January 20, 2015

SOTU: Ilan Goldenberg on Iran

By Ilan Goldenberg

The President’s message on Iran will be closely watched by the leadership in Tehran, skeptical members of Congress, and anxious Arab and Israeli partners. The President should start by making clear that the Islamic Republic should not let the historic opportunity presented by the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 pass by. He should offer Tehran assurances that in the event of an agreement the United States will live up to its obligations and that over time the sanctions will be lifted and Iran will be economically reintegrated into the world.

However, the President should be more guarded about Iran’s broader role in the region – such as his statement recently that if there was an agreement, Iran could potentially be a “very successful regional power.” Such statements cause anxiety among our Middle Eastern allies who are concerned that an agreement between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue could result in America abandoning the region to Tehran. They also cause Iranian hardliners to miscalculate and wrongly conclude that the United States is so eager to enlist Iran’s help against ISIS that it will make concessions on the nuclear program. 

The President should make crystal clear to Congress that he will only agree to a deal that will effectively cutoff all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. If he comes to the conclusion that Iran is negotiating in bad faith or has unfrozen its nuclear program, he will seek harsher sanctions. But if Congress passes new sanctions before the end of the next negotiating deadline he will veto the legislation.

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