Rejection of the Iran nuclear deal would harm U.S. interests
If the U.S. congress rejects the nuclear deal with Iran, it will have multiple negative reprecussions for U.S. interests and security. The most likely impact of U.S. rejection of the deal will be a gradual collapse of the sanctions regime as our partners have no interest in reopening negotiations with Iran and are already starting to renew trade relations. Additionally, rejection of the deal will damage U.S. credibility as a global leader and its diplomatic capital for many years as the U.S. was critical in forming the consensus for the deal in the first place. Iranian hardliners will push to accelerate the nuclear program in retaliation for the slight and moderate elements will be unable to push back. While war is not necessarily inevitable, with all other options closed off, the U.S. and Israel will be forced with a choice on whether to attack or accept a nuclear Iran.
The Europeans would be the worst off. A congressional no would not only destroy the diplomatic process they have nurtured ever since France, Germany, and the United Kingdom began negotiating with Iran in 2003. It would also rob them of any illusions about their closest ally at a time when support for U.S policy in Europe is already low. Would the Europeans follow the American lead in confronting Russia or the self-proclaimed Islamic State? Why should they? Would they agree to a transatlantic trade pact? Not if the U.S. Congress sets a precedent by renouncing a negotiated agreement.
Such reactions would not be rational, given that Europe still needs the United States for its own security and prosperity. Yet, these are the kinds of responses that an irrational provocation like congressional disapproval of the Iran deal—and the United States’ ultimate inability to implement its part of the agreement—might engender. As a consequence, each instance of transatlantic cooperation would have to be bargained and paid for, rather than taken for granted among friends. By the way, restarting nuclear negotiations in the hope of a better deal would not even be on the table after a snub from Congress, as the international partners would not be able to trust the United States to live up to its existing commitments.
Tehran would be the winner of this U.S. rejection because it would achieve its major objective: the lifting of most sanctions without being required to accept constraints on its nuclear program. Iran could also claim to be a victim of American perfidy and try to convince other nations to break with U.S. leadership and with the entire international sanctions regime.
Meanwhile, Israel would be the loser, as Iran would resume its nuclear program without inspections and would garner support from other nations around the world. Ninety countries, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have already supported the deal. Though Israel opposes it, many key Israelis do not, including retired senior generals and a former Mossad leader.
The history of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear program without constraints is instructive. From 2005 to 2013, Iran rocketed from about 200 installed centrifuges to 20,000, while Washington sought to stop them through sanctions. Unrestrained by the joint nuclear agreement, Iran could quickly resume its aggressive nuclear program: move from 20,000 to 200,000 installed centrifuges, resume enriching uranium to 20 percent in its deeply buried facility, finish its plutonium reactor and develop reprocessing.
Vindicated in his distrust of the United States, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would no longer have any incentive to negotiate. The much flaunted and powerful Iranian “hard-liners” would likely return to dominate national politics and push President Hassan Rouhani’s more centrist team aside permanently. A return to the “hard-trodden path of diplomacy,” as Schumer proposes, would have to be conducted without Iran and its six negotiating parties.
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The collapse of U.S.-Iranian diplomacy would also endanger U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria and the interests they are guarding. The United States is in an odd predicament in its fight against the Islamic State: In Syria, it is supporting forces fighting the Iranianbacked Assad regime, while across a border that has mostly ceased to exist, it is operating even on the same Iraqi bases as Iranian forces supporting Iraq’s efforts to fight the Islamic State.14 The limited shared interest of rolling back the Islamic State and the diplomatic détente as negotiators worked on the nuclear agreement has restrained Iran, allowing a hands-off parallel effort that the administration has characterized as “uncoordinated deconfliction.”15 But the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has a demonstrated record of targeting U.S. forces, both directly and indirectly. With the return of a more hostile posture, it is likely that Iranian-supplied militias in Syria could begin targeting U.S. and coalition planes with surface-to-air missiles, or Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq could target U.S.-supported Sunni forces with roadside bombs (including particularly lethal explosively-formed projectiles, or EFPs). These attacks would exacerbate tensions between the United States and Baghdad and increase the sectarianism of the conflict, playing to Iran’s strengths.
