TIME Military

Retired Generals Wage Letter War Over Iran Nuclear-Deal Vote

Controversial Heavy Water Plant Nears Completion In Iran
Majid Saeedi / Getty Images The Obama Administration argues Iran's Arak nuclear facility won't be capable of producing fuel for nuclear weapons under the proposed deal.

The Pentagon's new dead-letter office

Last week, nearly 40 retired U.S. generals and admirals urged Congress to endorse the deal the U.S. and five other nations have struck with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. “We, the undersigned retired military officers, support the agreement as the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” they wrote.

The other side, nearly 200 strong, lobbed a return brass barrage Wednesday. “In our judgment as former senior military officers,” they said, the deal “would threaten the national security and vital interests of the United States and, therefore, should be disapproved by the Congress.”

Sure, brigades of special interests, including arms-control organizations, foreign-policy shops and even rabbis have been urging Congress to vote the pact up or down. But these ex-military officers are different, aren’t they? They spent their careers fretting over national security. Maybe that’s why, if you doubt the deal makes sense, you squirmed over last week’s letter. But you cheered this week’s, with five times as many signatures.

What’s a poor fence-sitting American to think? Not much, according to a sampling of retired general officers. “Having signed neither is about all I wish to say about this sort of thing,” says one former four-star, although he declined to say so on the record. “Those with the most insights and knowledge of the deal,” adds another, also speaking privately, “were not among the signatories.”

“I’m convinced that 90% of the guys who signed the letter one way or the other don’t have any clue about whether it’s a good or bad deal,” says Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine officer who says he refused requests from both sides to sign their letters. “They sign it because somebody’s asked them to sign it.”

So how would he vote? Zinni says he can’t say, because he hasn’t had the closed-door intelligence briefings offered to lawmakers that he says would answer his two critical questions:

First, how airtight is the inspection regime? The more intrusive the inspections, the better the deal for the U.S. and its negotiating allies.

Secondly, how united are the allies in re-imposing economic sanctions if Iran is found to be cheating? The weaker the prospect of future sanctions, the worse the deal is for Washington.

“Everyone is speculating on worst case or best case,” says Zinni, who oversaw U.S. military dealings with Iran from 1997 to 2000 as chief of U.S. Central Command. “The guys who like the deal are saying `It’ll all work!’,” he says. Among those signing are Marine general James Cartwright (vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, 2007-2011), Marine general Joseph Hoar (chief of Central Command, 1991-1994) and Air Force general Merrill McPeak (Air Force chief of staff, 1990-1994).

“Those who oppose it,” Zinni adds, “are saying `They can cheat here, and here, and there!’” Opponents include Navy admiral Leon Edney (vice chief of naval operations, 1988-1990), Navy admiral Timothy Keating (chief of U.S. Pacific Command, 2007-2009) and Air Force general William Bigert (commander, Pacific Air Forces, 2001-2004)

Their views, Zinni argues, are driven largely by their politics. “It’s basically a Democrat-Republican issue,” he says. Like the lawmakers they are trying to influence, the signers who oppose the deal tend to be conservative. Those supporting it lean liberal (at least for retired military officers). It’s no surprise the generals against the deal outnumber those who support it. Surveys show that conservative military officers handily outnumber their liberal comrades.

“The agreement’s fine, if you think it can work. But if this is a Neville Chamberlain,” Zinni adds, citing the British Prime Minister who signed a peace pact with Adolf Hitler shortly before World War II, “then you’re in a world of shit.”

TIME Iran

Iran’s Foreign Minister Says It’s Too Early for the U.S. to Reopen Its Embassy in Tehran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is seen during a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (not seen) at Foreign Ministry in Tehran, Iran on August 23, 2015.
Fatemeh Bahrami—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (not seen) at the Foreign Ministry in Tehran on Aug. 23, 2015

Javad Zarif said the U.S. needed to first change its “illogical attitude”

Iran’s Foreign Minister said Sunday that it was premature to consider the reopening of a U.S. embassy in the country.

