Rep. Sherman Favors More Civilian Airline Crashes in Iran

11/27/2013 05:15 pm ET | Updated Jan 27, 2014

The nuclear deal that was struck between Iran, the United States and other world powers last week has elicited a lot of reactions in the policymaking world. Many have been strongly positive. Others have been downright crazy. And then, in the case of Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), there's the plain vicious.

Rep. Sherman, who previously claimed that the point of sanctions is to "hurt the Iranian people," continues to demonstrate that he cares very little for how many Iranians are killed or injured as a result of his reckless policies. In the wake of the historic nuclear deal struck in Geneva last weekend, Rep. Sherman has objected to a provision of the deal that would enable Iran to purchase spare parts for its aging civilian aircraft, which currently suffers one of the highest accident rates in the world.

Many members of Congress have supported sanctions despite the negative impact that they have had on the Iranian people. But Rep. Sherman seems to relish the pain the sanctions inflict on Iranians.

In addition to punishing the Iranian people, Rep. Sherman's suggestion that the Obama administration should "exploit some of the vagaries in the agreement's language," to prevent repairs to Iranian aircraft would be a dangerous and foolhardy violation of the terms of the agreement. In exchange for relatively light and reversible sanctions relief, Iran has agreed to unprecedented transparency by allowing daily access to its enrichment facilities, to halt enrichment to the 20 percent level and eliminate its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, and to freeze other aspects of its nuclear program for a period of six months. The agreement puts time on the diplomatic clock and could pave the way to a comprehensive deal that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapon and averts a disastrous war. It shouldn't be put at risk, and certainly not because one Congressman is on an immoral crusade to make sure Iranian planes crash.

Sanctions imposed by executive order during the Clinton administration have long prevented Iran from replacing or purchasing new parts for its aging civilian airline fleet, many of which were purchased in the 1970s under the Shah's regime. Since the sanctions have been in place, more than 1,700 Iranians have died in plane crashes. By contributing to the frequency of civilian airline accidents in Iran, the measure is a clear example of sanctions that target the Iranian people and not the regime. And because hundreds of thousands of Iranian Americans travel to Iran each year, many American citizens are put at risk from these counterproductive sanctions.

At times the president has used his executive authority to permit limited repairs to Iranian civilian aircraft outside of Iran. Rep. Sherman, a key Congressional champion of the cult-like exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalk (MEK) -- which until recently was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government, tried unsuccessfully to block these limited repairs to Iranian civilian aircraft as well. According to Sherman, "[t]here is no reason we should be helping the Iranians keep these planes in the air...[f]ixing these aircraft is in 180 degree opposition to our sanctions policy." Sherman's push to block these repairs in Congress passed the House but didn't make it past the Senate.

Fortunately, over Rep. Sherman's objections, the Obama administration is pursuing a diplomatic path and taking major steps to lessen the negative humanitarian impact of sanctions, including through the nuclear deal struck in Geneva. Not only does the deal make America safer by limiting Iran's nuclear program and save lives by enabling Iran to replace aging parts for its civilian aircraft. The deal also opens a direct banking channel to enable Iranians studying abroad to pay for their tuition and to enable the transfer of humanitarian goods, including critical life-saving medicine that has been made scarce, at least in part, due to sanctions. This follows on the heels of the Obama administration repealing counterproductive sanctions on communication technology, humanitarian work in Iran and sports exchanges.

None of these steps are controversial and should be strongly supported. The Iranian people have long had a favorable view of the United States, but that will not hold if Rep. Sherman and others continue to pursue policies that single out the Iranian people for punishment.

Many are hopeful that the deal struck in Geneva will be a key step toward a lasting agreement that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapon and averts a disastrous war. But if we follow Rep. Sherman's path, we could end up scuttling the deal in a vicious attempt to prevent Iranians from flying safely. Congress would be wise to avoid that mistake.

If you're a member of Rep. Sherman's district, send him a letter here.