In our opinion: Keep pressuring Iran

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 15 2014 9:14 a.m. MST

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, gestures while leaving a press conference at the end of the Iranian nuclear talks in Geneva, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. Nuclear talks with Iran have failed to reach agreement, but Kerry said differences between Tehran and six world powers made "significant progress."

Jason Reed, Pool, Associated Press

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Talking is better than shooting, so long as the talks lead toward greater overall safety. It’s a good thing that an initial agreement between the so-called P5+1 (The United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany) and Iran will begin to take effect on Monday.

But this doesn’t mean peace is at hand. That won’t happen until the current regime in Iran is deposed and replaced with one that is democratically elected under a constitution that protects basic human rights. The same can be said for Syria — a nation whose atrocities have reached such a matter-of-fact state they no longer attract much attention.

Despite President Obama’s objections, the growing consensus in Congress toward new and punishing sanctions against Iran, that would take effect if a more permanent agreement is not signed after six months, makes a lot of sense. It may be just the kind of touch that exposes Iran’s true intentions while keeping the U.S. and its allies from being led along by diplomatic gamesmanship.

Under a new six-month deal, agreed to in November but to be implemented Monday, Iran will, in effect, halt its uranium enrichment program. It will not, however, dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, nor will it end work on designing centrifuges capable of further enriching the nation’s uranium stockpile.

In exchange, the West will ease sanctions by about $7 billion, mostly in frozen bank accounts containing money from oil production. Because these were sanctions the White House imposed under executive order, the president can release them without congressional approval.

The more important work of negotiating a long-term agreement to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and verify it no longer is working toward acquiring weapons of mass destruction will begin soon, most likely in February. Officials with the Obama administration told the Wall Street Journal there is only a 50 percent chance such an agreement can be made.

One big reason for this is the very nature of the Iranian power structure, which is undemocratic and filled with hateful rhetoric toward Israel and the West. Even as nations involved in the negotiations prepared to begin the six-month deal last week, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme authority figure, decided to release a stern and provocative statement condemning what he called U.S. hypocrisy and the sanctions that clearly have had an impact on Iran’s economy. The talks, the Ayatollah said, are good only because they expose U.S. hostilities “toward Iran, Iranians and Islam,” according to the New York Times.

It may be natural for the administration to oppose congressionally led sanctions because they would seem to interfere with delicate negotiations. On the contrary, however, they would interject a sense of hard-nosed reality into the proceedings. Iran’s biggest motivation to cooperate seems to be the effect sanctions have had on its high unemployment rate and citizen dissatisfaction. Neither its level of hostility toward Israel nor its continued support for terrorist organizations seems to be waning. Without changes in those conditions, the world has little reason to feel safer.

By all means, the world should hope the next round of negotiations leads to a real dismantling of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Adding an additional threat to Iran’s already struggling economy seems an appropriate prod toward bringing this about.

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