Javad Zarif’s remarks come as Britain restored its diplomatic presence in the country, four years after protesters stormed the U.K. embassy, triggering a breakdown in relations.

Speaking at a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Tehran, Zarif said the time was not right for Washington to follow suit, reports Reuters.

“It seems that there needs to be a change in that kind of attitude and behavior on the part of the U.S.,” he said. “So the situation is different with the U.S.”

America’s relations with Iran broke down in 1979 after a group of Iranian students, who supported the Islamic Revolution in the wake of the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, sacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Angered by Washington’s support of the ousted Shah and his admittance to the U.S. for medical treatment, the students took over the compound, taking 52 hostages. The ensuing hostage crisis lasted 444 days.

[Reuters]

TIME Iran

British Embassy Reopens in Iran

IRAN-BRITAIN-DIPLOMACY
Behrouz Mehri—AFP/Getty Images Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with his British counterpart Philip Hammond prior to their joint press conference in Tehran on Aug. 23, 2015.

It had been closed for nearly four years

(TEHRAN, Iran) — British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond reopened the British Embassy in Tehran on Sunday, nearly four years after it was closed following an attack by hard-liners.

Hammond arrived in Tehran on Sunday to attend the reopening ceremony and to hold talks with Iranian officials. The trip marked the first time a British foreign secretary has visited Tehran since 2003.

Britain has had no diplomatic presence in Tehran since hard-liners protesting the imposition of international sanctions stormed it in November 2011, but the election of President Hassan Rouhani and the recent nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have brought about a significant diplomatic thaw.

“Today’s ceremony marks the end of one long journey, and the start of a new, and, I believe, exciting one,” Hammond said, adding that reopening the embassy was the “logical next step to build confidence and trust between two great nations” after last month’s nuclear agreement.

In footage aired on the BBC, Hammond spoke from a leafy garden inside the embassy compound. He and a small group of officials then looked on as the British national anthem played and the Union flag was raised.

Terrorism, regional stability and the spread of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq are among the challenges Britain and Iran should be prepared to work together on, Hammond said.

“Over the coming months, we will work to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by making sure that it is fully implemented by all sides, and through this embassy’s efforts we will support British trade and investment, once sanctions are lifted. That will bring benefits for Britain and the Iranian people,” he said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the reopening of the British Embassy, saying it showed Iran’s regional and global significance.

“The world has realized Iran’s constructive role in the region and the globe,” state TV quoted Zarif as saying Sunday. “Of course, we have differences with some European countries but that can be negotiated through interaction, with open eyes and a realistic approach.”

Hammond and the new British charge d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, were attending the embassy reopening ceremony together with representatives of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Office said.

Hammond was also accompanied by a small British trade delegation to discuss possible future trade opportunities following last month’s nuclear deal, the ministry added.

The British Embassy would initially have a small number of staff with limited consular services, but officials expect to upgrade its leadership to full ambassador status in coming months.

The Iranian Embassy in London was also supposed to be reopened Sunday in London, the semiofficial ISNA news agency said. Several Iranian and British dignitaries, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, were seen entering the embassy residence Sunday morning, but it was unclear exactly when the embassy would formally reopen.

Iranian hard-liners oppose the improved relations with London. Many of them had called the British Embassy the “epicenter of sedition” when they attacked it in 2011. They accused the country and its media, including the BBC, of fomenting unrest and encouraging rioters in Iran after the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Conservative lawmaker Esmaeil Kowsari said reopening the British Embassy opens the path for London’s “penetration” into Iran.

“Given concerns over efforts by the enemy to penetrate into Iran after the nuclear deal, it was not appropriate that the British Embassy in Tehran is reopened,” the hard-line daily Kayhan quoted him as saying.

Kowsari called on Iran’s security and intelligence agencies to carefully watch British Embassy operations and “prevent conspiracies by the British government before they are carried out.”

___

Associated Press writer Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

 

TIME Foreign Policy

Jewish Leaders Urge Congress to OK Deal With Iran

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event at the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building August 6, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event at the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building August 6, 2015 in Washington, DC.

