Early this morning President Obama announced that the United States, along with its partners in the P5+1, had reached a historic nuclear arms agreement with Iran.
In general terms, the 15 year agreement requires that Iran reduce its nuclear enrichment capacity by 2/3rds, reduce its stockpile of low grade uranium by 98%, remove its heavy water reactor in Arak and allow UN inspectors to enter sites, including military sites if there is reason to believe that nuclear activity is occurring at the site. Once the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has taken the steps required to reduce and disassemble its nuclear program; UN, US and EU sanctions will be lifted.
As you might expect the international reaction to the deal runs from high praise to severe condemnation.
Israel and Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia fear that after 15 years the deal will allow the Shia leadership in Iran to secure unfettered access to a nuclear weapon. In the meantime the lifting of sanctions will allow tens of billions of dollars to flow into Iranian hands; funds that will be used to help the regime continue in its role as the world’s foremost supporter of terrorist activity. The inevitability of a nuclear Tehran will cause Sunni nations to begin their own quest for a nuclear bomb. Critics believe that this agreement sets a Middle East nuclear arms race into motion that not only threatens the very existence of the State of Israel but US national security as well.
Consider the alternative. In spite of sever economic sanctions, Iran is moving rapidly toward nuclear capability. There is no doubt that the sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy in a big way. But they have done nothing to stop the regime’s progress toward building a nuclear bomb. When sanctions were originally imposed in 2003 Iran had 200 operational centrifuges producing nuclear material. Today they have 19,000. Walking away from the table would not have stopped Iran’s progress toward nuclear arms. Had the US walked away the economic sanctions would have fallen apart. France, Russia and China would have walked away leaving the US to go it alone. Continued US sanctions would have hurt the regime but they would not have stopped Iran’s nuclear progress. It would seem that the only option left would be a military one.
Let’s be clear…this agreement is not going to change Iran’s hostile attitude toward the west or its Sunni neighbors. This is an arms agreement, period. Like Nixon’s accord with Mao and Reagan’s deal with Russia; the goal here has never been about changing politics. The goal is to lower the heat on the burner by de-escalating the arms race.
Congress has 60 days to review and formerly approve or disapprove the accord. The president has vowed to veto any legislative attempt to block the deal from moving forward.
Over the next two months we will be forced to endure a heated partisan debate over the details and assumed effectiveness of this historic agreement. The truth of the matter is that it will be 10-15 years at least before we know the ultimate affect. The Middle East is a volatile place and we have had a hostile relationship with Iran since 1979. Anything can happen…and probably will. The president is gambling that the Iranian government will hold true to its word. To some degree he is betting his legacy on it.
At first glance this is a mammoth diplomatic victory for the president. It could just as easily become a colossal mistake.
History will be the final arbiter.