Iran Deal is Best Way Forward

By Lee Hamilton for the Huffington Post
Sep 2 2015

As the calendar turns to September, all eyes are on Congress as it prepares to vote on the landmark Iran nuclear accord, which the U.S., Iran and five other world powers reached after a lengthy set of negotiations.

The particulars of the agreement -- which would effectively freeze Iran's nuclear program for at least a decade in exchange for a gradual lifting of international economic sanctions against the country -- have been widely discussed and debated. Recent surveys have indicated a sharp divide, mostly along political party lines, in American public opinion on the deal. Those who identify themselves as Democrats and independents largely support the agreement, while a majority of Republicans oppose it. Meanwhile, the White House appears to be gaining the support needed in the Senate to block GOP opposition to the deal.

Those who want the pact rejected, however, have loudly voiced their disapproval. They include individuals who adamantly believe that we should not negotiate with a nation that has supported terrorist groups in the Middle East and whose leaders have called for the annihilation of Israel. While these criticisms have merit, as I wrote in Huffington Post last month, I believe strongly in diplomacy as the preferred first option and in talking to not just your friends, but also your enemies.

Those who criticize the deal's specifics have focused their attention on what they perceive to be an inadequate 10-year time frame and whether Iran will be in a strong position to restart its nuclear program once the deal expires.

This is far from a perfect agreement, but it is a worthy agreement that represents the best way to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and we would be wise not to walk away from it, especially since there is simply no better alternative arrangement out there.

To be clear, we're talking about a limited accord, one aimed squarely on preventing Iran from building an atomic bomb. It doesn't attempt to resolve our nation's long list of grievances with Tehran, which includes its support of terrorism, repeated human rights violations and continued antagonism of our Israeli allies. Nevertheless, the nuclear issue is the most important one between our two countries, and in order to make progress in the difficult relationship between us, we must delink it from these other disputes, no matter how concerning they are.

The agreement places powerful constraints on Iran, including a deep reduction on the nation's nuclear centrifuges and its enriched uranium stocks, which will lengthen the time it would take Iranian scientists to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear bomb. Iran commits to never developing a nuclear weapon, and the agreement ensures that this will be the case for 15 years and likely longer. It also gives international inspectors unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear facilities, including both declared and undeclared sites, and to the entire supply chain that supports the country's nuclear program. Indeed, we should feel confident in our ability to detect non-compliance at Iran's nuclear facilities and sniff out any secret programs.

Furthermore, the agreement contains what may be the strongest-ever verification procedures, based on actual verification, not trust, and if at any time Iran fails to abide by its commitments, the international community can restart its sanctions.

In short, the constraints that come with this deal will effectively block Iran's pathways to producing fiscal material for a nuclear weapon in the 15 or more years ahead, an outcome attested to by scores of eminent nuclear scientists.

Implementing such a complex agreement is crucial. At over 100 pages and with five annexes, this is a detailed international agreement. Implementation will require that both the president and the Congress must be extremely vigilant in conducting robust oversight of the agreement. Thus far, though, Congress has indicated only limited interest in oversight of the agreement if it's approved, even if its members have had plenty to say about the agreement itself.

This deal is not the be-all and end-all. If, for any reason, the agreement doesn't work out as we hope it will, we have not sacrificed any of our options. It does not limit us from taking whatever steps necessary, including military action, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We can continue our strategy of deterrence, which has been effective.

That said, the consequences of rejecting the agreement should not be understated. Dismissing the deal would seriously undermine U.S. leadership in the world and our position as a reliable ally. This is not just an agreement between the U.S. and Iran, but an agreement among a number of key international partners. We put our stamp of approval on this deal. If we walk away from it now, we walk alone.

If the agreement is rejected, we would lose all of our leverage in Iran. Already, the economic sanctions are eroding, and businessmen are pouring into Tehran to initiate investments. A rejection of this deal puts U.S. entrepreneurs back on the sidelines and would embolden China and Russia, two countries that have previously signaled a readiness to help Iran build massive nuclear plants, to increase their investments in Iran's oil, gas and industrial sectors. 

What's more, a rejection puts us on a dangerous path. If America rejects this agreement, Iran will be unconstrained in any of its nuclear activities and can proceed as they see fit to develop its nuclear capabilities. A rejection also increases the risk of a military conflict, which would mean greater U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Opponents of this accord have often talked about a "better" deal, but if that were once possible, it's not possible now. They haven't demonstrated a viable way to arrive at a stronger agreement or indicated the specifics of another deal that our negotiating partners might accept. To that end, anyone can spin out a better deal, but there's simply no evidence suggesting that our allies would accept anything other than what we have today.

Finally, if we reject this deal and move toward the use of force, our military experts estimate that we can achieve several years delay in the Iranian nuclear program. This agreement blocks Iran for 10 years to 15 years at least and likely beyond. If we launch air strikes against their current facilities, we know the country's leaders will just reconstruct them stronger than ever. What's more, they'll thirst for revenge. Air strikes represent a temporary solution at best, and they can't come close to eliminating the military threat.

The issue before us at this time is agreement or no agreement. If our main mission is to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there is a clear choice: approve the agreement.

Lee H. Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs; Chairman, Center on Congress at Indiana University. He served as U.S. Representative from Indiana's 9th Congressional District from 1965-1999.