An open letter to Maine’s Senator Susan Collins, on her support of new Iran sanctions


US Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks to members of the press as she is on her way for a vote January 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.


Alex Wong

Dear Senator Collins,

You have served Maine well, establishing yourself as one of only two or three moderate Republicans in the Senate. Mainers are particularly glad to have you representing us in Washington.

So it was a surprise to find out that you are supporting the diplomatically disastrous Iran Sanctions Bill. The proposed legislation would torpedo the best opportunity in 34 years for a rapprochement with Iran. Worse, it would wreck the possibility, as a New York Times editorial expressed it, of "the most significant restraint ever on a program that has threatened international stability" for over 10 years.

It would create a situation, as the Times editorial concluded, that "could leave war as the only option." As you know, the Times has been one of the most stalwart supporters of Israel since its creation.

You signed on to the sanctions bill the week before Christmas. Your only press release on the matter, issued in late November, listed "several concerns" about the possible deal with Iran: "The plan does not require the Iranians to suspend enrichment as required by existing Uinted Nations Security Council resolutions." Nor is Iran "required to roll back construction of its heavy water reactor in Arak or convert this facility into a light water reactor that would be less useful for the production of the material needed for a nuclear weapon."

These are no longer relevant concerns. As The New York Times pointed out, "Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent." This means, regardless of the language in any past UN resolutions, Iran would cease enriching uranium to a point that could be used for a nuclear weapon.

Further, again quoting the Times, its "stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent will be diluted or converted to a less threatening substance." And: "Iran also agreed not to install new centrifuges, start up any that were not operating or build new enrichment facilities."

So with regard to Arak, its operation, in terms of its potential to enrich bomb-grade uranium, is clearly on hold as part of the agreement.

You also stated that you were "concerned that Iran did not agree to all the intrusive inspections that the well-respected International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains are necessary." But, again, as the Times pointed out, Iran "will allow inspectors from the IAEA to have unprecedented, in some cases daily, access to some sites." Further, our agreement with Iran makes clear that it will only be after the agency has confirmed Iran has begun to take the promised actions that the sanctions will begin to be lifted.

Imposing new sanctions would not just violate the agreement that Iran and the US have signed, it would "set unworkable conditions for a full deal."

Last month, America's most pre-eminent former diplomat, Tom Pickering, who served as US ambassador to Israel, Russia, the United Nations, Jordan and India, co-authored an article in the Financial Times backing President Obama's approach to Iran.

Earlier, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, both Republicans, had written a Wall St. Journal piece supporting Obama's diplomatic efforts: "American diplomacy now has three major tasks," they wrote. "To define a level of Iranian nuclear capacity limited to plausible civilian uses and to ensure safeguards that this level is not exceeded; to leave open the possibility of a genuinely constructive relationship with Iran; to design a Middle East policy adjusted to new circumstances."

Americans for Peace Now and J Street, two progressive organizations that are strong supporters of Israel — and peace — in the Middle East, are actively opposing the bill you signed onto. And they are not alone.

It's not surprising, with the strong financial pressure it can bring to bear, that the influential right-wing Israel lobby AIPAC can help persuade a majority of American senators to oppose a diplomatic initiative that could help stabilize the Middle East.

The one certain result, should the bill you support become law, would be an end to any negotiations with Iran; the likely fall-out from that is war.

I appreciate that at the time you signed on to the proposed legislation, a month ago, you were concerned that the six-month interim agreement — which took effect Jan. 20 — might not address your concerns. Inasmuch as what is now public makes clear your concerns have been met, perhaps you would be willing to withdraw your support for the sanctions bill.


Mac Deford
Owl’s Head, Maine

Mac Deford is retired after a career as a Foreign Service officer, an international banker, and a museum director. He lives at Owl's Head, Maine and still travels frequently to the Middle East.