The recent nuclear treaty with Iran is a fait accompli but remains controversial. Most of the opposition to it came before any thorough review of the details. There are three basic reasons for the automatic opposition.
First, “Israel objects to it, and it is our ally.” Actually, Israeli opposition is far from unanimous. It is primarily Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party that objects, stating globally that it will lead to a nuclear strike on Israel from Iran. Inside Israel the dialogue is more shaded. Israelis do not believe Iran will commit national suicide with a nuclear attack. Suicide is exactly what such a strike would be to Iran.
Second, Americans view it as Obama’s treaty and Republicans tend to automatically object to anything with his stamp of approval, even when he adopts Republican ideas, such the Affordable Care Act.
But the clearest rationale for conservative opposition to the treaty is historical. It’s just what conservatives do. Leading American conservatives have offered unyielding opposition to every single nuclear agreement offered. That very fact lays bare and weakens such opposition.
In the 1960s conservatives opposed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The National Review called it “immoral … a policy that … favors our enemies and slights our allies.” The right opposed Nixon’s opening to China and his SALT Treaty as “profoundly unwise.” Even Ronald Reagan was tagged by the right as another Neville Chamberlain when he signed his intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty.
Before judging the current treaty, we should all take a good look at what it entails, as well as just how enforceable it is and whether there is a better alternative.
The treaty places stringent limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. It accomplishes this by cutting its enrichment capability in half and reduces for 10 years the number of its centrifuges from 20,000 to 5,060 operational ones. It bars enrichment of uranium above normal reactor fuel grade, eliminating 97 percent of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, limiting that nation’s research and development of advanced centrifugal machines for 13 years, and converting its Fordon facility into a medical research facility.
The treaty eliminates Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons by requiring it to use international assistance to redesign its unfinished plutonium reactor. Doing so, it will be unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium, prohibited from building heavy water reactors or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, and prohibited from ever doing so.
The treaty provides intrusive monitoring, including continuous monitoring of some key sites for 20 years.
Inspectors are required to have open access to any site, anywhere, including military sites. The Arms Control Agency declares that “with sufficient resources, the IAEA will be able to verify Iran’s commitment effectively.”
Iran is given incentives to comply with the agreement. No sanctions will be lifted until Iran has taken the above steps, providing transparency and giving the IAEA the information needed to resolve questions about past activities with possible military dimensions. For 10 years, if Iran violates the treaty the UN sanctions snap back into place, and the U.S. and the international community will have time to respond.
The impartial Arms Control Agency says the agreement should not be judged on how it addresses every single element of Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, we must assess its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving international monitoring and compliance.
Who do we think will benefit from this treaty? Certainly the Iranian moderates, the majority of the population who hold no antagonism toward the West and have been a roadblock to total domination by the far-right Ayatollahs. They are the force that led the rulers to the negotiating table. This treaty strengthens their position within Iran. That is valuable, and the U.S. should act in a manner that aids the moderate Iranians. (As of this writing the Supreme Leader is striking back, saying no to any further negotiations with the U.S.)
At home, who benefits? Those whose sons and daughters will be less likely to intervene militarily in Iran.
Opponents of the treaty, including Donald Trump, claim they could force a better deal from Iran. That is merely wishful thinking. A better argument is that Iran will not comply. There are legitimate grounds for such an assumption, but they are based more on previous Iraqi behavior than Iranian.
I believe the president could have reduced opposition by stating early on that failure to comply would result in the harshest measurements against Iran. Since the U.S. was but one of the five partners in the agreement, that would have been a politically touchy move.
There is no such thing as a perfect treaty. The bottom line is only time will tell if this treaty succeeds, but automatically opposing it without taking a careful look into it is a foolish venture.
Michael Adkins of Greenfield is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party.