Skip to Content

Weekly Updates

Washington Update: Dealing with Iran

From the Desk of Rob Wittman


When we discuss the threats faced by the United States, China and Russia tend to dominate the discussion. Rightfully so as both are nuclear powers with expansionist ambitions in direct opposition to US interests. However, what if there was suddenly another nuclear power far more aggressive and unpredictable than those two countries?  

The danger posed by a rogue, ideologically-driven nuclear power may sound like hyperbole, but that’s the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. Democrats and Republicans alike  agree that we cannot allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons and that the only way to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions is to negotiate a binding and enforceable agreement with Iran. While we generally agree on the goal, there remains some disagreement on how to get there and what the specifics of that agreement should look like. 

When it comes to agreements with Iran, they’ve historically been less than successful. After Iran broke its promises under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States sanctioned Iran as punishment, which led the Obama Administration to enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The Iran Nuclear Deal was objectively weak, allowing Iran to continue some non-weaponized nuclear activities while ignoring Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, and rampant human rights violations. It has now become increasingly clear that Iran never came clean to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2015 about the military dimensions of its nuclear program and consistently denied IAEA inspectors access to military sites and other research locations in violation of the JCPOA. On top of this, they continued to violate the spirit of the deal by testing ballistic missiles with the intent to become capable of delivering nuclear weapons to foreign soil.

The Iran Nuclear Deal faced significant opposition in Congress from both Democrats and Republicans, so much so that Obama controversially entered the agreement through an executive agreement bypassing the approval of Congress. However, the Trump Administration was able to leave the arrangement as easily as the Obama Administration had entered it. However, the media failed to recognize that President Trump was not seeking conflict with Iran but a better, more tenable deal.

The problem with creating a stronger deal is that time and leverage are not on our side. Iran can stall negotiations while continuing to develop nuclear capabilities. So how do we right that and force Iran into an honest, good-faith negotiation? We have to make the alternative so untenable that Iran must negotiate in good faith. We call that strategy “maximum pressure.”

That’s why I recently joined my colleagues in introducing the Maximum Pressure Act of 2021. This bill would provide Congress the opportunity to review the Biden Administration’s efforts to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal, require the Senate to ratify any new treaty with Iran, and establish a process prohibiting the lifting of sanctions without Congressional approval.  We must do what is necessary to prevent rogue nuclear powers from threatening the American homeland or our allies, such as Israel.  

What critics fail to understand is that maximum pressure is not, itself, the endgame. It is about keeping the pressure on Iran and forcing them to the negotiating table while denying them access to nuclear weapons in the interim. If we back down now and Iran develops nuclear weapons, we will never get this chance again. 

Backing down now will show a weakened America and only embolden Iran and other countries to arm itself with these nuclear weapons. We must continue to exert the pressure necessary to secure peace -or at least an understanding- with Iran to prevent another nuclear threat to the United States.  Should we fail in this endeavor in the face of a radical, ideologically motivated regime, deterrence alone may no longer be able to contain the threat of nuclear attack.  I will continue to oppose efforts to ease sanctions on Iran and continue working to secure a lasting peace in the region.