Fact-Check­ing the Flame Throw­ers

In the Con­tentious De­bate Over the Iran Deal, Who’s Right?

Forward Magazine - - News - By Nathan Guttman Washington

The rift be­tween Pres­i­dent Obama and many lead­ers of the or­ga­nized Jewish com­mu­nity over the Ira­nian nu­clear deal is out in the open. Be­yond pol­icy dif­fer­ences, both sides carry per­sonal griev­ances. This be­came ev­i­dent dur­ing Obama’s White House meet­ing Au­gust 4 with Jewish lead­ers, where much of the two-hour ses­sion was de­voted to mu­tual ac­cu­sa­tions hurled, po­litely, across the ta­ble. Based on the full Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion and on pub­lished ex­pert opin­ions, the For­ward has tried to fact-check the key points of con­tention.

Any­time, Any­where In­spec­tions

Crit­ics claim that while the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had promised that Ira­nian nu­clear ac­tiv­ity would be care­fully mon­i­tored and in­spec­tors could carry out their work any­time and any­where, the agree­ment is less cer­tain. The Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee ar­gues that car­ry­ing out in­spec­tions by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency “could be lengthy, fol­lowed by a prob­lem­atic process to re­solve Ira­nian ob­jec­tions. In­spec­tions could re­quire a 24-day ap­proval process, giv­ing Iran time to re­move ev­i­dence of vi­o­la­tions.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponds that this claim is mis­lead­ing. In­spec­tors will have “any­time, any­where” ac­cess to all known nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties. The 24-day process will ap­ply only to sus­pected un­de­clared sites, and even they will be mon­i­tored from out­side dur­ing the process. U.S. Energy Sec­re­tary Ernest Moniz said that Iran will not be able to “flush a lot of nu­clear meth down the toi­let,” as Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu put it, ex­plain­ing that nu­clear residue is im­pos­si­ble to con­ceal.

Ne­tanyahu and AIPAC are right on one point: Non-nu­clear se­cret ac­tiv­i­ties, such as those in­volv­ing weapon de­sign, can prob­a­bly be con­cealed in this time pe­riod, but fram­ing the deal’s in­spec­tion regime as faulty is grossly ex­ag­ger­ated.

Se­cret Side Deals

Crit­ics point to the ex­is­tence of two undis­closed side agree­ments be­tween Iran and the IAEA that re­port­edly undo many of the as­sur­ances the deal was sup­posed to pro­vide. These in­clude an agree­ment on in­spec­tion pro­to­cols and one re­gard­ing Iran’s dis­clo­sure of its pre­vi­ous nu­clear ac­tiv­ity, known as Pos­si­ble Mil­i­tary Di­men­sions.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers re­fer to these agree­ments as “se­cret side deals” and claim that the JCPOA hinges on a set of agree­ments no one in the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­tu­ally seen. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse: This is stan­dard pro­ce­dure for the IAEA in any nu­clear deal. Be­sides, the IAEA has al­ready briefed the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress.

Crit­ics’ use of the term “se­cret side deals” is mis­lead­ing, since there is noth­ing un­known about their con­tent. The crit­ics do, how­ever, have a point when claim­ing that an im­por­tant part of the in­spec­tion process will be car­ried out by a third party, ex­clud­ing the United States.

Bil­lions for Terror

The nu­clear deal, if im­ple­mented, would al­low Iran ac­cess to funds that have been frozen in for­eign banks due to sanc­tions if cer­tain steps are taken. Crit­ics call this $150 bil­lion wind­fall a “sign­ing bonus,” ar­gu­ing that it will flow to Hezbol­lah, Ha­mas, the As­sad regime in Syria and other Ira­nian desta­bi­liz­ing play­ers in the Mid­dle East.

The U.S. Trea­sury has a dif­fer­ent take. Not $150 bil­lion but at best $125 bil­lion is held in for­eign banks, and of this sum, Iran will be able to with­draw only $50 bil­lion to $56 bil­lion, af­ter de­duct­ing its obli­ga­tions. Sup­port­ers of the deal say that of these smaller amounts, most will be used for restor­ing Iran’s econ­omy, leav­ing only a frac­tion for fund­ing its no­to­ri­ous Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard and neigh­bor­hood terror or­ga­ni­za­tions.

