Talks began last week over a permanent agreement on Iran's nuclear weapons program. There is little hope that these negotiations, which could last up to a year, will lead to a dismantling of Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has promised that "under no circumstances would Iran agree to dismantle a single centrifuge" and their own nuclear negotiator declared that Iran would not accept the closure of "any of its nuclear sites." No wonder CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria called these talks a "train wreck" and why President Obama gave these talks less than a 50 percent chance of success.
Still, if we are finally at the negotiating table trying to diplomatically prevent a nuclear Iran and if they have not crossed that dangerous line, it has been because for nearly 20 years, the United States Congress and three administrations have worked tirelessly together to place and enforce crippling economic sanctions on Iran. With Iran in violation of six UN resolutions, this has been the kind of coercive diplomacy that has strengthened the hand of the world into so far preventing Iran, a human rights abusive regime which has threatened the existence of other nations, from becoming the next nuclear power.
Our West Virginia congressional delegation has played a significant role in getting us to this point where we can finally see whether one of the most important U.S. and world foreign policy issues can be resolved diplomatically. Our congressional leadership has been united and has spoken with a powerful bi-partisan voice these past years. Our two West Virginia senators and all three House members have proudly lent their names and their support to ever increasing sanctions. West Virginians ought to be proud of their entire congressional leadership. Our delegation is nationally recognized as a shining example of how bipartisanship works, united in their understanding of what a nuclear Iran would mean to the world.
In particular and since coming to the Senate, Joe Manchin has been a champion in working on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. As has been his signature approach since coming to D.C., Manchin has partnered with members on both sides of the aisle, most notably his colleague and friend from Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk, and been an early co-sponsor on every single piece of legislation regarding Iran. I can from say from personal first-hand knowledge, Manchin and his staff constantly and regularly monitor the events in Iran, asking the right and tough questions, reaching out for information and carefully studying the situation. The Senator vigilantly stays focused on the issue.
Mostly recently, Manchin joined with 59 senators of both parties on legislation designed to strengthen the hand of our president and emphasize to the Iranian leadership that these talks must succeed or they will face unprecedented economic hardship. As these negotiations move forward, the knowledge that Congress will stand united with the president, including keeping all options on the table, will guarantee that this country will not take its eyes off the ball.
Next week, I will be with my family and dozens of individuals from all across West Virginia and thousands from around the country at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. We will listen to speakers, attend panel discussions,and participate in workshops on the role we can play in strengthening the U.S./Israel relationship. With Iran refusing to abandon its nuclear program, that issue will continue to be the single most important one during those days. This existential threat to Israel and to stability in the Middle East will also be the focus of our conversations with our senators and House members.
I speak as someone who used to keep a distance from the Halls of Congress, feeling that there is very little we can do and that our elected officials do not listen or, frankly, care about our concerns. I could not be more wrong. They not only listen, but want to learn.
And, in the case of Sen. Manchin and our entire West Virginia delegation, they lead in a bi-partisan way. We sometimes feel our wonderful Mountain State gets lost and ignored by the rest of nation. When it has come to a host of issues, including foreign policy and especially the Iranian nuclear threat, we can stand tall. Sen. Manchin has helped us become nationally recognized for what we really are: neither a blue state nor a red state, but a smart state that can approach issues that matter together and with thoughtfulness. We can and should be proud.Urecki, rabbi at B'nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston, is a Gazette contributing columnist.