Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. This imperative, long a foundation of American policy in the Middle East, has been my guidepost as I have reviewed the ongoing nuclear negotiations – and now the nuclear agreement – with Iran. Because as dangerous as Iran is today, it becomes twice as threatening to the security of the United States, Israel, and the world if its regional provocations were to occur under the cover of a nuclear weapons arsenal.
To be clear, Iran’s unacceptable conduct does not end with the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran funds and sponsors terrorists throughout the world. It denies the existence of Israel and openly roots for the obliteration of the Jewish state. Its human rights record is an abomination. But these negotiations, stretching for over a year, have been limited in scope to the future of Iran’s nuclear program. No matter the distastefulness of Iran’s other deleterious activity in the region, the sole purpose of these talks has been to divorce Iran from a nuclear weapon so that the international community can focus our attention on addressing Iran’s other malevolent behavior.
The test for this agreement, then, is simple: is Iran less likely to obtain a nuclear weapon with this deal than without it? Because I answer this question affirmatively, I will support this agreement when it comes before the United States Senate for a vote in September.
This deal has many unsavory elements. I would rather that its duration be longer. I would prefer our access to military sites to be less conditioned. I would like for Congress’s prerogative to impose additional non-nuclear sanctions on Iran to be clearer. But I accept that the perfect should not become the enemy of the good, and I understand that the nature of a negotiation by definition involves not getting everything you want.
That said, I believe our negotiating team achieved our primary objectives. Iran’s nuclear program is substantially curtailed such that they would need over a year to develop a nuclear weapon from the time that they make an internal decision to break out of the agreement, compared to just three-months before the deal. The inspections regime is unprecedented in scope and intrusiveness. The United States and Europe hold the power to reinstitute sanctions if Iran cheats, notwithstanding the objections of other P5+1 partners.
Though some call for the United States to just walk away from this agreement and get a “better deal”, this is no credible path to a better deal if the sanctions get weaker and Iran’s nuclear program gets stronger. The agreement has flaws, but the prospect that a better deal would result from congressional rejection seems like pure fantasy to me.
And, ultimately, the experts agree that if Iran decides to race toward a nuclear weapon, with or without this deal, the only foolproof way to halt this path is a large scale military strike. Importantly, the United States does not forfeit that reservation of military power in this agreement. To the contrary, military action is made more credible if Iran cheats in the face of this agreement, and America will have more partners in a military strike if it doesn’t isolate itself by pulling out of this agreement.
Upon recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin said, “you don’t make peace with friends, you make it with very unsavory enemies.” Diplomacy with adversaries is never easy, and the results are never pretty. But hundreds of wars have been avoided by nations supporting imperfect but necessary diplomatic arrangements. And we aren’t making peace with Iran with this agreement, we’re simply ensuring they don’t become a nuclear-armed adversary. America and our allies will still fight the Iranian regime tooth and nail on their support for terrorists, their constant threats to the U.S. and Israel, and their denial of political and human rights to their own people. This agreement, from the beginning, has been about stopping Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon without having to go to war again. Because I believe that Iran is less likely to get a nuclear weapon with this agreement than without it, I will support it.”