One alternative to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that I don’t think we’ve discussed is for Congress to reject it and send him back to bargaining in the hope that he and John Kerry can negotiate a better one. I haven’t discussed this alternative because I consider it futile.
Not because Iran won’t agree to a deal less favorable it to than the one on the table. Obama and Kerry most likely could have negotiated a somewhat better deal if they hadn’t been so desperate to enter into an agreement. For example, there was no excuse for allowing Iran, at the last minute, to open up the issue of ending the embargoes on conventional arms and ballistic missile, and to obtain major concessions as to both.
I’m confident, however, that Iran will never agree to a deal that requires the out-and-out dismantling of its nuclear weapons program — the only deal that, for me, would justify lifting sanctions. Thus, returning to the bargaining table is not, to my mind, a meaningful alternative to accepting the present deal on the one hand or continuing to sanction Iran as best we can (with a military option on the table) on the other.
But two respected analysts view the matter differently. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009, and Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (and a Democrat), argue that if Congress rejects the present deal, “the United States may yet be able to obtain a viable accord that reliably alters Iran’s nuclear trajectory.”
Their argument is worth considering. For one thing, it does an excellent job of identifying major holes in Obama’s deal.
I’m extremely skeptical as to whether these holes can be filled, though. Edelman and Takeyh write:
The United States should return to the table and insist that after the expiration of the sunset clause, the P5+1 and Iran should vote on whether to extend the agreement for an additional 10 years. A majority vote every 10 years should determine the longevity of the agreement, not an arbitrary time-clock.
Further, the JCPOA has usefully stressed that all of Iran’s spent fuel from its heavy-water reactor will be shipped out permanently. A similar step should be taken with Iran’s enriched uranium.
The revised agreement should also limit Iran to the first-generation centrifuges and rely on “anytime, anywhere access.” These and other such measures could help forestall an Iranian bomb and stem the proliferation cascade in the Middle East that this agreement is likely to trigger.
Do you see the mullahs agreeing to all of this? I don’t.
Even if they did, moreover, the revised deal would provide no protection against Iran simply declaring the deal null and void and racing to develop nukes. The “breakout” period is designed to be only a year, and would probably be considerably shorter given all of the cheating Iran likely will have done in advance of abandoning the deal entirely.
Defenders of the deal say that, in this scenario, sanctions would “snap back.” It’s a nice phrase, but it’s doubtful that anything like the existing sanctions regime could be resurrected.
And even if it could be, Iran for years regarded developing nukes as more important than lifting sanctions. Once their economy picks up steam and domestic tranquility increases, the mullahs will likely once again prefer having nukes to being sanctions free.
Whether one agrees with me or finds the Edelman-Takeyh analysis persuasive, the next step is clear. Congress should reject Obama’s deal and override his veto of the rejection.