'While not perfect, this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program'

More than two dozen leaders of the Jewish community signed a full-page ad in Thursday’s New York Times urging Congress to support an international agreement that backers say will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon for at least a decade.

Organized by the non-profit No Nukes for Iran Project, the ad is the latest sign that White House allies are stepping up lobbying efforts to keep the deal with Tehran on track. For the moment, it looks as though Congress cannot block the deal, although some Democratic defections—Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey—are raising blood pressures ever so slightly inside the White House.

“We remain deeply concerned that Iran is unflinchingly anti-Semitic and an unapologetic state-sponsor of terrorism. However, a nuclear-armed Iran would be even more dangerous,” the pro-deal leaders write. “While not perfect, this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Its signatories include three former chairs of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, 10 former heads of many of its biggest member organizations and three former members of Congress.

Notable among the signatories is Thomas Dine, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. That group, perhaps the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying Washington, is strongly opposed to the deal: “Congress should insist on a better deal,” AIPAC leaders urge in a call-to-action message.

Along with AIPAC, the studiously apolitical American Jewish Committee and the typically liberal Anti-Defamation League have also come out against the deal. The Iran deal faces opposition from some of the biggest Jewish Federations in America, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Miami.

The question of the deal with Iran is a tough one for Jewish voters, who overwhelmingly support Democrats. (The Pew Research Center finds that 61 percent of Jewish voters identified as Democrats or lean Democratic, while just 31 percent are Republican or lean that way.) Yet polls find Jewish voters souring on Obama; a Gallup poll in March found Obama’s approval rating among Jewish voters at 50 percent, down from 77 percent during 2009.

The Republicans looking to replace Obama at the White House have loudly opposed the deal, saying it was gives Iran too much in exchange for too little. Obama has stridently defended it and is urging Congress to get out of his way.

China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States negotiated the deal with Iran. Under the deal, Iran will get relief from sanctions and regain access to international oil markets, which will bring it a windfall of about $100 billion. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel and consent to inspections.

Thursday’s ad was unlikely to change the overall tone of the debate, although it was a signal that supporters of the deal were starting to mobilize as Congress starts to make its way back to Washington after its August recess.

The ad quotes retired Admiral Ami Ayalon, the former Chief of the Israeli Navy and former head of the nation’s security service. “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option,” he is quoted as saying.

“We agree with Admiral Ayalon and leading Israeli military, scientific and intelligence experts who share this view,” the signatories echo.

The full list of supporters: S. Daniel Abraham, Chair, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace; Michael M. Adler, President, Greater Miami Jewish Federation (2004-2006); Robert Arnow, Chair, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Board of Governors (1983-1994); Thomas A. Dine, Executive Director, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (1980-1993); Stanley P. Gold, Chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (2008-2009); E. Robert Goodkind, President, American Jewish Committee (2004-2007); Alan S. Jaffe, President, UJA-Federation of New York (1992-1995); Marvin Lender, Chair, United Jewish Appeal (1990-1992); Carl Levin, U.S. Senator, Michigan (1979-2015); Jacqueline K. Levine, Chair, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (1983-1986); Mel Levine, Member of Congress, California (1983-1993); Rabbi Brain Lurie, Chief Executive Officer, United Jewish Appeal (1991-1996); Lynn Lyss, Chair, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (1994-1996); Theodore Mann, Chair, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1978-1980); Ambassador (ret.) Alfred H. Moses, President, American Jewish Committee (1991-1994); Nancy Ratzan, Chair, National Council of Jewish Women (2008-2011); Seymour D. Reich, Chair, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1989-1990); Robert S. Rifkind, President, American Jewish Committee (1994-1998); Greg Rosenbaum, Chair, National Jewish Democratic Council (2014-present); Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary (1986-20006); Ambassador (ret.) Alan Solomont, Chair, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Great Boston (2003-2005); Alan Solow, Chair, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (2009-2011); Marc R. Stanley, Co-Chair, Foundation for Jewish Culture (2012-2014); Robert Wexler, Member of Congress, Florida (1997-2010); Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism (1996-2012); Larry Zicklin, President, UJA-Federation of New York (2001-2004)

TIME Iran

U.N. Will Allow Iran to Inspect Alleged Nuclear Work Sites

Hassan Rouhani, Yukiya Amano
Ebrahim Noroozi—AP Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks with the International Atomic Energy Agency's director-general, Yukiya Amano, at the start of their meeting in Tehran on July 2, 2015.

