Skeptics of the interim deal with Iran question 1) Iran's commitments and 2) Iran's trustworthiness given a rocky and unstable history. Secretary of State John Kerry today tried to quell these feelings of inadequacy towards this landmark interim deal in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The skepticism is a bipartisan notion. Democrats and Republicans alike question the validity of this deal given Iran is still allowed to enrich uranium. Ranking Member Elliot Engel, (D-NY), who is one of the strongest supporters of the State of Israel in Congress, stated that Iran should have been forced to suspend enrichment for the duration of the six month agreement. Other members of the Committee are fearful that the United States gave up too much (roughly $7 billion in sanction relief). Chairman Ed Royce, (R-CA) noted that foreign based oil companies are now opening up talks with Iran which he believes is not acceptable.
Secretary Kerry's demeanor was one of uncertainty and confidence. He acknowledged that he came with "no guarantees" and insisted to the committee that "we [the State Department] know what we're doing." Secretary Kerry insisted this deal needs to be given a chance and Congress must hold off on additional sanctions, which may compromise the deal.
Secretary Kerry made note of the title of today's hearing, The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does It Further U.S. National Security?, and he affirmed, "the answer is yes." He also asserted Gulf, Middle East, and Israeli security is also safer. Kerry also made note of all the safeguards in place, such as immediate sanctions, if Iran cheats and stated that "if it [the deal] fails, we will be the first to come to you to ask for more sanctions." When challenged by Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL) about this being a "bad deal" and how it threatens our allies, Kerry simply replied he disagreed with her and in six months we would see if he is right or she is right.
While Kerry's uncertainty is troubling, he states this deal is "the best chance we have ever had" at mitigating a nuclear Iran. This deal was not brokered on trust. Kerry points to Nixon's groundbreaking meetings with Mao Zedong and maintained that these discussions were not based on trust at first but on a process of trust in the future. Kerry pointed to President Reagan's revered proclamation of "trust but verify" and asserted we must now "test and verify."
Skepticism is not unwarranted in this unprecedented deal brokered with Iran. Iran has been untrustworthy in the past and continues to demonstrate this behavior. ABC News reported that the interim deal has not actually been implemented yet and on Monday, officials gathered in Vienna to discuss issues of disagreement. Key provisions remaining to be determined are International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. As ABC News reports, "...it was left unclear where specifically inspectors can go and how often." Iran is still technically allowed to continue their enriching uranium over five percent since the deal has not officially begun. Despite these pressing facts, Kerry notes that Iran acknowledges that the U.S. is serious and believes their ailing economy cannot afford more sanctions.
Despite skepticism, there are some experts in Washington who agree with Secretary Kerry and believe this deal puts us on the right path. On Monday evening, a power panel of pundits and experts gathered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to discuss the Iran deal. Robert Einhorn (Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control), Zbigniew Brzezinski (former National Security Adviser to President Carter), and Thomas Friedman (New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner), all agreed this is a good deal.
Brzenzinski stated this deal is much better than military collision, which would have bogged us down in the region for a long time. The panel also unanimously agreed that sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table. As Einhorn pointed out, Iran's President Rouhani was elected because he made sanctions relief his fundamental goal. Einhorn went on to state that new sanctions are not necessary at this point because Iran understands Congress can impose sanctions within 24 hours if they cheat and there is a provision in the deal in which the U.S will not impose new sanctions. Friedman added that leaders in countries such as Israel wanted to double down on sanctions but as he points out, sanctions have not worked to 100 percent effectiveness because Iran continued to enrich and further developed their nuclear program.
Sanctions seem to be the major disconnect between negotiators, experts, and members of Congress. Chairman Royce stated at today's hearing that sanctions have been effective in the past providing the breakup of the apartheid system in South Africa as a prime example. Ranking Member Engel also strongly asserted that the U.S. should keep the pressure on in terms of sanctions and wondered how the U.S. can send a message to Iran without imposing new sanctions. He also contended that sanctions could strengthen our hand with a good cop-bad cop routine, which Kerry immediately dismissed as irresponsible.
So what does a perfect deal look like? This is the question to which everyone is seeking an answer. Israel, and their sympathizers such as Engel, want a full dismantling of Iran's nuclear program. Engel boldly stated today that a final comprehensive deal that does not fully dismantle the program would be devastating. Secretary Kerry and President Obama acknowledge this is not possible and Kerry seeks a deal, which guarantees a peaceful program. For Einhorn, daily inspections to ensure Iran is not conducting a clandestine program is a must while Friedman believes the Arak heavy water reactor must be converted to a light water reactor. Einhorn astutely references Iran's intransigence and states that if the U.S. asks for unrealistic outcomes, we will then become the intransigent ones.
Ultimately, a deal must encompass lower enrichment and frequent inspections to lengthen the break out time. The key is to be able to detect break out and stop it once it is discovered. This deal needs a chance to work in order to garner a mutual respect and agreement from the Islamic Republic as well as our dissatisfied allies in the region. Secretary Kerry, despite demonstrating uncertainty, is confident that this deal completely halts Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities and ushers in a new state of diplomacy. Members of Congress must give this a chance. With today's postponement of the Senate Banking Committee's vote for additional sanctions, I think Washington may be starting to listen.