First, a celebration. The US and its allies have signed a deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear program – much to the surprise of most skeptical onlookers, including myself. Not that I haven’t been working at this subject for at least six years, but at this point, we’ve all seen so many deals fall apart that a new moderate President and a historic phone call and could only go so far to stoke hopes that this could be the day.
And yet it was. The P5+1 managed to secure unprecedented transparency measures and stop Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks, taking the country from the brink of nuclear breakout to a dormant state that allows a significant amount of additional time to secure a final deal.
The first-step measure will require Iran to convert half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to oxide, dilute the other half; install no new advanced centrifuges; cap its 3.5 percent stockpile; and halt all activities associated with its plutonium reactor at Arak.
And all this for, let’s be honest, a pretty insignificant amount of sanctions relief. As former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Paul Pillar points out, “any imbalance in the deal is markedly against Iran and in favor of the P5+1.”
It’s hard for non-proliferation experts to imagine any other reaction to this deal – an early holiday gift, you might say – than pure glee.
Unfortunately that glee hasn’t yet transferred to everyone else.
Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted on Saturday, “Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything.”
Sen. Marco Rubio said that it would make a nuclear-armed Iran more likely, not less, and called on Congress to vote on tougher sanctions.
And Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, mind you, even managed to work a little healthcare snipe into his criticism when he tweeted, “Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care.”
But perhaps the most extreme, and important, denouncement of the nuclear deal came from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the deal “a historic mistake.”
Of course, not everyone in Israel agrees. Israeli stock prices rose to a record high on Sunday. And Amos Yadlin, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence, and Ehud Yaari, a veteran and widely respected Arab affairs analyst, welcomed the deal.
And despite Netanyahu’s comments, it is hard to see how the deal signed this weekend does not increase the security of both the US and its greatest allies, particularly Israel.
But let’s take this piece-by-piece. Netanyahu and others make a few claims that aren’t quite accurate.
First, Netanyahu argues that the deal leaves Iran “taking only cosmetic steps which it could reverse easily within a few weeks, and in return, sanctions that took years to put in place are going to be eased.”
The sanctions relief included in this package is a pittance compared to the sanctions still in place, and focuses primarily on easing the consequences of the existing measures on Iran’s middle class. Relief focuses largely on cars, airlines, and students abroad – these issues are useful politically to an Iranian regime dealing with an unhappy population, but they do not provide a window for nuclear advancement.
And on this point, you might remind me. What, exactly, is the point of sanctions if not to serve as leverage to gain a deal? This was the plan all along.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon adds, “The President sees wisdom in placing trust, however limited, in a regime that has repeatedly violated international norms and put America’s security at risk.”
John Kerry said it, we’ve said it, it should be obvious but it clearly is not: this kind of deal is not about trust. It is about the exact opposite.
As Fred Kaplan points out here, “The thing about this agreement is that—like all well-written accords between countries with good reason to distrust one another—it doesn’t require trust.”
What level of trust are we putting in Iran if we allow their nuclear program to continue, without daily inspections, for even one more day while we pile on sanctions and wait? Intrusive daily inspections are the only means the US and the international community have to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is not moving forward more quickly than we think. Intrusive daily inspections will ensure that Iran does not have the chance to build a bomb, a lack of them will not. It’s a simple, fact-based concept. Blindness does not allow us better sight. We are better off now than we were before this deal.
Then there’s this from Sen. Bob Corker: “I think people are very concerned that the interim deal becomes the norm, and that’s why I’ve crafted legislation to hold the administration and the international community’s feet to the fire over the next six months to ensure that this interim deal is not the norm.”
This deal is not a new norm; it’s a window for negotiations, and it has a very explicit expiration date. The deal will expire in 6 months. If, at that time or at any time in between, Iran screws up, the consequences will be worse than ever. Not only will Congress have the full backing of the administration to move forward with tough new sanctions, it’s also likely that they won’t be far from an authorization for the use of military force.
This argument also applies to those arguing for a new round of sanctions that doesn’t kick in for six months. How long do we really think it would take to pass a bill if this deal starts to go south? It won’t be hard. But the dangers associated with passing new sanctions now (derailing the agreement, isolating the US from the rest of the P5+1, unraveling the entire sanctions regime) are far greater than the risk that Congress might lose a few hours in its rush to pass new legislation if the time comes.
Of course I could spend all day rebutting the criticism lobbed at the deal, and it’s likely I’ll need to do a lot more over the next six months. But for now, I’m just happy that at least I know we’re a little bit safer today than we were last week.
Now we can all go back to talking about the rollout of that website that ruined our day.