Easing tension between the U.S. and Iran? Not the time

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By Michele Goldberg

Despite the election of supposedly “moderate” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now is not the time to lighten up on sanctions and pressure against the regime.

President Barack Obama reiterated at the U.N. that it is the United States’ policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon capabilities.

Until Iran takes real, tangible steps to slow and eventually stop its nuclear program, the United States must keep the military option on the table and continue to implement biting sanctions.

Obama should be commended for his diplomatic outreach to President Rouhani, but we must remember that diplomacy can only work when combined with a credible threat of military force and hard-hitting sanctions.

While Rouhani’s rhetoric might be slightly less extreme than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the United States still needs to show the regime that actions – not words – should determine the U.S. decision to provide any sanctions relief.

The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report shows that Iran is actually accelerating its nuclear program under President Rouhani. Rouhani’s charm offensive is buying him time while the centrifuges keep spinning. Tehran has continued its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable significantly quicker production of weapon-grade uranium.

At the current installation rate, Iran is approaching the “break-out” ability, which would allow it to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to bomb-grade in only a matter of weeks. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.

If the U.S. eases pressure on the regime, it will send signals to Iran that the U.S. is not serious about preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. should stand ready to use force if necessary and should step up sanctions until Iran completely reverses its nuclear program.

I sympathize with the plight of the Iranian people, who suffered under the Khamenei regime. They have displayed their clear dissatisfaction with Iran’s government and its policies – as was shown when they elected Hassan Rouhani, the most “moderate” of the ultra-conservative candidates.

Khamenei and Rouhani need to abandon their pursuit for a nuclear weapon in order to lift western sanctions and allow the Iranian people to live more freely.

This is not the time to ease up on sanctions on Iran. Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and we must see a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations. President Obama said he had to “test” the willingness of the Iranians to meet their international obligations, but that the U.S. was entering negotiations “clear-eyed” and taking no option off the table.

I am very cautiously optimistic that diplomacy – when combined with tough sanctions and a credible use of force – may have a shot.

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