It is high time to shift the focus of discourse and debate about the JCPOA from the combative “Yes-No” to “What do we do now?”
And is not enough to make vague statements like this one:
President Barack Obama says that he hopes the Iran nuclear deal will encourage the country to “behave differently” and stop sponsoring terrorist actors in the Middle East. He says the U.S. will try to gain greater cooperation from Iran on ending violent unrest in Syria and Yemen. But, he notes, “we’re not betting on it.” 15 July 2015
Or this one, by Secretary of State Kerry, answering a question at his talk for the Council on Foreign Relations: “And then, finally, because we’re integrating Iran back into the international community, did you ever ask them to no longer call for the destruction of Israel?”
Yes, to the last. And I also told them that their chants of “death to America” and so forth are neither helpful and they’re pretty stupid, and—(laughter)—so we absolutely discussed those things. 24 July 2015
The defensive stance of the administration seems to have made it impossible to progress – consider one of President Obama’s newest statements:
Iran must drop its anti-American and anti-Israel postures before it transitions into the international community. 10 August 2015
The most constructive proposals I have heard come from Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, and Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in their testimonies to Congress.
Congress needs to unite on a detailed, well-documented and soundly-argued list of a range of items that are crucial for follow-up, regardless of whether the first vote on the deal as such results in Yes or No.
Haass suggests that
any vote by Congress to approve the pact should be linked to legislation or a White House statement that makes clear what the United States would do if there were Iranian non-compliance, what would be intolerable in the way of Iran’s long-term nuclear growth, and what the U.S. was prepared to do to counter Iranian threats to U.S. interests and friends in the region.
As to Haass’ last point, Dubowitz and his associates have deep knowledge and concrete suggestions about what could be done to ensure that the deal doesn’t lead to massive increases in Iranian sponsorship of terrorism.
While Haass prefers starting with “Yes”, Dubowitz prefers starting with “No”. My conclusion is that either path can potentially lead to constructive work on what to do now. There are, however, a number of serious stumbling blocks. I’ve been reflecting intensively on this problem and I hope to write about it in my next posting or two.
<1> Inspiration for this lead-in about it being “time to stop”:
Sherwin Pomerantz, Jerusalem Post, 10 August 2015. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Netanyahu-vs-Obama-Time-to-stop-411732
Elad Benari, Israel National News, 10 August 2015. “Obama: I Don’t Intend to Lose Battle Over Iran Deal. President Barack Obama makes clear he doesn’t intend to lose the battle with Congress over the Iran deal.”
<2> Associated Press (Ynet News), 15 July 2015. “Obama hopes nuclear deal encourages cooperation”
<3> “Assessing the Iran Nuclear Accord – A Conversation With John Kerry” Speaker: John F. Kerry Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State Presider: Richard N. Haass President, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 July 2015.
<4> AP, AFP AND JTA, 10 August 2015. “Obama: GOP opposition to Iran deal is over politics, not merits. US president says Tehran will have to drop its anti-Israel, anti-Semitic rhetoric to be accepted by international community”
<5> Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations:
“Testimony on the Iran nuclear deal and its consequences” to Senate Armed Services Committee, 4 August 2015. Full PDF can be downloaded from the target page here.
<6> Mark Dubowitz Executive Director Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies:
“The Iran Nuclear Deal and its Impact on Terrorism Financing” Hearing before the House Financial Services Committee Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, Washington, DC, 22 July 2015.
“The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement” Hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Washington, DC, 5 August 2015.
Note: Kerry believes that the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism “isn’t dependent” on how much money they have available. See Patrick Goodenough, “Kerry Dismisses Iran’s Financial Support for Hezbollah, Other Terror Groups“, CNS News, 15 July 2015.
“What Iran has done for years with Hezbollah does not depend on money,” he said, in reference to the Lebanese Shi’ite group, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. Similarly, he said, Iran’s controversial activities in Yemen and Iraq have not “depended on money.”
“Sure, something may go additionally somewhere,” Kerry continued. “But if President [Hasan] Rouhani and his administration do not [use the money to] take care of the people of Iran, they will have an enormous problem.”
Kerry is right in the sense that the regime’s accomplishments have been spectacular despite sanctions. A recent State Department report says “Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran” .
He is also right that enormous problems will ensue if living conditions don’t improve. However, he seems to have forgotten that the regime has succeed in quashing rebellion before.
Kerry is dead wrong in asserting that additional funds won’t increase the scope and intensity of their support of terrorism. Fortunately, quite a number of important people understand this – as is evidenced by the cited and other committee hearings that Dubowitz has participated in.