The U.S. and the 5 other world powers were briefed about the agreement and endorsed it as part of the larger nuclear deal

(VIENNA) — Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.

The revelation on Wednesday newly riled Republican lawmakers in the U.S. who have been severely critical of a broader agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the wider deal is unwisely built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.

“International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period. The standard of ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections – so critical to a viable agreement – has dropped to ‘when Iran wants, where Iran wants, on Iran’s terms,'” said U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce in a reaction typical of opponents of the broader deal.

The newly disclosed side agreement, for an investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, is linked to persistent allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear-limits deal.

Evidence of the inspections concession, as outlined in the document, is sure to increase pressure from U.S. congressional opponents before a Senate vote of disapproval on the overall agreement in early September. If the resolution passes and President Barack Obama vetoes it, opponents would need a two-thirds majority to override it. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has suggested opponents will likely lose a veto fight, though that was before Wednesday’s disclosure.

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the U.N. in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless. This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement.”

The Parchin agreement was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

On Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration was “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program. … The IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated.”

All IAEA member countries must give the agency some insight into their nuclear programs. Some are required to do no more than give a yearly accounting of the nuclear material they possess. But nations— like Iran — suspected of possible proliferation are under greater scrutiny that can include stringent inspections.

The agreement in question diverges from normal procedures by allowing Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence of activities it has consistently denied — trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he could think of no similar concession with any other country.

The White House has repeatedly denied claims of a secret side deal favorable to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Republican senators last week that he was obligated to keep the document confidential.

Iran has refused access to Parchin for years and has denied any interest in — or work on — nuclear weapons. Based on U.S., Israeli and other intelligence and its own research, the IAEA suspects that the Islamic Republic may have experimented with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms.

The IAEA has cited evidence, based on satellite images, of possible attempts to sanitize the site since the alleged work stopped more than a decade ago.

The document seen by the AP is a draft that one official familiar with its contents said doesn’t differ substantially from the final version. He demanded anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue in public.

The document is labeled “separate arrangement II,” indicating there is another confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA governing the agency’s probe of the nuclear weapons allegations.

Iran is to provide agency experts with photos and videos of locations the IAEA says are linked to the alleged weapons work, “taking into account military concerns.”

That wording suggests that — beyond being barred from physically visiting the site — the agency won’t get photo or video information from areas Iran says are off-limits because they have military significance.

While the document says the IAEA “will ensure the technical authenticity” of Iran’s inspection, it does not say how.

The draft is unsigned but the proposed signatory for Iran is listed as Ali Hoseini Tash, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for Strategic Affairs. That reflects the significance Tehran attaches to the agreement.

Iranian diplomats in Vienna were unavailable for comment, Wednesday while IAEA spokesman Serge Gas said the agency had no immediate comment.

The main focus of the July 14 deal between Iran and six world powers is curbing Iran’s present nuclear program that could be used to make weapons. But a subsidiary element obligates Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA in its probe of the past allegations.

The investigation has been essentially deadlocked for years, with Tehran asserting the allegations are based on false intelligence from the U.S., Israel and other adversaries. But Iran and the U.N. agency agreed last month to wrap up the investigation by December, when the IAEA plans to issue a final assessment.

That assessment is unlikely to be unequivocal. Still, it is expected to be approved by the IAEA’s board, which includes the United States and the other nations that negotiated the July 14 agreement. They do not want to upend their broader deal, and will see the December report as closing the books on the issue.

