Saturday, June 29, 2019

Maximum Pressure for a Denuclearized Iran

Rep. Phil Roe
by Congressman Phil Roe - One of the first policy questions I was ever asked was, “Do you think Iran should have a nuclear weapon?” I remember my answer clear as day: “During the Vietnam War, I served nearly 13 months near the Demilitarized Zone in Korea. Does anyone believe the world is safer and more stable now that North Korea has the capability to develop nuclear weapons?” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ support for militant groups abroad has helped destabilize the Middle East and represents a clear threat to U.S. regional security interests. Historically, the U.S. placed strong sanctions on Iran in response to their nuclear and terroristic activity, until the 2015 nuclear deal. These sanctions were a proven success in curbing Iran’s aggressive activity. 

On May 12, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia reported that four oil tankers and Saudi oil pipeline infrastructure had been attacked. Last week, Iran shot down a U.S. military drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, attacked two more oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and attempted to shoot down another U.S. drone that was surveilling the attack. 

President Trump showed leadership and restraint when he decided against a military response to this latest aggression, instead deciding to impose new sanctions that would deny Iran’s leadership the financial resources for oppressive activity. War is never a desirable outcome, and I’m proud the President found a way to hold Iran accountable while leaving room for military escalation should their actions continue. The U.S. warned world leaders of the Iranians’ capacity to destabilize the region, and based on recent actions, that’s exactly what is happening. Our allies need to come together and accelerate sanctions to force the Iranians to the negotiating table. I am proud to support President Trump’s approach.

In 2015, the Obama administration negotiated the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, which overwhelmingly relieved sanctions against Iran in hopes they would limit their nuclear program. However, that agreement fell short. The U.S. was denied access to certain Iranian military areas, Iran’s missile program was left unchecked, and its regional influence enabling human rights abuses was not addressed. That’s why I voted against the Iran Nuclear deal when it was brought before Congress, and why I strongly supported President Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement to push the Iranian regime for additional concessions.

Since the moment the agreement was announced, strong bipartisan majorities in Congress – including myself – have voted against putting this agreement into place. Despite Congress’ opposition, the Obama administration pushed forward with their agreement. Now, many of the officials who negotiated this agreement are trying to push a false narrative that President Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement is the cause of Iranian aggression. You have to ask yourself: why on earth would a country committed to denuclearization attack another country who also wants them to be denuclearized? This logic doesn’t add up.

On July 25, 2017, I was proud to vote for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act which passed the House by a vote of 419 to 3. This legislation, which President Trump signed into law, establishes new sanctions and enhances existing sanctions, against Iran, Russia and North Korea. If we are going to achieve a diplomatic solution, which the president has made it clear that he prefers, it needs to be one that guarantees a nuclear-free Iran. 

This May, the administration ended a U.S. sanctions exception for the purchase of Iranian oil, ended waivers allowing countries to help Iran remain within stockpile limits of low-enriched uranium and of heavy water reactor fuel and accelerated plans to send a strike group to the Persian Gulf region. Additionally, the President issued an executive order freezing U.S. based assets of personal and entities determined to have conducted significant transactions with Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum or copper sectors. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani responded by announcing Iran would no longer abide by the JCPOA on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water, threatening to enrich it to a higher level. 

There are still Iranians that march through the streets chanting “Death to America.” We should take them at their word. While we do not want a war with Iran, any potential diplomatic solution also has to ensure American security. I will continue supporting President Trump’s actions to put American safety and security first, and I hope we can make real and lasting progress that ensures a future peace.

Phil Roe represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is physician and co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus and a member of the Health Caucus. Prior to serving in Congress, he served as the Mayor of Johnson City, Tennessee. 

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