So, while op­po­nents of the deal clearly over­stated the mag­ni­tude of the sanc­tions re­lief and ne­glected to men­tion that these are funds that be­long to Iran and are not a bonus from the West, they still are cor­rect to point out the po­ten­tial dam­ag­ing ef­fect of even a few bil­lion dol­lars be­com­ing avail­able for ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­ity.

Le­git­imiz­ing Nu­clear Pro­gram

Crit­ics of the plan be­lieve its 15-year du­ra­tion is too short and that when re­stric­tions are lifted, Iran will get the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s ap­proval to ac­quire a bomb. “Even if Iran fully ad­heres to the agree­ment, the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil will have le­git­imized Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and paved Iran’s path to a nu­clear weapon af­ter just 15 years,” AIPAC wrote in an anal­y­sis sent to con­gres­sional of­fices.

This ar­gu­ment has some prac­ti­cal truth, since most re­stric­tions on en­rich­ment will be lifted af­ter 15 years. But it has a ma­jor flaw: Ac­cord­ing to the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty, which Iran has signed, Iran will still be pro­hib­ited from de­vel­op­ing a mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­gram. It may be eas­ier for Iran to cheat in 15 years, but the deal does not “le­git­imize” an Ira­nian nu­clear bomb.

In­tact In­fra­struc­ture

Crit­ics say that while the agree­ment stops most of the ura­nium en­rich­ment cy­cles and al­ters the plu­to­nium re­ac­tor’s struc­ture, most of Iran’s in­fra­struc­ture will re­main, en­abling it to turn the switch and fire up the cen­trifuges once the deal ex­pires.

The White House says this is mis­lead­ing be­cause dis­man­tle­ment was never the in­tent. The ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues that Is­rael, AIPAC and crit­ics of the deal were aware that ne­go­ti­a­tions were based on the premise that Iran main­tains ac­cess to a civil­ian nu­clear pro­gram and that the goal was to block its path­way to a bomb, not to dis­man­tle nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties. Op­po­nents may not like the fact that nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties are not dis­man­tled, but their claim is ir­rel­e­vant, since that was never on the ta­ble.

Snap­back Will Not Work

Snap­back is a term coined by ne­go­tia­tors to de­scribe what will hap­pen if Iran vi­o­lates the nu­clear deal af­ter sanc­tions are lifted. All sanc­tions that were in place be­fore the deal will be re­in­stated, forc­ing Iran into the same dire eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion it was in be­fore the deal.

The prom­ise of snap­back was meant to as­suage con­cerns that once Iran gets what it wants from the deal, it will re­turn to its nu­clear path. But crit­ics ar­gue that snap­back will never be ef­fec­tive. They say it ap­plies to only ma­jor vi­o­la­tions and ex­empts in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies al­ready work­ing in Iran on con­tracts signed be­fore the vi­o­la­tions. This is in­deed a ma­jor loop­hole, although there is no way of know­ing how sig­nif­i­cant a por­tion of Iran’s trade these ex­empt com­pa­nies will rep­re­sent.

It’s Ei­ther the Deal or War

This has been Obama’s strong­est ar­gu­ment against those op­posed to the deal. If you kill it in Congress, he said, there would be no other op­tion but war. That’s be­cause dis­ap­proval would end the diplo­matic ef­fort to solve Iran’s nu­clear prob­lem, leav­ing only two op­tions: Ac­cept Iran as a nu­clear power, or turn to a mil­i­tary op­tion.

It is a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment that res­onates strongly not only with pro­gres­sives but also with many Amer­i­cans still reel­ing from the trauma of the Iraq war. Obama’s crit­ics say this is an un­war­ranted alarmist ap­proach. Their al­ter­na­tive is re­sum­ing sanc­tions and pres­sure, even­tu­ally lead­ing to a bet­ter deal.

Both ar­gu­ments are based on un­proven as­sump­tions.

It would be dif­fi­cult, per­haps im­pos­si­ble, to re­turn to sanc­tions-pres­sure-ne­go­ti­a­tions now, mainly be­cause the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion no longer ex­ists and uni­lat­eral Amer­i­can pres­sure will yield lim­ited re­sults. But the claim that this means the only op­tion left is war is hy­per­bolic. Iran’s race to the bomb would still be slowed, and there is no rea­son to be­lieve that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will not be able to come up with a new pres­sure mech­a­nism, per­haps not as ef­fec­tive, to curb the process be­fore mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion is re­quired.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.