By Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. Barbara Boxer
The United States faces no more important international challenge than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Thanks to congressional and executive action, strong international cooperation, crippling economic sanctions and the credible threat of military force if Iran does not change course, we recently achieved an important step toward that goal – a step that offers some hope for a peaceful end to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In two important ways, the Obama administration has effectively pushed Iran to the bargaining table. First, it organized the international community in what might be the most stringent international sanctions regime ever, exacting a high price for Iran’s refusal to accept the global consensus against its nuclear program.
Second, the administration has made clear that, while we want a diplomatic solution, all options – including the use of force – remain on the table in order to achieve our overarching objective of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, this approach has produced the possibility of success.
This interim agreement doesn’t guarantee that we will achieve our ultimate goal, or that we should be any less skeptical of Iran’s leaders. In our view, there is no reason to trust the Iranian regime – and, therefore, every reason to make sure that we reach a permanent agreement that is airtight.
The interim agreement includes inspection requirements unprecedented in their scope and stringency. For the first time, the deal gives international inspectors broad, intrusive and frequent access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. For this reason alone – the ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program more closely than ever before – this initial agreement is a clear improvement over the status quo. And it doesn’t just allow us to keep a closer eye on the Iranian nuclear program. For the first time, it halts, and to an extent rolls back, that program.
Just a few weeks ago, each passing day brought Iran closer to a nuclear weapons capability. Under this initial agreement, at the end of six months Iran will have no 20 percent enriched uranium available for possible weapons use, no additional 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium in its stockpile, no new centrifuges for uranium enrichment and no use of advanced centrifuges.
And this agreement offers hope of something greater. It offers the chance to end our confrontation with Iran peacefully – instead of a status quo that offers no alternative to ending Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon short of military action. The past few months have made clear that the Iranian people want to change their country’s anti-Western outlook and to end its pariah status. So we have an obligation to test the willingness of Iran’s leaders to give up the possibility of acquiring a nuclear weapon. And if they fail that test, everything is still on the table.
Media reports have suggested that Congress intends to pass legislation soon that would impose additional sanctions on Iran. That would run the risk of derailing efforts toward a peaceful resolution and risk the unity we have achieved with the world community that has been so crucial to our progress to date. Fortunately, many in Congress, us included, believe that we must test this window of opportunity to see whether Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, can deliver on the promise of a comprehensive solution that closes Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
As staunch supporters of Israel, we understand the dire risk to our Israeli allies should Iran cross the nuclear threshold. If Iran does not follow through on this opening or if in the end the regime is not willing to rejoin the community of nations, then we should impose even more crippling sanctions, and make clear that all potential options, including the use of military force, remain available.
But we shouldn’t pass legislation now that would endanger negotiations that most people and countries want to succeed.
Such congressional action now could bolster the efforts of Iran’s militants to kill the deal.
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Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.