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Iran negotiations put America’s global power position under threat

Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium and state-sponsored terrorism pose an immediate existential threat to humanity and must be addressed swiftly and resolutely. The consensus on this matter is clear. Yet, in coming to the bargaining table with Iran before demanding accountability for threats against former U.S. government officials, the Biden administration has undermined our nation’s hard-won strength as a global superpower.

Throughout history, the United States has cemented its place in the geopolitical landscape as the dominant global power by advocating for democratic values and rule of law not just with rhetoric, but with action. At stake in the revision of President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is the world’s perception of our power, and our commitment to exercising power in favor of integrity. With Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine as the backdrop of present-day negotiations with Iran, this point is all the more salient. How should our adversaries, or allies, perceive us if history shows our actions repeatedly have been reduced to just words?

Iran since 2015 has only advanced its nuclear program. The proposed deal by the Biden administration reportedly will not require Iran to destroy its supply of advanced centrifuges and will allow it to store them within its borders. This amounts to nuclear extortion against future American presidents who may seek to withdraw provisions of this present-day agreement.

In my years as an adviser on homeland security to President George W. Bush, I had a front-row seat to the terrors perpetrated by Iran. Today, my resolve to raise awareness about alternative actions to successfully blunt the terrorist regime is only stronger. I have joined as co-chair the Iran Threat Commission on Hostage Taking and Targeting of Civilians, a bipartisan group motivated to end the Islamic Republic’s hostage diplomacy.

Alongside Barry Rosen, founder of Iran Threat Commission and a survivor of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, and other members of the commission, I am appalled by media reports of closed-door briefings that point to significant concessions for Iran on not just missile proliferation, but human rights abuses.

The proposed iteration of the nuclear deal will also relieve terrorism-related sanctions on the central bank, the oil ministry, Iran’s national oil company, and, most alarmingly, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The IRGC supports foreign terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen with military technology and weapons materials, enabling their frequent attacks on our allies in the Middle East and their own civilians. De-listing the IRGC from the foreign terrorist organization list would undercut all American counterterrorism efforts and show blatant disregard for the lives of IRGC victims around the world. Moreover, the Biden administration’s willingness to negotiate with Iran in spite of intelligence reports of Iran’s assassination attempts on former U.S. government officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and Brian Hook, former U.S. Special Representative for Iran, is an affront to all American citizens.

During these negotiations, Iran has requested sanctions relief for matters unrelated to its nuclear capabilities. In 2015, Iran was handed a break on nuclear-related sanctions. However, the U.S. retained the power to sanction Iran for, among other things, human rights abuses. If Iran’s demands are met this time around, America’s power to impose such sanctions writ large would be severely blunted.

These aren’t just talking points; we are facing real-world consequences. My fellow members of the Iran Threat Commission who’ve suffered at the hands of the Iranian regime know that negotiations mean little when a government does not respect rule of law and basic principles of human rights.

Nuclear nonproliferation for Iran is a must. But current stipulations will only serve as a propaganda victory for the Iranian regime. Iran will continue to manipulate American diplomacy until the U.S. government holds it accountable, specifically on issues beyond Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Our government must stand by its sanctions on Iran, or risk greater collateral damage than any foreign policy expert could even predict.

A saying emerged from U.S.-Iran dealings amid the Iranian Revolution of 1978: “One must not come to the negotiating table if the person sitting across that table has a gun in their lap.” A good-faith negotiation requires no preconditions on the part of Iran. It would require the regime to stop targeting American officials. No subjects should be off limits.

If the successful deweaponization of Iran is a priority for our current government leaders, they would be wise to ask themselves whether an agreement made at gunpoint is one on which the world can rely.

Frances Townsend was the third U.S. Homeland Security Advisor from 2004 to 2008.

Editor’s note: This article was edited after publication to clarify that Iran has a growing stockpile of enriched uranium, not a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

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