So many in the American Jewish community - reflecting Israel’s leaders - are rightly gravely concerned about the dangers posed by Iran. Indeed Iran has become the foremost issue on the pro-Israel agenda. What if there was a measure with bipartisan support facing the United States Senate that could help contain Iran - and only days left to pass it? What if a handful of members were working to stymie progress on this measure?
In reality, there is precious little time to pass the START treaty in the waning days of the 111th Congress. Despite the leadership of President Barack Obama and Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), a small group of senators - led by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) - seem intent on blocking this paramount treaty… some, perhaps, for political reasons. Yet the stakes are simply too great for politics to get in the way.
The arms reduction and verification aspects are plenty important. But what passing START will mean for the improving U.S.-Russia relationship - and our joint cooperation on confronting Iran - is even more crucial. As scholar Michael O’Hanlon noted yesterday in listing the reasons to pass START, “Most of all, the U.S.-Russia relationship is now helping apply greater pressure on Iran. Moscow has agreed to far tighter United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran’s high-technology trade, and it recently refused to sell Tehran advanced surface-to-air missiles.”
Can anyone deny that Russian cooperation is essential to ensuring a nuclear-free Iran? Can anyone deny that not passing START will be a dramatic blow to U.S.-Russian relations - and a disaster in terms of our Iran policy? Where is the outcry? Our actions - in this case, our action or inaction on START - will have profoundly important repercussions.
The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait. We must lend our voices to the debate now.
In convening an extraordinary meeting in the White House today, placing a brilliant spotlight on this issue, President Obama explained the reasons as clearly as possible when he noted that “this goes beyond nuclear security. Russia has been fundamental to our efforts to put strong sanctions in place to put pressure on Iran to deal with its nuclear program. ...We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia’s strategic nuclear arms. And we can’t jeopardize the progress that we’ve made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials, or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran. These are all national interests of the highest order.”
As a community, we simply must lend our voices and help pass START now. We can do no less.
Marc R. Stanley is the Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council
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