The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.
“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.
Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.
President Assad “decided to comply with the will of the international community only when he perceived U.S. military action to be imminent, clearly demonstrating that our willingness to use our military power can be a force for positive change,” Mr. Menendez said.
Mr. Menendez reiterated his support for the Obama administration’s pursuit of a negotiated settlement with Iran, but emphasized that negotiations must go hand in hand with the economic pressure of sanctions. Maintaining a credible military option further strengthens the United States’ ability to ensure Iran does not gain nuclear bomb capabilities, he said, while weakening the sanctions against Iran will allow it to stall for time as it pursues its nuclear agenda.
“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” he said.
Mr. Menendez said he was skeptical about Iran’s ability to keep its promises. He called for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to back up statements that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons by initiating the verifiable dismantling of its illicit nuclear structure. He pointed to continued Iranian support of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Iran, he said, continues to charm negotiators but has not demonstrated any change in its behavior.
“I do not forget that despite diplomatic entreaties to the Iranians in recent years, hands were extended and secret talks were pursued, Iran has grown its support and advocacy for terror,” he said.
He accused the Iranians of long seeking to delay reaching any nuclear deal, while the country continued moving forward with its nuclear development. This, he said, brought Iran closer than ever to nuclear breakout capabilities and has now led many in the West to say Iran is too far along to demand the country give up all of its enrichment.
“If that has been the process that has led us to this moment, we cannot let that be the process that leads them to a nuclear bomb,” he said. “What troubles me, and what I believe troubles many of you, is that the international community seems to want any deal more than it wants a good deal.”
This was the Jerusalem Post’s third conference in New York focused on Israel’s strategic positions. Other speakers included Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with Israeli military experts and Jerusalem Post writers. This year’s theme, “Israel, the U.S., and the New Middle East,” referred to dynamic changes that have swept across the region following 2011’s so-called Arab Spring, which saw the downfall of longstanding dictatorial regimes, such as that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The new Middle East represents an opportunity, Mr. Menendez said, but it is a story that has yet to be written.
“Will the new Middle East be an incubator of 21st century democracies like Tunisia or will it be relegated to the dustbin of Iran-like fundamentalist theocracies bent on turning back the clock 500 years?” he said.
As Israeli, Palestinian, and American diplomats met on Sunday to try to salvage the foundering peace process, Mr. Menendez reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel. He called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech last month to AIPAC that there can be no “existential threat” to Israel by its neighbors, including the threat of flooding the country with refugees.
“So what we do know about the new Middle East is Israel will remain a democratic entity and there will be no daylight between the United States and Israel,” he said. “This is our vision of a new Middle East but it starts firmly in the understanding that Israel not only has the right to exist but it has the right to exist as a Jewish state.”