If the US Congress spoils the Iran deal, a difficult debate will take place among Europeans as to their options. Europe could succumb to economic pressure, align itself with Congress and renege on the deal. But at a time when European relations with Tehran have warmed, and in a situation where Congress has obstructed the deal without giving it a chance to succeed, Europeans are likely to sympathize with Iran and forcefully stand against the US legislature.
If the US Congress wrecks the deal, Europeans will need to provide Iran with a package that offers economic easing from EU sanctions on the condition that Iran curtails its nuclear program. They will also need to protect their companies from US secondary sanctions by exerting the type of political pressure used to resist the Clinton administration’s extra-territorial sanctions on Libya and Iran in the 1990s. And whether Europe aligns itself with an anti-deal US Congress or not, it will incur costs and have to prepare to deal with the consequences of another military confrontation in the Middle East.
As Obama correctly noted, if Congress rejects the Iran deal it is inconceivable that America’s partners in Europe would then say “we’ll just do what [Arkansas Republican Sen.] Tom Cotton has to say with respect to our geopolitical interests.” US members of Congress opposed to the deal must be alert that their threats against Europe, and insistence on reaching a fantasy deal, are troubling many of their allies. This risks undermining trans-Atlantic unity and ultimately Western leverage, while inadvertently strengthening China and Russia. It’s understandable that Congress may see itself as omnipotent on domestic issues, but it would be dangerous for it to take a similar stance with world powers regarding matters of global security.
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With no deal to implement, Iran will have no credible constraints on its nuclear program. Tehran will be free to curtail the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) access to sensitive nuclear sites. Inspectors would lose the marked gains in access and verification secured in the interim agreement and expanded in the JCPOA, which allow “information and insight into Iran’s nuclear program at a level never previously achieved.”
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This includes monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities, centrifuge production, and uranium stockpile at every stage of its use. Under the current freeze on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has not dismantled its facilities – Tehran has been careful not to take any irreversible steps before the JCPOA is finalized. Without the constraints and incentives of the agreement, Iran would be free to sprint for a bomb – the exact “breakout” scenario that critics of the agreement have warned against for months.
This would require a shift in Iran’s politics, but the collapse of the agreement would almost ensure the success of Iranian hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani has staked his political career on the deal and campaigned on a platform predicated on the economic benefits of negotiating with the United States and its P5+1 partners. As negotiations have been extended, those benefits have been deferred, and even if U.N. sanctions are eased, it could take months or years for the Iranian public to see much effect from economic reintegration.17 With parliamentary elections approaching at the end of 2015, setting the stage for Iran’s next presidential election, it is unlikely that Rouhani’s gamble will pay off in time to recover politically – leaving an opening for more conservative politicians.18 These hardliners will point to hawkish rhetoric in the United States and Israel to justify why they need a nuclear deterrent after all.
You can argue that this deal should have been different, but when it comes time to vote on whether it should go forward, members of Congress will be choosing between two options, neither of them hypothetical. A yes vote means all the parties — not only Iran and the United States, but also the United Nations, China, Russia, and the European Union — implement this deal. A no vote, in contrast, doesn’t mean that some fantasy deal will fall from the sky. It means that the U.S. walks away from this deal, and it collapses.
That also could mean that the existing sanctions regime collapses. We can keep our sanctions on Iran, but the reason sanctions have been so devastating to the country’s economy is that they haven’t just come from the U.S., but also from the United Nations, the European Union, and elsewhere. If those other sanctions were to disappear, Iran would get most of what it wanted without having to fulfill any obligations at all. And if they want to pursue a nuclear weapon, they could then go right ahead.
