Bipartisan Senate Resolution Says U.S. Is ‘Absolutely Determined’ to Stop a Nuclear-Armed Iran

By Patrick Goodenough | February 10, 2012 | 4:35 AM EST

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) hold a press conference in Jerusalem, Israel during a November 2009 visit. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

( – A bipartisan trio of senators are preparing to introduce a resolution that would make it clear the U.S. Senate opposes any policy that would settle for, and seek to “contain,” a nuclear-armed Iran.

Although non-binding, critics say the initiative will tie the administration’s hands by limiting its options, thereby making war a more likely outcome.

The draft resolution’s co-sponsors, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.), say they seek to prevent a U.S. policy that accepts the reality of a nuclear-armed Iran in the hope that the threat can be managed as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.

“Some suggest that – should economic and diplomatic pressure fail to force Iran to abandon its pursuit of acquiring nuclear weapons – the next best option is for the United States to accept and then contain a nuclear-armed Iran,” says a summary of the resolution, provided to on Thursday.

“This is unacceptable and must be rejected.”

The summary argues that a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained along the lines of the Soviet Union.

“The Iranian government is already the #1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world – arming, training, and funding Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Shiite militias [in Iraq] that are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American forces,” it states. “If allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, the regime in Tehran would become vastly more dangerous and better able to sponsor terrorist attacks against the U.S. and our allies without fear of retaliation, thanks to a nuclear umbrella.”

The summary warns that Iran possessing nuclear weapons would lead other countries in the region to pursue the same capability, and says the recent exposure of an Iranian terror plot on U.S. soil “provides clear evidence for why we cannot hope to contain a regime like the one that now rules Iran.”

“This bipartisan resolution will send a clear message to Iran’s rulers that the United States is absolutely determined to stop them from getting nuclear weapons,” it concludes.

Spokesmen for the co-sponsors said Thursday the resolution would hopefully be introduced soon, possibly next Wednesday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment on the initiative, saying, “We’ll wait and see what this looks like.”

‘Balanced policy of containment’

For years, policy analysts have tussled over questions about whether the West can “live with” a nuclear-armed Iran.

Proponents argue that the sheer size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would keep Tehran in check, and that no government in such a position would risk annihilation by using a nuclear weapon.

But some question the rationality of a regime driven by ideology that includes eschatological Shi’ite beliefs involving end-time war and chaos. Others say that even if a future nuclear-armed Iran doesn’t actually plan to use an atomic weapon, merely possessing one would provide it with dangerous leverage, while triggering a regional nuclear arms race.

Lieberman and others have long argued against allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear capability.

“Some have suggested that we should simply learn to live with a nuclear Iran. In my judgment, that would be a grave mistake,” Lieberman told a Council on Foreign Relations forum in Sept. 2010.

“Simply put, having tried and failed to stop Iran’s nuclear breakout, our country will be a poor position to contain its consequences.”

Last December, two scholars from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the Obama administration appeared to be moving towards a policy of containment.

“The emphasis of its rhetoric has shifted from preventing an ‘unacceptable’ nuclear Iran to ‘isolating’ it,” said Michael Makovsky and Blaise Misztal. “When coupled with recent weaker action against Iran, we fear it signals a tacit policy change.”

In Germany, the director of the influential Munich Security Conference, former ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger, called promoted the containment option.

“Up to now we have said a nuclear-armed Iran is unthinkable and must not happen. I ask the question: What if it does happen? What do we do then?” he told Germany’s Die Welt in an interview ahead of the recent conference.

“I advocate that we develop a balanced policy of containment,” he continued. “If it was possible to successfully deter the vast Soviet Union, then it will probably be possible against Iran – but only if nuclear proliferation cannot be stopped by other means.”

Ischinger conceded that containment was not desirable but added that in foreign policy “worst-case” scenarios had to be confronted.

‘Effort to sabotage diplomacy’

The Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution has yet to be introduced but is already drawing fire.

Parsing the language of the draft, some critics view as significant references to a nuclear weapons “capability,” suggesting that the sponsors are trying to shift the U.S. from a position of opposing an Iran that possesses nuclear weapons, to a position – held by Israel – of opposing an Iran that is capable of developing nuclear weapons but stops short of actually manufacturing them.

In a sample lobbying letter to President Obama, the Washington-based National Iranian American Council writes, “While you have previously said an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable, Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Casey (D-PA), and Graham (R-SC) are introducing a dangerous new resolution establishing that even the capability to produce such a weapon would be grounds for war.  This is not your redline, it is the redline demanded by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.”

“There’s no question that some people in Washington would very much like for the U.S. to have a policy towards Iran whose endgame is war or externally-induced regime change,” Robert Naiman of the group Just Foreign Policy wrote in the Huffington Post Thursday.

“And they have a long-term strategy to bring this about, which is to block efforts at meaningful diplomacy, so that the only thing left on the table is war or externally-induced regime change.”

Naiman accused the resolution sponsors of an “effort to sabotage diplomacy.”

Just Foreign Policy describes itself as an independent and non-partisan group promoting a foreign policy “that relies less on raw U.S. military and economic power and more on international law and treaties, co-operation, and diplomacy.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow