted about its uranium enrichment progress. Obama finally set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2009, for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis. The deadline has come and gone with no response from the United States.
The time for delay is over.
Despite sitting atop some of the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government lacks sufficient refinery capacity to turn that oil into the gasoline, diesel and other fuels it needs.
The House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed, with bipartisan support, sanctions bills to curtail shipments of gasoline and other refined petroleum products into Iran. This could force the regime to focus on long-ignored conventional energy problems instead of pursuing nuclear capabilities. The bills passed unanimously in the Senate, and with only 12 “no” votes in the House.
In a shocking act of negligence, the Obama White House has signaled to lawmakers privately it does not want the legislation to reach the president’s desk, as the administration chases a false chimera of U.N. sanctions. So sanctions with teeth languish in a conference committee while Iran gets ever closer to possessing a nuclear weapon.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should move these two bills out of committee and send them to Obama for his signature by Memorial Day–if not sooner.
Congressional action is only the first step. The administration should also sanction those companies already in violation of the Iran Sanctions Act, which has been on the books for almost 15 years. Penalizing one energy company would send a clear signal that Washington has a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to enabling the Iranian nuclear program.
Second, the Treasury Department should build on its designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a supporter of terrorist by designating major IRGC entities that are dominant players in the Iranian energy sector–sending shockwaves through Iran’s energy partners that they are doing business with blacklisted U.S. entities.
Finally, the administration should provide the same kind of tangible, material and moral support to the Green Movement in Iran that President Ronald Reagan gave to the Solidarity movement in Soviet-dominated Poland during the Cold War.
Releasing restrictions on the transfer of communications technology to the Green Movement would give its leadership the vital access it needs to satellite phones, satellite subscriptions and secure computer networks to evade Iranian censors.
We’ve now learned that as recently as January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a memo to the president’s national security team warning that the administration has no effective policy for dealing with Iran achieving nuclear capability–which many experts predict could take place within a year.
For the president to be so ill prepared for what nearly everyone agrees to be the greatest threat facing the region–and the world–is unacceptable.
If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, and Washington does nothing to stop them, the other nations in the Middle East will be presented with a very clear and very real threat–and will have gotten the message that the United States will do nothing to help.
Their reaction might well be to develop their own nuclear-weapons capabilities, thrusting the world’s most dangerous region into a full-blown nuclear arms race.
Putting the crisis off can only make things worse. Washington’s options dwindle as Iran gets closer to making its first bomb.
Let’s be clear. Every day Pelosi and Reid fail to act, Iran takes another step closer to developing a nuclear weapon. Congress needs to pass a strong sanctions bill and send it to the president’s desk before they adjourn for the Memorial Day recess.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.
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