With Nobel Prize winner added to his title, President Barack Obama returns home to focus not just on economic growth and job creation but also on how to successfully implement his new strategy in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of forces in Iraq, and the increasingly disjointed diplomatic tango with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Nimble as Fred Astaire, Iran — after agreeing only a few weeks ago to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear plants and to allow a portion of its low-enriched uranium outside its borders — has decided to dance to its own beat. The repressive regime has become even more unresponsive to international pressure and more willing — and able — to threaten those who disagree with its goals and actions.
When the IAEA's resolution calling upon Iran to end its uranium enrichment passed with support from China and Russia by a vote of 25-3, Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fired off letters to those countries backing the resolution, warning that the vote "will without a doubt make the Islamic Republic of Iran more determined to continue on its current path for expanding peaceful nuclear technology."
So where do we go from here?
The Obama administration continues, as it should, to bring Iran to the negotiating table with tangible proof that it intends to abide by previous agreements to abandon its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are ready to help him achieve that goal by exploiting the vulnerability of an Iranian regime facing a severe political and economic crisis at home with the "crippling economic sanctions" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran of earlier this year.
The House of Representatives stands prepared to vote on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), which sailed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a voice vote after garnering more than 300 congressional co-sponsors — a rare feat in this hyperpartisan political environment.
The legislation, which would impose tough sanctions on companies involved in importing or refining Iran's petroleum products, gives teeth to the president's diplomatic strategy of engaging Iran and it demonstrates our government's resolve to stop Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons.
By moving to enforce sanctions that authorize state and local governments to divest from any U.S. or foreign corporations that invest in Iran's petroleum and natural gas industries, Congress has stopped the music on this dizzying above-mentioned dance between the United States and Iran. To use a different metaphor, Obama's diplomatic carrot will now be attached to a sharp stick.
Iran's nuclear program cannot be allowed to go forward. Why? As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, D-Calif., noted, a nuclear-armed Iran will bully its neighbors, dominate the region, embolden Hezbollah and Hamas, and "likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would lead to the collapse of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime."
Next month, China, which has a huge stake in Iranian energy and had been a major obstacle to getting any kind of international sanctions imposed on Iran, will chair the U.N. Security Council. If the House, followed by the U.S. Senate, doesn't act now, the administration may have to wait until February when France chairs the Council to move any sanctions through.
Some, including many Americans, object that U.S.-imposed sanctions will hurt the good people of Iran who are already suffering under this regime. This was the same argument made against imposing economic sanctions on the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa. Yet people came to accept that imposing sanctions there would help lead to the ruling government's demise. While there are obviously differences between Iran and South Africa, I see this same principle as holding true.
The clock is ticking on Iran becoming a nuclear time bomb. The time for Iran to honor its promises is long past due. As President Obama noted in accepting the Nobel Prize, "Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. … It is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war."
If the president is ready to impose sanctions on the Iranian regime, he cannot impose them in slow or tiny increments. The Iranian stockpile of uranium increases daily. Ratcheting up sanctions slowly will strike up history's tragic tune of too little, too late as Iran takes to the world's stage for its final tango with nuclear death and destruction.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.