Monday, February 24, 2014
Pressure our enemies, not our friends
Syria is devastated by civil war. Egypt is immersed in violent turmoil by Islamist insurgents. Iran continues to work on advanced centrifuges at an alarming pace, and al-Qaida and affiliated groups continue to threaten traditional Arab regimes and Western interests throughout the area.
With the region aflame and so many crises demanding attention, the U.S. has made a baffling decision to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and make it the crux of its Middle East policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has made nearly a dozen visits to the region in the last year in an unceasing effort to broker an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. He is expected to announce a framework for a peace deal in the coming weeks.
While everyone wishes for peace, many of us in Congress are troubled that the Obama administration is unduly pressuring Israel into making far-reaching concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians, concessions that may be detrimental to Israel's long-term security.
I believe that direct negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, without pressure from a third party, is the only path to a true peace. History has repeatedly shown that outside pressure, however well-intended, is a recipe for failure.
Moreover, our concern over the administration's tactics is heightened by the fact that this pressure is coming under the shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran. Indeed, Iran is continuing to spin its centrifuges, and work on more advanced ones, and top officials have said they will never dismantle them.
After years of sanctions which brought Iran to the negotiating table, there are growing indications that Iran's economy is improving because of changing market expectations resulting from the easing of sanctions. Just this month, the largest European business delegation in more than three decades visited Iran, a group that included a French delegation of more than 100 potential investors from some of France's largest companies. In such an atmosphere, the West is losing its greatest leverage in advance of the resumption of talks with Iran on a final agreement.
Russia's economy minister is headed to Tehran in April to discuss a broad range of trade issues and there are reports of an oil-for-goods deal between Russia and Iran worth an estimated $1.5 billion a month despite adamant U.S. opposition. With the weakening of sanctions, we are also witnessing an increase in Iranian oil exports.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's message is that Iran is open for business, while Iran advances its nuclear weapons program, including development of ballistic missiles. Little wonder that the CNN host who recently interviewed Rouhani called the U.S.'s Iran policy a "train wreck."
We should be putting pressure where it belongs -- on our enemies, not on our friends. Especially at this time, Israel must not be coerced into any moves that could endanger its security.
It is my belief that a strong majority in Congress shares this view.
In the meantime, continued economic progress on the West Bank will do more to bring about the kind of solution the U.S. administration wants. Progress will improve the quality of life of Palestinians, and thereby indirectly weaken Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A viable peace can only be worked out in direct bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Doug Lamborn is the U.S. congressman representing Colorado's 5th district, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Israel Allies Caucus.