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Who’s lying about the Iran deal?

When I first saw the title of Dan Perry’s featured post, “Stop lying about the Iran deal,” I thought it was going to be a negative response to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who last week addressed the potential new nuclear deal in a nationwide broadcast and said: “We are not pursuing nuclear weapons. We seek the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

My bad.

It turns out that the lying Mr. Perry wants to put a stop to has been perpetrated by a very different national leader—none other than Israel’s incumbent prime minister, Naftali Bennett.  And what he’s been lying about is the very same potential new nuclear deal that Khamenei was discussing in his address to the Iranian nation.

Bennett has lied, according to Perry, because he has said that, after the new agreement expires (which will be in less than three years, if the expiration date in the old agreement is retained), Iran will be allowed to make unrestricted progress toward the development of nuclear weapons.  Perry asserts:

There is absolutely nothing in the agreement—neither the past one nor surely the one to come—that says Iran will be allowed to advance to a bomb upon its expiration. The agreement, as customary with agreements throughout the ages, says nothing about what happens when it expires.

So what will happen? … Prophesy is a fool’s errand, but we can play the odds: the same powers will offer Iran renewal and extension with the same threat of debilitating sanctions if it should refuse. Just like now. The world by and large does not want and will not want a nuclear Iran.

Although it might be “customary” that agreements say nothing about what happens after they expire, in the field of nuclear proliferation, agreements do not always have an expiration date.  The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (to which Iran is a signatory), for example, was extended in 1995 so that it now has no expiration date.  There would seem to be no bar to structuring a new deal that would similarly bar Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons.  After all, that is perfectly consistent with what the Supreme Leader asserts is Iran’s intention.

But, if we assume that any new deal with Iran must have an expiration date, the question certainly does arise as to what will happen after that date.  Prime Minister Bennett has said that Iran might then “gallop” to a nuclear weapon, and the use of that word, which was also used in the same context by former Prime Minister Netanyahu, drives Mr. Perry up the proverbial wall.  It pains Mr. Perry to hear Bennett, for whom he had higher hopes, “parroting” a falsehood created by his predecessor.

But, consider this: if prophesy is a fool’s errand, it must be the case that Mr. Perry and those of his opinion have no greater claim to certainty than does Mr. Bennett and those who agree with him.  No one, on either side of the issue, has a crystal ball.  One would think that, under those circumstances, Mr. Perry would be very reluctant to assert that Mr. Bennett is “lying” about the future—maybe he’s saying what he honestly believes will happen, and maybe it will in fact happen.  That’s not the modus operandi of a liar.

But, much more importantly, is Mr. Perry’s calculation of “the odds” any more reasonable or convincing than Mr. Bennett’s?  Mr. Perry says nothing in the agreement allows Iran to develop nuclear weapons after the agreement expires.  True.  But it’s also true that nothing in the agreement prohibits Iran from developing those weapons after it expires.  The agreement, as Mr. Perry notes, is silent as to what will happen after its expiration.

Mr. Perry is confident that, after expiration of the new deal, the same world powers that entered into the previous deals with Iran—the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union—would threaten Iran with debilitating sanctions unless Iran entered into another deal.  So, Iran would agree to another deal.  And so on, apparently, ad infinitum.

That might happen, but it also might not.  Every time Iran agrees to one of these deals, sanctions against Iran’s participation in international commerce are lifted.  That has at least two effects: (1) Iran becomes wealthier than it would have been had sanctions not been lifted, and (2) other nations around the world develop closer ties with Iran as a buyer and seller of goods in the international marketplace.

The first effect may embolden Iran to refuse to enter into any further agreements; perhaps it will become wealthy enough to afford to say “no”.  The second may make it much more difficult to impose “debilitating sanctions” on Iran.  The more deeply Iran is integrated into the world market, the more difficult and expensive it becomes for other nations to cut commercial ties with Iran.  These are not irrelevant considerations in assessing the costs and benefits of another agreement with Iran.

Mr. Perry says that the world does not want and will not want a nuclear Iran.  I think that is largely correct, but it is not especially reassuring.  I doubt that any responsible world leader wanted North Korea to develop nuclear weapons (and I include the leaders of Communist China in that category), but nevertheless it has done so.  I would guess that most of the world deplores Russia’s assault on Ukraine, yet here we are.

According to Mr. Perry, Israel’s security establishment has “for years been rather ambivalent” regarding the deal with Iran.  This indicates something less than full support for former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s full-throated condemnation of the deal, and also something less than exuberant cheers in favor of the deal.  Perhaps, in criticizing the new potential deal, Prime Minister Bennett is not lying but instead presenting an entirely reasonable point of view.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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