by Bob Wheeler

Last week I sent a letter to one of my U.S. Senators, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) highly critical of his recent action in signing a letter sent by a group of his colleagues in the Senate to the leadership of Iran. Here is Sen. Toomey’s reply:

Dear Robert,
Thank you for contacting me about negotiations with the Iranian government on its nuclear weapons program. I appreciate hearing from you.

The Iranian government is probably the most dangerous regime in the world. They pose a very serious threat to the U.S. and our allies. The Iranian regime has been killing Americans since 1979 and is a destabilizing force in the Middle East through its support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It has propped up hostile regimes – such as Syrian President Assad who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people – and has helped topple friendly governments that are critical to our nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Iran has a significant arsenal of long-range offensive missiles and an aggressive development program designed to extend their range and sophistication. Iranian leadership refers to America as “the Great Satan” and has called for the destruction of Israel, one of our closest allies. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would give it the means to do so.

I am very much in favor of a negotiated agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I am convinced, however, from public statements and administration leaks, that the Obama Administration has offered Iran a deal that would allow the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons. Specifically, administration officials have confirmed that Iran could retain an industrial scale uranium enrichment capability. This capability can easily be converted from commercial use, to weaponized form. Such a dangerous agreement would be a huge setback for our own security and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of a nuclear arms race and military conflict in the Middle East. Given Iran’s continuing unconstrained missile capability and development program, a nuclear armed Iran would soon be a direct and grave threat to American homeland security. This is an unacceptable outcome.

It is for these reasons that I believe that three things should be done. First, Congress should pass a bill imposing more stringent economic sanctions on Iran. Second, any deal should forbid an Iranian uranium enrichment capability. Lastly, Congress should have a vote on any agreement signed.

As you have noted, I also signed an open letter, authored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), to the Iranian government with 46 of my colleagues on March 9, 2015. The letter makes two main points. First, it observes that for any agreement to be enduring, it should have the force of law, which necessitates a congressional vote. Second, it points out that Senators serve 6-year terms that are unlimited. The issues addressed in the Cotton letter are an extension of my long and active record of engagement in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The alternative to a bad deal is not war, but a better deal. I will continue to try to achieve an agreement that will actually prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Thank you again for your correspondence. While we may not agree on this issue, I value having your input and knowing your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

I deeply appreciate Sen. Toomey’s response – it was thoughtful and forthright, and he didn’t try to conceal the fact that he disagrees with one of his constituents about the matter. His assessment of the risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program is realistic, and he points out, correctly, that the alternative to a bad deal is not necessarily war but rather a better deal, and he assures us that he supports that goal.
Sen. Toomey says that three things should be done: “First, Congress should pass a bill imposing more stringent economic sanctions on Iran. Second, any deal should forbid an Iranian uranium enrichment capability. Lastly, Congress should have a vote on any agreement signed.” I would certainly agree with Sen. Toomey on points 2 and 3. It makes no sense to lift the sanctions unless the rest of the world can be convinced that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb. Furthermore, it is perfectly in keeping with the Senate’s constitutional role of “advice and consent” to require Senate approval of any deal that is reached. But I don’t think that Congress should be imposing more sanctions while delicate negotiations are underway. Let the negotiators work without outside interference, and see what they can come up with.
It is also worth noting that Sen. Toomey doesn’t really address the issue of whether or not it was proper for the senators to send the letter. It was certainly a breach of decorum and I think showed poor judgment. Nevertheless, I think that Sen. Toomey’s response was satisfactory.