The following article appears in MAPA’s 2014 Spring Newsletter
Stopping a War with Iran – and Opposing All Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East
Peace advocates scored a big win recently when aroused public opinion and a strong stand by President Obama succeeded in blocking S. 1881 – at least for now. The so-called “Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act” is actually a blatant attempt to disrupt the current process of negotiations by imposing new sanctions and setting conditions that would make a final agreement impossible.
The bill will likely not come to the floor for Senate passage any time soon. In the face of strong opposition, AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Council), which has strongly backed the bill, announced that it was not pushing for an early vote, although it still backs the measure. That’s good news for the majority of Americans who want to see the negotiations with Iran result in a diplomatic settlement that will ease tensions and avoid a possible war.
However, it is too early to declare victory in defeating Congressional and Israel-Lobby attempts to scuttle Iran negotiations. The proposed Senate bill had gathered 59 co-sponsors – including 16 Democrats – and would no doubt have passed easily if it had come up for a vote. Mass Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke up only very tepidly against the bill and Sen. Markey announced his support for diplomacy but remained silent on his vote if S. 1881 came to the floor.
There is also some recent good news in the House of Representatives. 104 members signed a bipartisan letter to President Obama supporting the
interim agreement with Iran and opposing any actions that would threaten the on-going negotiations. Signatories to the “Give Diplomacy a Chance” letter included Reps. Capuano, Keating, Lynch, McGovern, Tierney and Tsongas, but not Reps. Clark, Kennedy and Neal.
Negotiating a final Iran agreement, securing the support of Congress, and removing the sanctions already in place will be politically very challenging. The peace movement will have to work hard to promote the kind of atmosphere that will allow a meaningful YES to a diplomatic outcome and to move U.S.-Iran relations away from the hostile impasse that has been the norm since 1979.
And if we are serious about opposing nuclear weapons proliferation, we should broaden our efforts beyond the narrow question of negotiations with Iran. It is important to note that all the countries in the Middle East – with the sole exception of Israel – are signatories to the NPT and since the 1970’s have supported the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free (later WMD-Free) Zone in the region.
A WMD Free Middle East is not so utopian as might be imagined. There are already Nuclear Weapons Free Zones established by treaty under UN auspices in South America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Australia, the continents of Africa and Antarctica and a large expanse of Central Asia. A NPT conference to promote a similar agreement in the Middle East – which had the support of all the nations of the region, including Iran – was scheduled to be held in Helsinki during 2012, but was effectively blocked by the U.S. in order to deflect pressure on Israel, the only nuclear weapons power in the region.
Last December MAPA sent me as a representative to an International Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Haifa. The theme of the meeting was: “If Israel won’t go to Helsinki, we will bring Helsinki here.”
Banning Nuclear Weapons: The peace movement has a lot of work to do in opposing the actual nuclear weapons in the Middle East, rather than just allowing the focus on potential weapons in Iran. It is essential to bear in mind that the NPT not only prohibits the acquisition of nuclear weapons, but also obligates the nuclear weapons powers to take concrete actions toward abolishing such weapons completely.