The announcement of a “framework” for an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear research and development had all the drama of a thriller – the extended negotiations, dragging out over several days and deadlines, the anticipation, the furor surrounding the process, and of course the naysayers carping from the sidelines, all focused the attention of the world like a laser.
President Obama did a masterful job in presenting the basic parameters of the deal in his speech: unlike his critics, he sounded like a true statesman, one who is looking to history, and not the next election or the next day’s headlines.
He stated clearly what are the alternatives to the peaceful resolution of this brewing conflict: war, or walking away from the negotiations – imposing heavier sanctions, blinding ourselves to what is going on in Iran, and following a course that eventually leads us back down the road to war. And he made a very important point, one that is not often brought up these days: we have been here before.
During the cold war we faced the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary. Instead of launching World War III, we negotiated with them – an enemy that had vowed to destroy us, and, unlike Iran, actually had the means to do so – and thus avoided a global conflagration. Citing John F. Kennedy – “We must never negotiate out of fear, but we must never fear to negotiate” – the President conjured cold war ghosts that are today largely forgotten: but those of us who lived through the Cuban missile crisis will never forget.
This is a very good deal: Iran has agreed to cut its installed centrifuges by two-thirds. It has agreed not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. It has agreed to significantly reduce its stockpile of low enriched uranium. No new enrichment facilities will be built for 15 years. The “robust” inspection of Iran’s nuclear fuel supply chain will endure for 25 years.
The Fordow facility will be reconfigured so that it will no longer be used to enrich uranium: two-thirds of its centrifuges and infrastructure will be eliminated. Advanced centrifuges will be removed from the Natanz facility.
The inspections regime imposed by the P5+1 is the most stringent in the history of such procedures. As the President put it, “If Iran cheats, the whole world will know.”
The current “breakout” time for Tehran to develop a workable nuclear bomb is about 3 months: under the proposed deal it will be at least a year. Their cheating, if it occurs, will be readily apparent. The sanctions will be lifted only if and when Iran complies with the agreement, in stages as compliance is verified.
What we have here is an airtight deal – here is the actual text – one that seems technically unassailable, and is certain to keep the Iranian nuclear program in a box from which it would be next to impossible for Tehran to climb out of without being detected.
So what’s the catch?
As I said in my last column, the US Congress is the catch, the fly in the ointment that could nix this deal and lead us down the path to another war in the Middle East. Nothing has been signed. What we have is a framework, one that will lead to a fuller agreement in June – if Congress doesn’t step in and stop it.
Alas, the chances of our solons signing on to this agreement are dim, at best. Approval depends on the most warlike institution in American politics – the Republican party, which currently holds a majority in both houses. And as we have seen, the bitter partisanship that has poisoned the political atmosphere for many years has reached a fever pitch over the prospect of a deal with Iran: 47 GOP Senators went so far as to release an open letter to the Iranian leadership warning them that any agreement signed by this administration won’t be honored once they’re in power.
If they do succeed in blocking this historic pact, you can be sure they won’t occupy the White House any time soon – and may well lose their congressional majority, to boot. Certainly they would deserve to. Such obstructionism and naked partisanship would hand Hillary Clinton – no dove, to be sure – a political gift, making her look like a reasonable centrist in the face of the GOP’s extremism.
Yet the War Party doesn’t care about that. That’s because the coalition leading the assault on this deal doesn’t owe its allegiance to any party on American shores.
The opposition to this deal is coming straight from Tel Aviv, and only from Tel Aviv. And the overwhelming majority of Republican leadership – in Congress, and in the party hierarchy – is merely an adjunct of the Israel lobby. This is the meaning of the behind-the-scenes deal between House Speaker John Boehner and the Israeli ambassador to bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress and make the case against the deal before it was even struck. That’s the meaning of the “open letter,” authored by scary neocon Sen. Tom Cotton, which sought to abort the agreement in embryo. Both Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a point of traveling to Israel and canoodling with Netanyahu while the Lausanne talks were going on, pledging their undying support – and taking their marching orders.
A more disgusting display of treachery in the service of a foreign power hasn’t been seen since the heyday of the Communist Party USA.
Nothing has been signed: that’s the weak link in the chains that bind the War Party. Anything can happen in the next few months to ruin the chances for peace. Israel has been threatening to attack Iran unilaterally for years, including during these negotiations, and they are not above launching a provocation – one that will ignite a conflict that would envelope the entire Middle East and much of the world.
The prospects for peace have never been brighter – and the war clouds on the horizon have never been darker. And that’s where we stand: in the no man’s-land between triumph and disaster.