Whatever happened to the Iran nuclear deal? It used to be a central issue in U.S. foreign policy. We talked about it all the time. We even argued over whether we should bomb Iran. In fact, it is now a “done deal” and all sides began implementation in early 2016 requiring severe limits and effective monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. The new administration promised to “tear it up.” It may still do that — which is why it is worth spending a few minutes considering that prospect. Lend me your eyes and your mind….
Today, we follow closely the next steps of our new administration and worry about Russian action in Syria, the test of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile, and new tensions with Europe and indeed China. We don’t fret about an imminent Iranian nuclear threat, because there isn’t one. Tough and principled American diplomacy removed that danger for nearly 15 years. Even if Iran decides to violate the agreement and build a bomb, it would take them at least a year. It is one less worry we must confront in 2017, a year that has barely begun but is already brimming with uncertainty and concerns.
Iran faces a new election in the late spring with President Rouhani running as a possible winner. It is too early to predict — we have now learned that — but he and his team played a major role in getting us here. He supports pragmatic policies and a new approach to Iran as a member of the international community in reasonably good standing. He has fierce opponents who see Iran in deep danger and are willing to lash out to try to protect it and who oppose a Jewish state in the region and support a Shiite religious hegemony across an arc of the northern Middle East. But Iran has more choices now, as opposed to the past 35 years, and we welcome a more moderate Iran over the long term.
Now, imagine there was no international agreement curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, no program of unprecedented inspections, no removal of thousands of centrifuges, no disablement of the plutonium-producing Arak reactor, no shipping out of 98 percent of Iran’s enriched uranium. Absent an agreement, Tehran’s hard-liners will still try to take the next election to push forward with the nuclear program. But they can’t, because Iran’s program is locked down under the most intrusive inspection system ever devised and supported by more than 100 other countries in the world who oppose nuclear proliferation in any form.
Of course, the agreement isn’t perfect; no agreement is. Iran’s leaders — and particularly the hard-liners — complain that the U.S. has not kept its side of the bargain on sanctions relief. The international community worries about Iran’s supply of arms to regional hot spots, but the core of the agreement which caps and reduces Iran’s nuclear activities has been a success. How do we know that? The International Atomic Energy Agency, with its 24/7 monitoring of nuclear facilities and wide access to them, has confirmed Iran’s compliance for more than three years. And where there have been differences, those have been quickly settled to our satisfaction under arrangements provided for in the agreement. If we violate the deal, Iran will be free to go for a bomb, or free to isolate us by keeping the deal and its declared policy not to become a nuclear weapons state.
But many still just do not understand what the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action accomplished for U.S. security. They want to torpedo the agreement and start over, by either walking away outright or killing it by introducing new sanctions. If we do that, it will be the U.S. — not Iran — that will get the blame. Our allies have already made clear that, if we break the agreement, they will not join in new sanctions. And without new international sanctions, starting all over again is dead on arrival.
If the agreement is not preserved by the United States, Iran’s hard-liners will be free to do whatever they want with their nuclear program. Instead, we should begin now to think about how we can make that deal a more permanent arrangement for Iran and the rest of the world. We should not throw away our own achievements and we should keep our word. At a time when new international dangers seem to emerge with each passing day, we should be thankful that Iran’s nuclear program is one less worry in what promises to be a very busy year.