An evaluation of the nuclear agreement with Iran announced on Tuesday should take into consideration three key factors: The status of Iran’s nuclear program prior to commencement of negotiations almost two years ago, the realistic expectations of the United States and its negotiating partners, and the options if Iran fails to comply with the agreement or at the expiration of the various terms of the agreement.
At the time Iran agreed to suspend its nuclear development program and enter the negotiations with the United States, Great Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, it had built substantial capability to enrich uranium and engage in high-level nuclear research and development. It had 19,000 centrifuges spinning away, 10,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium and was believed to be within two months of “breakout time,” i.e., the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon. The international community was not allowed to inspect any Iranian nuclear facilities.
As verified by international inspections, Iran’s development activity ceased during the past 20 months of negotiations.
In any significant negotiations, each party should have realistic goals and reasonable expectations of success. President Barack Obama’s original objectives may have stretched those guidelines, but the agreement appears to be a realistic and reasonable measure to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon capability for a substantial period of time. To have demanded Iran destroy its nuclear facilities, cease terrorist actions and recognize Israel’s right to exist, as demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would have doomed the talks to failure.
It’s true the agreement doesn’t prohibit forever Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons; the various restrictions expire over periods of 10 to 25 years or indefinitely. But what has been given up if Iran doesn’t comply with the agreement or at its termination? In a word, nothing. The existing sanctions being removed over time can be restored and strengthened under a specific formula that prevents Russia, China and Iran from preventing such steps. Military action has been on the table and continues to be at any time Iran violates its obligations or when the agreement terminates.
As Mr. Obama stated in his announcement of the agreement, this is not a matter of trusting Iran. It’s rather an issue of vigorous inspection and active intelligence to ensure Iran’s full compliance with the agreement. Remember President Ronald Reagan’s admonition, “trust but verify,” as he negotiated arms control with the Soviet Union? “Verify” is a cornerstone of this agreement.
Under a previous plan approved by the president, Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement; its deliberations should be based on a fair analysis of the document’s terms and provisions, not ideology or political considerations. And House Speaker John Boehner must not repeat his egregious offense of inviting Mr. Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress. The prime minister has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.
Congressional support is important to the agreement’s impact on broader Middle East issues. And Mr. Obama, in particular, must exercise strong leadership to avoid inflaming the Iranian-Saudi conflict as well as other Shiite-Sunni issues.
Remember, without the agreement Iran could and would immediately resume its nuclear development program. What would we do then?
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.