Skip to main content

A skeptic urges: Give Iran talks time

By U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with reporters before briefing a Senate committee on negotiations with Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with reporters before briefing a Senate committee on negotiations with Iran.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Adam Schiff: Iran's nuclear program has been a top national security concern for 10 years
  • Schiff: Escalating sanctions were meant to force Iran into a deal, and Iran is at the table
  • He says another round of sanctions could derail negotiations and is unnecessary
  • Schiff: We must seize this chance; if it fails, there would be no doubt we tried diplomatically

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman from California, is a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

(CNN) -- For much of the past decade, Iran's nuclear weapons development program has been one of the top national security concerns for the United States. Even as we fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and hunted down al Qaeda's leaders, American intelligence officers, military and top diplomats have been working round the clock to prevent Iran from developing the bomb.

An Iran armed with nuclear weapons, capable of threatening Israel and other regional states, would touch off a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region. It would be an unmitigated disaster. We must make all efforts to prevent this.

For this reason, I have pressed for ever-tightening sanctions to isolate Iran from the global economy and have supported a policy that leaves all options on the table, including military force. The stakes are simply too high to risk any miscalculation of our resolve by Iran's leaders.

Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Adam Schiff

In pushing for ever more punitive sanctions, we held out the hope that by increasing the economic pressure enough, we might be able to force Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambition and rejoin the community of nations. Now, we are at a moment in the standoff with Tehran that will test that assumption.

Opinion: Why Israel, Gulf states are wary of Iran nuclear talks

In repeated statements since his election as Iran's new president in June, President Hassan Rouhani expressed interest in exploring a negotiated end to the sanctions in exchange for walking back its nuclear program and a verifiable inspections to ensure compliance. The just-concluded Geneva meeting, though unsuccessful in achieving a breakthrough on an interim deal, reportedly came close. The Iranians and the P5+1 group will be reconvening there this week for a second round.

In the meantime, there have been calls for the Senate to continue work on a new round of sanctions that was passed by the House with my support earlier this year. Advocates of this approach say that sanctions brought us to this point and passage of a new round of sanctions during the negotiations will improve the likelihood of success at the bargaining table.

I disagree. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have asked for more time to test Iran's willingness to enter into a tough and verifiable process of ending its nuclear weapons program, and I think we should give it to them.

Skepticism over Iran nuclear talks
Can a deal with Iran really be 'close'?

The sanctions have succeeded in forcing Iran to the table, and a further round right now -- when it has the potential to derail the negotiations -- is unnecessary. We will know soon enough whether the Iranian regime is serious about a new direction in its nuclear program and its relationship with the West.

If it is not, there will be ample opportunity to tighten the stranglehold on Iran's economy, and further sanctions will have my full support.

US-Israel rift over Iran nukes now in the open

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised the concern that any relaxation of sanctions in an interim deal risks unraveling the whole sanctions regime. This is not an illusory concern, and for this reason, any partial lifting of the freeze on Iranian assets must be quickly reversible if the Iranians balk on a final deal.

But the absence of an interim deal is also problematic if it means another six months of Iranian enrichment. The Iranians must be made to understand that if they walk away or cheat, the sanctions will be tightened to the point of strangulation -- and the international community must be prepared to make good on that threat.

I have no illusions about the character of the Iranian regime, nor do I trust it. I do not believe that we can look into Rouhani's eyes and see the truth, let alone his soul.

Even if Rouhani was serious about his intentions, there is no guarantee that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would bless any agreement with the international community that forces Iran to verifiably foreswear development of the bomb. I share the concerns that have been expressed by others here, in Israel and in the Gulf states.

Ultimately, this is not about trust. It's not about making concessions to Iran or rewarding the mullahs for thwarting the will of the international community for many years.

It is about seizing the opportunity to see whether we can end Iran's nuclear weapons program without resorting to military action. And if we cannot, no doubt will remain that the United States made every effort to resolve this grave threat diplomatically.

No negotiation is without risk, and the Iranians' track record is cause for great skepticism. The administration must not accept a bad deal -- and any interim agreement that provides sanctions relief must be easily and quickly reversible. But neither should the administration be prevented from testing whether it can obtain a good deal that advances our security interests and those of our allies.

Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister who signed the Oslo Accords two decades ago, once noted that "You make peace with your enemies -- not the Queen of Holland."

I agree and urge us to give diplomacy a chance.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Adam Schiff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT