A done deal. With the announcement of the support of retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, President Obama achieved a veto-proof majority in Congress, guaranteeing the nuclear deal inked with Iran on July 14 won’t be scuttled by political opponents. Although hitting the magic number of 34 through Mikulski’s endorsement ensures the agreement’s passage, the number 41 hasn’t been met, which would allow the Republican-led congressional resolution to kill the deal to be filibustered — prevented from receiving a final up or down vote in the Senate.
Republicans and even some Democrats are miffed about the possibility of the congressional resolution of disapproval not having the opportunity to be voted on in the Senate. The Sept. 17 statutory deadline for Congress to act upon the nuclear agreement is fast approaching, and words for and against the deal are heating up accordingly.
Speaking at the American University Aug. 5 about the merits of the deal and the consequences of congressional rejection, President Obama stated, “If Congress kills this deal … we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program or the sanctions we have painstakingly built. We will have lost something more precious — America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy. America’s credibility is the anchor of the international system.”
Conversely, former Vice President Dick Cheney recently stated the Iran nuclear deal will most likely lead to the first use of a nuclear weapon since 1945, and compared the pact with Iran as akin to the Munich Agreement which sold out the Czechoslovakians to Hitler and led to World War II.
What are we to believe?
Without a doubt Iran is a remorseless menace to the world. The radical, fundamentalist, theocratic Shiite government of Iran is an unabashed supporter of ruthless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also of the Lebanese Shi’a Islamist militant group Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas. The latter two are fanatically committed to the destruction of Israel. Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and a facilitator of instability throughout the Middle East. The Persian nation has heavy-handedly suppressed dissent within its borders and shown little regard for human rights. It’s not a bright and cheery resume.
Even so, it must be remembered that China and Russia have always been strong trading partners with Iran, and many European companies were actively engaged economically with this troublesome nation up until 2010. What motivated these countries, including Russia and China, to bring this to a halt? A collective concern and unwillingness to see Iran become a nuclear power. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain — plus Germany (a group commonly referred to as the P5+1) embarked on a coordinated and intense effort to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. How effective is the result of their efforts, now known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by all sides in July? According to former Secretary of State and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, the deal is pretty good.
Powell recently observed: “[Critics are] forgetting the reality that [Iranian leaders] have been on a superhighway, for the last 10 years, to create a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program, with no speed limit.”
The JCPOA mandates Iran make inoperable the key parts of its Arak (plutonium) reactor, end all enrichment at its Fordow nuclear facility, destroy 98 percent of its enriched uranium and completely destroy all of its 5 percent to 20 percent enriched uranium. Also, the regime must remove and store more than two-thirds of its centrifuges (including all advanced centrifuges).
There is a six to nine month window for the Iranian regime to do this to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before any sanctions relief is initiated. Powell noted these requirements were “remarkable.” He declared, “These are remarkable changes, and so we have stopped this highway race that they were going down — and I think that’s very, very important.”
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said any talk of self-inspections by the Iranians is a “misrepresentation” or distortion of the facts of the agreement. According to the JCPOA, the IAEA would have daily access to and continuous monitoring at “declared” nuclear sites (known nuclear facilities) for at least 15 years. What about “undeclared” sites” (suspicious or newly discovered)? The IAEA only has to give 24 hours’ notice before showing up at a suspicious site to take samples. What if the regime tries to stall or refuse access? Access must be provided within two weeks. If refusal continues, voting by the joint commission set up under the JCPOA can decide within seven days whether to force access.
If a yes vote, Iran has three days to comply (tallied up, this is where the “24 day pause” cited by critics comes from). Yet, it’s not a pause and if the regime doesn’t comply, it’s in violation of the deal. If inspectors are allowed in, evidence of uranium enhancement is a difficult thing to wash away or conceal.
In either case of violation, “snap back” or the return of international sanctions would result. The U.S. has had unilateral sanctions against Iran since 1979, to little avail. It’s the unified sanctions that have drawn the Iranians to the table and motivated them to acquiesce to an agreement. If the U.S. somehow torpedoes this deal, which has the explicit aim of keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons, trying to enforce Iranian compliance or sanction them in a go-it-alone approach will most likely be as ineffective as our past unilateral actions.
The 159-page JCPOA is far from perfect, but it’s much better than the four-page agreement we made with North Korea which lacked enforcement and monitoring provisions. The JCPOA is a specific tool for a specific purpose. Killing it for something “better” is more wishful thinking than practical diplomacy.