NEW YORK — Dear Sen. Schumer,
When you announced your decision to vote against the nuclear agreement with Iran, you explained your reasons in a nearly 1,700-word statement that is thoughtful in substance and civil in tone. And yet, in the end, I found it unpersuasive.
I believe that the agreement is flawed. But it is the most intrusive, demanding and comprehensive set of inspections, verification protocols and snapback measures ever negotiated. Compare the detailed 159-page document to America’s 1994 accord with North Korea, which was a four-page vaguely worded document with few monitoring and enforcement provisions.
You have three sets of objections, which I will get to, but you fail to take note of what must happen at the outset, before Iran gets widespread sanctions relief.
Iran must destroy 98 percent of its enriched uranium, all its 5 percent to 20 percent enriched uranium, remove and store more than two-thirds of its centrifuges (including all advanced centrifuges), terminate all enrichment at its Fordow nuclear facility, and render inoperable the key components of its Arak (plutonium) reactor. All these steps must be completed to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
It is difficult to imagine that a serious military campaign against Iran would set back its nuclear program as much as this deal does from the start. Fordow, for example, is a facility buried deep in a mountain and would probably survive all but the most intense bombardment.
Your first objections are about the inspections and sanctions. You argue that the inspections are not “anywhere, anytime” and have a 24-day delay that is “troubling.” But all of Iran’s known nuclear facilities are subject to anywhere, anytime monitoring. And for new, suspicious sites, as nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis points out, “what opponents of the deal have done is add up all the time limits and claim that inspections will occur only after a 24-day pause. This is simply not true. Should the U.S. intelligence community catch the Iranians red-handed, it might be that the Iranians would drag things out as long as possible. But in such a case, the game would be over.”
In that scenario, Sen. Schumer, you argue that the sanctions snapback provisions are cumbersome. We must have read different documents. The one I’m looking at contains the first mechanism for the automatic reimposition of sanctions ever created to my knowledge. And they can be triggered by Washington unilaterally. Former George W. Bush White House aide Peter Feaver and sanctions expert Eric Lorber, in expressing skepticism about the deal, admit “we are hard-pressed to come up with other examples when the U.N. Security Council has voted to disenfranchise future U.N. Security Councils and create legally binding decisions on the say-so of a single member.”
You argue that the United States might prefer to restore sanctions in part and that other countries might not go along with this. But the fact that Washington could unilaterally snap back all sanctions is surely extraordinary leverage that it could use to get other countries to agree to a partial reimposition of sanctions.
You further claim that “after 15 years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program.” Let’s be clear. Iran is going to get sanctions relief no matter what. The international sanctions against Iran were put in place by other countries solely to get to a nuclear deal. None would go along with extending the sanctions, given that Iran has produced what they all regard as an acceptable agreement.
Foreign Policy magazine reported on an extraordinary meeting earlier this month, when top diplomats from the other five great powers involved in the deal met with senators to urge them to support it. The British and Russian envoys explained that if the deal was rejected, the sanctions would “unravel.”
Your final objection is that Iran would use some of its newly freed up resources “to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East.” That might be true, but the deal does not stop the United States and its allies from countering these activities, as they do today. The non-nuclear tensions between Iran and the United States predate Tehran’s nuclear program, continue today, and will persist in the future. But they would be much worse if Iran had a nuclear threshold capacity.
Your basic conclusion is that “If one thinks Iran will moderate … one should approve the agreement. … But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate … then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.” This is the most puzzling and, frankly, illogical part of your case. If Iran remains a rogue state, all the more reason to put its nuclear program on a leash.
Rejecting this deal would produce an Iran that ramps up its nuclear program, without inspections or constraints, with sanctions unraveling, and an America that is humiliated and isolated in the world. You cannot want this. I respectfully urge you to reconsider your position.
Fareed Zakaria is a syndicated columnist. His email address is email@example.com.