TIME Foreign Policy

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez Will Oppose Iran Nuclear Deal

Bob Menendez
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Senator Bob Menendez before giving a speech announcing he will not support President Obama's Iran nuclear deal on Aug. 18, 2015 in South Orange, N.J.

Menendez is the second Democratic senator to publicly reject the deal

(SOUTH ORANGE, N.J.) — New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez announced on Tuesday his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, the second Democratic senator to go against President Barack Obama, who is heavily lobbying for a congressional endorsement of the international accord.

Under the agreement, which the U.S. and other world powers negotiated with Tehran, Iran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions, which have been choking its economy.

Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joins Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York in rejecting the deal.

Menendez said his opposition is not an issue of whether he supports or opposes Obama, who has pledged to veto a congressional resolution of disapproval. He said he is opposed because Iran has violated various U.N. Security Council resolutions while advancing its nuclear program and that the agreement doesn’t require Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure.

“Let’s remind ourselves of the stated purpose of our negotiations with Iran: Simply put, it was to dismantle all — or significant parts — of Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability at any time. Not shrink its infrastructure,” Menendez said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed doubts that Congress could override Obama’s expected veto. Twenty-one Senate Democrats and Independents of the 34 needed to sustain a veto are backing the deal. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and the party leader-in-waiting, is the only other notable Democratic defection.

In the House, at least 50 Democrats have expressed support. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California has spoken confidently about rounding up the votes to save the deal. Ten House Democrats have announced their opposition.

Menendez urged the Obama administration to authorize the continuation of negotiations and recommended several changes, including requiring Iran to allow permanent access to suspect sites; a ban on centrifuge research and development for the duration of the agreement; an extension of the agreement to at least 20 years, and authorizing Israel to “address the Iranian threat on their own” if Iran accelerates its nuclear program.

“We must send a message to Iran that neither their regional behavior nor nuclear ambitions are permissible,” he said. “If we push back regionally, they will be less likely to test the limits of our tolerance towards any violation of a nuclear agreement.”

TIME 2016 Election

Fiorina Urges Republicans to Face Reality on Iran Deal

Carly Fiorina - Iowa
Joshua Lott— Reuters Carly Fiorina waits to be introduced before speaking during a campaign event at the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines in Waukee, Iowa on Aug. 16, 2015.

GOP hopeful says there is little Congress can do to improve the nuclear pact

White House hopeful Carly Fiorina said Monday it’s time to be realistic about the pending deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions: the current parameters are likely to be put into place and there’s nothing to be done until President Barack Obama leaves office.

“I earnestly hope that Congress will vote down this deal,” she said. “But we should be realistic. The rest of the world has moved on.”

The Republican former tech executive told voters at the Iowa State Fair that she would go to work negotiating a new deal if she were elected President. Fiorina said the United States could put pressure on Iran to return to the negotiating table by limiting its ability to move money internationally, as well as lobbying other world leaders to join Washington in pressuring Tehran.

But in the coming weeks, there’s not much anyone can do, she lamented. “New deal, new deal,” she said, taking questions from voters who wandered between stalls of deep-fried food and livestock.

She said her message to Iranian leaders would be direct if elected President: “Until you open every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections, the United States of America, without anyone’s permission or collaboration, will make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system.”

Fiorina, a never-before-elected candidate and the lone woman seeking the Republican nomination, has captured voters’ interest during this summer lull. A polished performance during an undercard debate helped her poll numbers climb, and she is spending much time camped out in early nominating Iowa and New Hampshire.

More voters are starting to give her a listen. And they’re finding the former Hewlett Packard CEO’s conservative message includes a pragmatism not found in some of her rivals’ promises. For instance, she said it is unlikely Congress can derail the agreement with Iran and renegotiating it with the current partners seems unrealistic. “China and Russia have never been negotiating on our side of the table,” she said.

China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States negotiated the deal with Iran. Under the deal, Iran will get relief from sanctions and regain access to international oil markets, which will bring it a windfall of about $100 billion. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel and consent to inspections. The deal is expected to block Iran from obtaining the technology needed to build a nuclear weapon for at least a decade.