So now that the deal is on the table and congressional votes are on their way, what Republicans really need to explain is not what sort of deal they might have preferred. We know their answer to that question — they’ll say they would have rather had a deal where Iran gives us everything we want, and we give up nothing. But that’s irrelevant at this point. What they need to explain now is why the U.S. pulling out of this deal — and what happens afterward — will be preferable to implementing it, imperfections and all. Do they think the Iranians will come crawling back and make further concessions? Do they think the rest of the world’s powers, which support the deal they helped negotiate, will just follow us and impose new sanctions in the hope that eventually that might lead to more negotiations (which, like these, would take years) and ultimately the fantasy deal where Iran capitulates? What precisely is the chain of events Republicans think will occur if we pull out?
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The United States could try to disrupt an Iranian breakout by issuing new sanctions, but these would have limited effect without international participation and would further antagonize nations that perceive the U.S. sanctions regime as a rogue effort that interferes in their own trade relations with Iran. With such a short breakout time, it is also unlikely that U.S. sanctions could prevent Iran from enriching enough uranium to produce a weapon. Israel would – justifiably – pressure the United States to take immediate military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. At this point, with a demonstrated record of U.S. unilateral action (in the form of sanctions) against Iran, it is doubtful that the United Nations would approve a strike, leaving the United States little choice to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without the support of the international community.
Even the most strident advocates of a military strike acknowledge that this would not prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. Optimistic forecasts suggest that a strike would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by three to five years, necessitating additional strikes and driving Iran’s nuclear program deeper underground. It would also have the perverse effect of encouraging Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to deter further attacks. This was exactly the precedent set by the Israeli strike against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, which “triggered a nuclear weapons program where one did not previously exist,” Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer concluded in a 2011 study based on primary-source documentation of Iraq’s nuclear program. The 1981 Osirak strike invigorated a decade of Iraqi nuclear weapons development, which was only interrupted by Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when Iraq was on the brink of producing a bomb. "
The United States has few options for dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge, and no good ones. A pre-emptive strike risks an unspeakable catastrophe. Sanctions have not worked, and tightening them further is no more likely to. Diplomatic talks will be difficult for the United States because an agreement would involve a compromise that would allow North Korea to keep its nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, if the goal is to prevent Pyongyang from developing an accurate nuclear-tipped ICBM, then negotiating with Pyongyang may well be the only way to try to defuse a looming crisis.
Even under current conditions, such talks would be fraught, the odds tilted against success. But if the U.S. thrusts aside the nuclear deal with Iran—and uses contrived evidence to do so—the message to North Korea and others will be that America’s word is disposable and the U.S. cannot be trusted to honor its commitments. This would deal a possibly fatal blow to any chance of a diplomatic effort to, if not halt or reverse, at a minimum slow down North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Indeed, walking away from the Iran deal, or contriving circumstances that force Iran to do so, would not only open up a now dormant nuclear crisis with Tehran, it would also close down perhaps the only option that might prevent a far more dangerous crisis with North Korea.
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Most directly, rejecting the nuclear deal would undermine the international nonproliferation regime, which nonproliferation experts have argued is today in a state of crisis.24 As the RAND Corporation’s Jeffrey Kaplow and Rebecca Davis Gibbons wrote in a recent report, the deal “offers at least the prospect of a sustainable resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue,” which “has been the central preoccupation of U.S. nonproliferation policy – and that of multilateral bodies such as the IAEA Board of Governors – for more than a decade.” They warn that the spread of enrichment and refinement technology represents a challenge to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), but note that this is not unique to Iran and will be the subject of future debates regarding other nations’ nuclear development. Congress must consider that leaving Iran’s nuclear program unconstrained would do far greater harm than good for the enforcement of the nonproliferation regime by undermining the IAEA’s ability to conduct intrusive inspections and signaling that the United States is not prepared to enforce nonproliferation agreements. This would only further hinder diplomacy on nuclear issues with other nations, particularly those participating in the Non-Aligned Movement. Additionally, enforcing the nonproliferation regime could quickly face new challenges if Iran’s rivals in the Gulf chose to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs in response to an Iranian breakout.
