Kirk and Engel push for stronger Iran sanctions

Taking immediate action to increase sanctions against Iran is the only way to persuade the country to stop its nuclear program, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday.

In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, Kirk and Engel argued against claims that tough sanctions on Iran resulted in a change in leadership and that the U.S. should offer Iran an olive branch. The congressmen said the change in Iranian leadership was deceptive at best.

"To be clear: Iran did not hold a free and fair election earlier this summer," Kirk and Engel said. "The Iranian people were forced to choose between a select group of regime insiders who had been carefully vetted and hand-picked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. More than 600 would-be candidates were disqualified. Reformists were kept under house arrest."

Kirk and Engel said the newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is calling for serious talks with the West at the same time the country continues work on its nuclear program. The congressmen cited data from the Institute for Science and International Security that estimated Iran could have a nuclear weapon ready by the middle of 2014.

"We believe the U.S. must exhaust all nonmilitary options to prevent Iran from achieving critical capability," Kirk and Engel said. "Our most effective tool for avoiding a military strike is enacting harsher sanctions."

The congressmen said that by bringing the Iranian regime to the verge of economic collapse, the U.S. can use the sanctions as leverage into a diplomatic solution.

The House of Representatives voted 400 to 20 last month to approve measures to take the rest of Iran's oil exports off the market, cut off access to overseas reserves and blacklist certain sectors of the Iranian economy. The congressmen said it is now time for the Senate to approve the measure.

"By strengthening sanctions, we are not calling for an end to diplomacy," Kirk and Engel said. "But after many years of fruitless negotiations, it is clear that talks will only succeed if the regime feels pressure to change course - and not as a result of misplaced optimism over a new face for the same regime that has not wavered in its pursuit of nuclear weapons."