TIME Iran

The Iranian-Vote Carnival

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Focus on what happens once the nuclear deal goes through

With the nation’s attention fixed on cecil the lion and Donald the Loon, it was easy to miss an absolutely crucial speech that Barack Obama made about the Iran nuclear negotiation on Aug. 5, the day before the Republican debate in Cleveland. It was as clear and concise an argument for the deal as you will find–if you read one political speech this year, I recommend this one. But Obama hurt his cause with some needlessly partisan rhetoric on an issue that ultimately will need serious, nonbombastic attention from experts in both parties, whether or not the deal passes Congress. I understand the President’s ire. His opponents are talking ovens, holocausts, the eradication of Israel–as if Israel didn’t have the most formidable military deterrent in the region. Yes, it’s kind of lovely that both Republicans and Iran’s hard-liners oppose the settlement, but Obama should have looked past the passions of this moment. Yes, many of those against this deal were passionately in favor of the war in Iraq, but there are some very prominent Republican proponents of that war who quietly believe that this deal is worth pursuing under two conditions: If we can surround it with a tough and rigorous policy that addresses Iran’s aggression in the region. And if we can be very clear about the consequences to Iran if it cheats. But those Republican senior statesmen (and women) have been told by GOP leaders to withhold their (qualified) support until after Congress votes on the deal in September.

The Congressional vote on Iran this September has become your standard American political carnival–the foreign policy equivalent of the futile attempts to repeal Obamacare. For Republicans, it will be a referendum on Barack Obama. They will vote against it. For some Jewish Democrats, it will be a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu and the not-so-subtle pressures being exerted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They’ll also vote no. Indeed, a large majority in both houses will vote against the deal. Then the President will veto it. Then there will be another vote, on the President’s veto. I suspect that Obama will be able to cover the one-third needed to sustain his veto. The deal will go forward, but what then?

In the unlikely event that the deal is defeated by a veto-proof majority, Iran will have two choices: It can take the high road and say this deal was negotiated with the world and it will adhere to the agreement, thereby making America look globally inept and powerless, since every one of our negotiating partners–not just the Russians and Chinese, but the Europeans as well–will stick by the accord. Or the Supreme Leader can say, “See, you can’t trust the Great Satan. We’re going to build the bomb right now and protect ourselves.”

This does not mean inevitable war–that was another Obama overreach in the speech. If we could contain and deter the Soviet Union for nearly 40 years, we can do the same with the relatively minuscule Iranian threat. There are those who say that unlike the Russians, the Iranian regime is led by irrational religious fanatics–but the only time in this century an Iranian leader ever publicly mentioned the need for an “Islamic” bomb occurred in December 2001, when Ayatullah Hashemi Rafsanjani said a bomb was needed for an entirely rational reason: to deter the Israeli nuclear threat. The Supreme Leader has since issued a fatwa condemning the use of nuclear weapons, but there are those who point to the Shi’ite tradition of taqqiya–telling lies for the greater good–as evidence he can’t be trusted. Only a fool would deny that’s a possibility.

But let’s talk about probabilities: Obama will beat Congress, and the deal will go forward. The Iranians will have to comply in every aspect with the new regime–dismantle most of its centrifuges, destroy or sell almost all its enriched uranium, destroy the core of its lone plutonium reactor, fully comply with the inspection rules. It will have to do all this by March of next year. It will not receive a penny in sanctions relief until it does.

The U.S. and Israel need to send a clear–and unified–signal that we will insist on full compliance from Iran, that we will not tolerate any fudging and that we will take action to block any Iranian aggression in the region. On Aug. 3, 70 former leaders of Israel’s defense and intelligence community issued a statement saying that, like it or not, the Iranian nuclear accord is a done deal and the job now is to put forth every effort to enforce it. It would be nice if some leading Republicans said the same as soon as the veto is upheld. This is too important for the same old partisan frolics. But harsh, partisan talk from the President won’t help us get there.


This appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME diplomacy

Switzerland Lifts Sanctions on Iran

Switzerland - Iran Nuclear Federal Council
Dieter Nagl—AFP/Getty Images Representatives of Iran and six major powers meet in Vienna, Austria in April 24, 2015, seeking to finalise by June 30, a historic deal curbing Iran´s nuclear programme.

The Swiss Federal Council reserved the right to reverse its decision

The Swiss Federal Council officially lifted Switzerland’s sanctions against Iran Wednesday in the wake of a landmark nuclear deal.

“The Federal Council wishes today’s steps to be seen as a sign of its support for the implementation of the nuclear agreement and its interest in deepening bilateral relations with Iran,” the Council said in a statement.

In July, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions in a deal negotiated by the U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The deal still awaits approval in some places and implementation. The Federal Council said it “reserves the right to reintroduce the lifted measures” if the the implementation of the international agreement fails.

While the U.S. and many of its partners have drawn a hard line on Iran, Switzerland has sought an open dialogue. The sanctions had been suspended since January 2014, and the Swiss Federal Council said it had developed a credible partnership with Iran.

The lifting of sanctions takes effect Thursday.

TIME Military

Keeping the World’s Eyes on Iran’s Nuclear Menace

IRAN-POLITICS-NUCLEAR-DEMO
CHAVOSH HOMAVANDI / AFP / Getty Images Iranian students formed a human chain to defend their country's nuclear program in 2013 outside the Fordow Uranium Conversion Facility in the northern part of the country.

Distractions shouldn’t derail the goal of denying Tehran atomic arms

They say close only counts with nuclear weapons. That’s something to keep in mind amid the increasingly rancorous debate over the pending atomic accord the U.S. and five other nations have struck with Iran.

Let’s face it: nuclear weapons are the only true weapon of mass destruction. Next to a nuclear blast, biological, chemical and conventional terror attacks are also-rans.

Seeking limits on nuclear weapons should not be confused with important, but less critical, aspects, like the unsavory aspects of one’s negotiating partner.

“It’s pretty evident that the single greatest threat to the region was their getting the nuclear weapon,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday. “So we focused on getting rid of the nuclear weapon. Nothing, however, has been diminished in our ability to push back against them on their arms trafficking, their support for terror, their proxies that they send in to other countries, the things that happen in their support for Assad, their messing around with the Iraqi Shia.”

This is where the debate over the wisdom of the proposed Iranian accord has foundered. Instead of focusing on the physics—what is the best way to keep nuclear weapons out of the mullahs’ hands—the increasingly bitter fight in Washington is being derailed by opponents of the deal who cite Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and its oft-stated desire to destroy Israel, as justification for their opposition. That’s akin to arguing that the thug who knifed you in the past shouldn’t be deterred from trying to get a gun.

“A vote for this deal means more money for Iranian terrorism,” warns Robert Bartlett, a former U.S. Army sergeant. He was seriously wounded in Iraq in 2005, apparently by an Iranian explosively-formed penetrator, a sophisticated roadside bomb that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. “What do you think they are going to do when they get more money?” he asks in a video from the newly-formed Veterans Against the Deal.

One can’t help but acknowledge Bartlett’s point. Yet the Iran deal isn’t about doing Iran a favor. It’s about doing what is best for the U.S. and the other five nations on its side.

There are weaknesses in the proposed pact. It allows Iran to remain a nuclear-threshold state, and scraps sanctions that frees funding that could fund mayhem. President Obama has over-played his hand by arguing that those opposed to the deal are pushing for another U.S.-led war in the religious tinderbox that is the greater Middle East.

But that’s all underbrush. The proposal strips nearly all of Iran’s nuclear-development program naked. It would give Washington and the rest of the world far more knowledge about Tehran’s nuclear schemes than it has today, and inspection regimes to keep an eye on them for at least a decade. The pact’s secondary flaws are no reason to derail the primary goal of denying Iran a nuclear weapon.

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