Photograph from ABCNews
Dear Mr. President,
I have read with concern your recent comments about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s supposed perfidy in its implementation. Your formal remarks and tweets strongly suggest that you don’t have a clear understanding of what the deal covered, and don’t appreciate its full implications. Permit me to help.
The Iran nuclear deal concerned Islamic Republic’s production of plutonium and enriched uranium. It limited the construction of centrifuges, which are used for enrichment. It reduced the amount of uranium that Iran is allowed to possess by 98%, with the remainder being shipped to other countries, as per the agreement. It forced Iran to modify the design of its Arak nuclear reactor in such a way that it couldn’t be used to produce plutonium for bomb purposes, and further insisted that Iran must ship the reactor’s heavy water (deuterium oxide) to the USA. Activities related to nuclear research and development are limited for the next eight years. Finally, the treaty authorized intrusive inspections, including round-the-clock monitoring equipment and the right to visit any facility involved in Iranian nuclear activity. In exchange, nuclear-activity-related sanctions on Iran were lifted, and Iranian funds, which belonged to Iran in the first place, that had been frozen in offshore accounts, were returned to their owners. That’s the full deal.
The agreement isn’t perfect, because the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have to give advance notice on inspections. That means that activities could be hidden, but our other surveillance techniques would undoubtedly catch such duplicity. All in all, though, the comprehensive deal is far, far better than what was happening before, when Iran’s activities were subject to no constraints. We had already implemented harsh, biting sanctions on Iran, but that wasn’t stopping them from pursuing nuclear activities. Now, their activities have been almost entirely halted, thanks to this plan.
Nothing in this deal addresses Iran’s ballistic missile program or funding of extremist groups. Those are separate issues, with separate sanctions attached to them that remain in place. This deal was only meant to stop Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb, and nothing else. It has done that, by freezing in time Iran’s ability to develop a bomb for the next decade, at which point we can always negotiate anew. One can say that Iran remains in violation on these other matters, but linking them to the nuclear deal is a deliberate lie; the agreement does not address them.
Mr. Trump, the United States has always made deals with people we dislike. We negotiated the Washington Naval Treaty with world powers, friend and foe alike, in 1921 to limit warship construction, and it worked for more than a decade; it saved us an enormous amount of money, and prevented an arms race in the 1920s and most of the 1930s. We negotiated treaty after treaty with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear arsenals: the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the ABM Treaty, SALT I, SALT II, the INF Treaty, and START I. Signing them didn’t mean that we liked the USSR. Negotiating with the Soviets on these issues didn’t stop us from vigorously opposing communism around the world. It just meant that we took steps to limit the threat of nuclear weapons, because that was in our national interest.
The same is true here. It is in our national interest to prevent an Iranian bomb; that much is beyond dispute. If we don’t limit Iran’s nuclear program through a treaty, then there are no limits preventing Iran from developing a bomb, unless we resort to armed conflict. A war, Mr. Trump, must be a last resort, because the consequences would be unimaginably complicated and devastating. A U.S. war with Iran would invite more state-backed terrorism against us, and destabilize governments throughout the Middle East, while complicating our efforts to defeat ISIS.
The treaty has other benefits, too. Allowing Iran some measure of participation in the world will doubtless bring benefits to the Iranian economy. That will strengthen the country, true, but it especially strengthens the hand of President Rouhani and his allies, who just won re-election. Supreme Leader Khamanei still holds most of the power in the Islamic Republic, and he opposes Rouhani’s reformist views. However, the presidency remains a powerful force, and Rouhani’s is the loudest moderate voice in Iran. Our best hope of changing Iran’s behavior lies through cooperation with him. The more we encourage good behavior by Iran, and reward them for cooperation, the stronger he becomes as Iran fares better. That’s a good outcome. If Rouhani can claim credit for an improvement in Iran’s position, then he proves that engagement with the West is a good thing for Iran, and that changing Iran’s behavior leads to a better world. That is our best hope for reducing Iranian support for extremists, and encouraging positive Iranian engagement on a host of other regional issues.
If we end this deal, when the Iranians are in compliance with its parameters, then the United States will have proven to Iran – and to the world – that it cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith. More to the point, we will strengthen the hand of Iranian hard-line conservatives who oppose any deal with America. We will undercut the reformist faction, with whom we can negotiate, and advance the cause of the reactionaries who are our real enemies. The result will be a more belligerent Iran, more determined than ever to get a bomb in order to strengthen itself, and then our only recourse will be a ruinous war that will harm American interests and cause even more misery in the Middle East, while exposing us to a greater terrorist threat.
Our choice should be clear.