North Korea already harbors heightened suspicion and mistrust of Washington’s motives, fearing that the U.S.’ real objective is removal of the Kim regime and reunification of the Korean Peninsula under South Korean leadership. U.S. abandonment, without just cause, of the Iran deal would both validate and exacerbate those beliefs; to Pyongyang, the lesson would be that Washington saw diplomacy merely as a prelude to efforts to isolate, pressure and seek to remove the Iranian regime. Why would Kim Jong Un even begin negotiations if he is convinced that Washington would then look for excuses to unravel an agreement, should one be reached?
The message from Washington, of course, would not be heard in Pyongyang alone. The administration’s too-clever-by-half strategy of messing around with the Iranian nuclear accord—doing just enough to tempt Tehran to walk away from the deal after Trump publicly acknowledged that his goal is to undo it—almost certainly would undermine its credibility with nations whose cooperation it desperately needs to deal with the North Korean nuclear challenge. The recent unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea demonstrates two things: first, that a unilateral U.S. approach is impracticable; and second, that China and Russia can be useful partners in pressing Pyongyang on its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. If anything, the Trump administration is banking too heavily on Beijing to somehow solve the problem on our behalf.
But consider China’s reaction should the U.S. treat the nuclear agreement with Iran in a slapdash, dismissive manner. Beijing might well be angered given its interests in buying Iran’s oil and investing in its infrastructure. But it would be positively alarmed at the implications for North Korea, which presents China with a major security headache on its doorstep. China long has maintained that diplomacy with Pyongyang is the only viable answer to the North Korean nuclear problem, and it believes in the six-party format, which, not entirely unlike the seven-party format of the Iran negotiations, includes both China and the U.S. The precedent of the U.S. effectively dismissing an accord negotiated by a team of countries and ratified by the U.N. Security Council would give China considerable pause, raise serious questions in its mind about whether the U.S. can be trusted not to act similarly with North Korea, and make it virtually impossible for Beijing to vouch for Washington’s good faith vis-à-vis Pyongyang.
The author argues that if the Trump administration follows through with its consistent threats to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran, it will "ultimately result in American interests being taken into account last in global decision-making bodies."
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If the Trump administration makes good on its threat to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal, the fallout will spread to North Korea where the possibility of any kind of diplomatic solution, which most experts see as the only viable path, will evaporate.
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday it was in the interest of the United States to remain committed to a multilateral nuclear treaty.
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The director of the C.I.A. has issued a stark warning to President-elect Donald J. Trump: Tearing up the Iran nuclear deal would be “the height of folly” and “disastrous.”
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As the reality of Donald Trump's White House win sinks in among nuclear deal opponents, some are insisting that pulling out of the agreement is unwise. Instead, they say, Trump should step up enforcement of the deal, look for ways to renegotiate it, and pursue measures to punish Iran for its non-nuclear misbehavior. Such a multi-pronged, get-tough approach may even give Trump cover to fend off any criticism he may get for keeping the deal.
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The author argues that threatening to "tear up" the nuclear deal with Iran could provoke them into restarting their nuclear program as, "if Tehran expects to be punished no matter what, then why would it comply in the first place?"
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Joel Rubin argues that rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran would lead to either "an unconstrained Iran that can advance its nuclear program or a trade war that will make maintenance of the sanctions unsustainable."
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Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warns that if the U.S. rejects the nuclear deal with Iran, it would "significantly weaken our ability to achieve our broader foreign policy goals – most of which in 2015 require us to mobilize broad international coalitions."
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Dalia Dassa Kaye argues that congressional rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran would mean that key partners would likely abandon the sanctions regime, allowing Iran to reap the benefits of sanctions relief without having to abide by any of the nuclear restrictions. She concludes that if "anyone is going to get a better deal than the one being debated today, it would likely be Iran,"
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Joseph Cirincione details the likely negative consequences from U.S. rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran for U.S. interests, concluding that "Congress would be foolish to reject this historic opportunity."
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