If you bat one eye at CNN, Fox, or any major news network, you know the current hot debate is whether Congress should accept or reject the recent nonproliferation treaty between Iran and the P5+1, a group of six countries that joined together in 2006 to start diplomatic efforts on Iran’s nuclear program. The group includes the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States) and Germany. From one line out of a pundit’s mouth, you immediately doubt whether the deal will hold. What you don’t take away is its importance, or a sense that the U.S. could do so much more in the region with this deal.
This deal could be a historic win, yet it has become a topic of contention. The international community can finally have a good, clear look into Iran’s activities. The Iranian people can finally live without the pressure of sanctions. What’s the hold up? Congress, of course.
So far, pundits have discussed whether a better deal could be made, if the mechanics of the deal will work, if Iran will cheat, and concern about a stronger Iran. Senator Charles Schumer came out as opposed to the deal, arguing Iran would continue to be a threat. Opponents argue the deal has loopholes, as Iran can continue to develop centrifuges to enrich uranium. The reality is Iran would have to reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent and keep its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent, significantly below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb. Right now Iran has nearly 20,000 centrifuges, but under this deal, it would have to reduce that to 6,104 for the next ten years.
Additionally opponents say the deal does not allow for on-the-spot inspections; however, these are not necessary. If a majority of the partners involved want requested locations to be inspected on top of the scheduled inspections, Iran will only have 24 days to grant them access. This is not enough time for Iran to sanitize a nuclear facility and get it ready for inspection.
Opponents say the deal would fuel a nuclear arms race in the Middle East where other states move to acquire nuclear weapons if the deal goes through. This goes against security experts’ consensus that when a state has nuclear weapons, this motivates others to acquire them. The deal would prevent Iran from getting weapons, thus eliminating the possibility of an arms race. Overall, the focus has been on doubt instead of hope.
What’s missing so far is a discussion of the bigger picture. President Obama was right when he stated U.S. international credibility is on the line if we do not support the deal. Both he and State Department officials have had to pander to the current dialogue, promoting a truly historic deal, while so much more continues to be at stake in the Middle East. This deal marks a step in the right direction: isn’t it time we start thinking of how our actions affect ALL of the Middle East?
That’s what makes the deal with Iran so exciting. First, it makes sense. It puts physical or technical International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presence in all of Iran’s nuclear sites and will conduct regular monitoring of Iran’s entire nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain. If Iran blocks this monitoring, the sanctions are reinstated. This agreement will hold for 15 years, and while some say that is not enough time, it’s sure better than none. The global community could start monitoring now, and then take a different approach to make stability later.
Second, this treaty could change our foreign relations in the region. It marks the first step to improving our relationship with Iran. This could have unlimited positive effects for both countries and the world at large. If Congress rejects this deal, it immediately compromises that potential for stability. It compromises the economic opportunities for young Iranians. It compromises Americans not having to worry about a global enemy.
And why would Congress halt the deal? Largely because of one man, the notoriously conservative Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has the power to walk into Congressional office buildings and bring Congressmen nearly to tears. He claims he is leading the only beacon of light in the Middle East. In a speech in April he compared the Europeans who appeased Adolf Hitler to those willing to strike a deal with Iran allowing it to keep its nuclear capability, saying, “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth and deep darkness the people.”
That’s right, the leader of another state can twist and turn Congress, who is elected to represent the American people. It was refreshing to see Obama tell Netanyahu he is wrong in a speech he gave at American University last week, saying Netanyahu is the only foreign leader “I can recall” forcibly interfering in U.S. foreign policy. He followed this with a key fact: the U.S. will continue to defend Israel. We are protecting the state, and this treaty is another way we are doing so.
Many have discussed how accepting the deal would impact our relations with Israel, but they forget how discarding it would affect our other allies. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany all worked to create this deal too. These are all states who share the same interests as us. The opposition says the U.S. is betraying our allies with this deal, but we would be betraying even more allies by backing out.
This deal could change the way the U.S. operates in the Middle East. Instead of being the one starting wars, we can be the one preventing them. The Middle East could be a completely different region than the war-torn, refugee-filled one we know today, if this pattern continues. The U.S. needs to keep playing peacemaker in the region.
Unfortunately, this may not happen. It’s not hard to imagine Obama vetoing a UN Security Council measure being led by France on Palestinian statehood to calm Israel and lower the volume on Capitol Hill on Iran. It’s not hard, but it is disappointing. With sway over both sides, the U.S. is one of the only powers that could push this necessary dialogue. Hopefully the Iran deal marks a willingness to be this glue.
The U.S. is a global leader. Congress, it’s time to start acting like it, and this deal with Iran is a great first step.