Deal is Best Obstacle to Iran Nuke Threat - San Diego Union Tribune 8/27/15

Next month, Congress will vote on whether to affirm the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) among Iran, the U.S., European allies, China and Russia. After weeks of careful study, it is clear to me the JCPOA is our best tool to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon for at least the next 15 years. I will vote to support the agreement.

The government of Iran today is a chief sponsor of international terrorism and regularly threatens to obliterate Israel, our most important ally in the region. By 2013, Iran was only a month away from having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb. That is unacceptable.

The JCPOA requires a substantial dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran must dismantle 13,000 of 19,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges and reduce its low-enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent. The Arak reactor must be “redesigned” to end its ability to produce a plutonium bomb. Iran must allow access to international inspectors to verify compliance. In exchange, when those things are complete, today’s nuclear sanctions will be lifted.

This agreement is based on mistrust, not on trust. America’s leading nuclear scientists believe the inspection protocols are technically sound and more stringent than any previous agreement. They praise the 24-day limit on delay of access and assure that it’s not possible to hide evidence of highly radioactive material within that inspection time frame.

Iran agrees never to “seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” If it violates the agreement, the U.S. retains unilateral ability to “snapback” all economic sanctions, and does not waive or compromise its ability to use military force.

The JCPOA is not perfect. It doesn’t end Iran’s support of terrorism or permanently end Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program. It does extend the international weapons ban for five years and ballistic missile ban for eight years, but does not make the bans permanent. These issues still need to be addressed. But preventing Iran from a nuclear bomb for at least 15 years is an important achievement, and has been the core objective of the negotiations.

Congressional disapproval will not realistically force a better deal, as some opponents have asserted. The leverage for negotiations was created by the cooperation of other countries that share our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Our allies support the JCPOA and want to resume trade with Iran, with or without our blessing. As former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson stated, it is “totally unrealistic” to expect multilateral sanctions to stick should the United States reject the JCPOA.

Nor can we go it alone. U.S. direct trade with Iran has been minimal since 1979; without Europe and Asia, American sanctions are a drop in the bucket. And we can’t realistically continue “secondary sanctions,” banning U.S. banks or other businesses from engaging with any foreign business that is engaged in Iran. That would create a worldwide economic disaster in our partner countries and a potential trade war. It also hurts the U.S., because the very countries we would punish buy 40 percent of our exports. If we want to sanction Iran again, we can best do that through the JCPOA, which allows us to reimpose the full range of economic sanctions without international approval in the event of Iranian noncompliance.

The other alternative is a military strike, but we are better off and safer enforcing the agreement. If Iran doesn’t comply, even after the snapback of sanctions, President Obama himself has endorsed a military response to stop the bomb. In that case, the intelligence we will have gained from the JCPOA inspections will itself enhance the probability of military success.

Walking away from the JCPOA would deal a crippling blow to American credibility as a leader in world commerce, diplomacy and force. That’s bad for us and for Israel, especially if we are faced with having to fight a war. Rather than leading a multilateral coalition of countries that have agreed, via this agreement, to prevent a nuclear Iran, we may, once again, be forced to act alone.

The JCPOA is an important strategic component in dealing with Iran, but it’s only a part. We must soon define, with our allies, a collective response to counter Iran’s support of Hezbollah and other Shiite militias. We need to renew trust and cooperation with Israel. And we should work to ensure that this agreement emboldens moderates in Iran to transition peacefully away from the current government’s tyranny. While that seems unlikely today, 15 years is a long time in international relations.