Before Opposing Iran Deal, Consider the Alternatives

From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program. (Joe Klamar/Pool Photo via AP)

Iranian nuclear talks concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

President Obama announced a deal with Iran on Tuesday. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to block the deal. This decision will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren and is one of the most important votes Congress will take in our lifetimes. We are far better off with this deal than without it, and we could not have gotten a better deal.

Yet before the ink was dry, some groups announced pre-planned campaigns to defeat the deal. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) claimed he read and analyzed the deal Tuesday morning and published an op-ed opposing the deal that very afternoon. Dold had 60 days to make the most important decision of his congressional career, but he made it in a matter of hours. I guess he can use the remaining 59 days and 18 hours to campaign.

We owe it to ourselves to think this through. Don’t rely on weak versions of the administration’s case presented by opponents of the deal. Read the administration’s position in its own words. You don’t have to agree, but you’ve got to understand. President Obama’s press conference last week is mandatory reading for anyone who truly seeks to understand — he covers many key objections.

The 24-day inspection access requirement for non-declared sites (the deal gives us 24/7 access to all of Iran’s known sites) deserves special attention. Critics compare it to giving a drug dealer 24 days to cover up, but that’s a false and misleading analogy. As James Acton explains, an “access delay — even one of 24 days — wouldn’t make any material difference to the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.”

And if you still disagree? Then you have to ask what the alternative is. What happens after Congress blocks a deal that our allies and Iran think is a good deal? Those who tell us in such great detail what is wrong with this deal have an obligation to tell us their alternative in just as much detail, so that we can weigh the merits and decide which course is best.

Some argue that the alternative is not war, but a better deal. A better deal! Why didn’t Obama think of that? Jeff Goldberg is right:

I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold.

No responsible person can oppose this deal without understanding the implications of blocking the deal and knowing what realistic alternatives we have. The “better deal” opponents want invariably turns out to be an deal that Iran would never accept and that our European allies do not think is reasonable or necessary for Iran to accept.

That leaves military action as the only realistic alternative. Military action can, at best, set back Iran’s program only a few years — while guaranteeing that Iran will pursue and obtain nuclear weapons in far less than ten years.

What About Israel?

Many in Israel’s military and intelligence community support the Iran deal. Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

Tel Aviv University physics professor Uzi Even, who served as a scientist at Israel’s Dimona reactor, supports the deal:

the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least 15 years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations.

Yet many Israeli political leaders across the spectrum oppose the deal. We have yet to hear any arguments from those politicians that differ from what we’ve heard here, nor have we heard any realistic alternatives from them.

In this case, it’s not that they know something we don’t. Israel is more at risk from a nuclear Iran than the U.S. and Europe. Reading between the lines, it seems that they just don’t trust the U.S. and Europe to actually enforce the deal or to actively stop Iran on other fronts not covered by the deal. Six years of non-stop anti-Obama indoctrination from the Prime Minister hasn’t helped. This makes for a terribly uncomfortable situation, but what choice do we have other than to evaluate the deal on its merits and ask ourselves if there are better, realistic alternatives?

Everyone agrees on the urgent necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Before Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) even read the deal, he said President Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran.” His opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), believes that Congress should carefully review this deal, without rushing to judgment or resorting to reckless partisanship. (Kirk later walked back his statement without apologizing.)

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, to stop terrorism, or to free American captives. The purpose of the deal is only to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We negotiated with Iran because we are safer with an evil regime that does not have nuclear weapons than one that does.

Reagan and Nixon faced similar criticism for negotiating with the Soviet Union, which was also committed to our destruction. We negotiate with our enemies, not our friends.

This deal is consistent with the framework announced on April 2 and with the criteria established by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By its terms, it is a good deal. Let’s ask questions, but let’s remember the stakes and let’s do so responsibly.

My message to Congress and staff: It’s not unusual for constituents to lobby you on issues that they know more about than you do. But on this issue, because of your access to the White House, you know more, and can get more information, than your constituents. Don’t doubt their passion and sincerity, but please make a fact-based decision and support this deal. Please also support any measures that would enhance Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities. No deal can provide absolute certainty, so it is incumbent upon us to provide Israel with the tools it needs if our worst fears are realized.

Video Satire: The Dealbreakers

No, the U.S. Won’t Impose Sanctions on Israel

The U.S. is not going to impose sanctions on Israel.

You would not believe the nonsense I get in my inbox. The question I ask myself is whether I should write about it, thus giving it a modicum of credence and potentially spreading the rumor further, or whether to ignore it, letting the misinformation stand uncorrected. But since we are going to see a lot of nonsense between now and Israel’s upcoming elections, let us see what we can learn. [Read more…]

Senators Menendez, Kirk Receive ZOA’s Defender of Zion Award


Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Photo: Richard Chaitt.

— by Richard Chaitt

About 100 congresspersons and legislative staffers participated in the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s Annual Advocacy Mission to Washington, D.C. last week.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) received the ZOA’s Defender of Zion Award.

ZOA’s national president, Morton A. Klein, said that Menendez “has done tremendous work in the field of security since 9/11, has given extraordinary speeches about Israel and has been leading with the introduction of the Nuclear Free Iran Act of 2013.”

Menendez said that he was “honored to receive this award”:

I have had an unwavering view that it is in the national interest of the United States to have a strong relationship with the state of Israel, an island of democracy. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I reject any call for boycotts, divestment or any statement that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

More after the jump.
ZOA’s board member, Jim Pollack, said that “Senator Kirk doesn’t just co-sponsor pro-Israel legislation, he initiates and he authors it. There is no better friend in Washington, D.C. than this gentleman.”

Kirk said to the audience, “When you’re told to ‘temporize’ what you’re doing in support of Israel, or to ‘back off,’ don’t. Defend the State of Israel and do exactly what you believe in.”


Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Klein said that the delegates “were thrilled to spend a day in their lives to fight for Israel, for strong U.S.-Israel relations, and to educate Members of Congress about the truth about the on-going Arab war against Israel, which seeks Israel’s destruction, not any sort of negotiated settlement.”

Hundreds of activists from 23 states across the country urged the congresspersons to:

  • oppose further U.S. aid to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) (currently more than $600 million per annum) until it fulfills its signed agreements under Oslo to:
    • arrest and imprison terrorists; dismantle and outlaw terrorist groups;
    • end the incitement to hatred and murder within the PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps;
    • end the PA alliance with Hamas; and
    • recognize Israel as a Jewish state;

  • impose new, tough sanctions on Iran in the event that it violates the Geneva Interim Agreement with the U.S. and Europe (P5+1) and fails to agree to ending its nuclear weapons program, given that the Iranian regime has called for the destruction of Israel, America and the defeat of the West; and
  • support and understand the legal, historical, religious and political right of Jews to live in Judea/Samaria and to oppose the canard, based on a willful and politicized distortion and intentional misinterpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that Israel’s presence there is unlawful and a war crime.

AIPAC Breaks With GOP on Iran Sanctions


Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

— by Steve Sheffey

The Kirk-Menendez bill started out as a bipartisan effort to increase pressure on Iran. It was introduced in December with 13 Democratic and 13 Republican cosponsors, amidst concerns that the clock was ticking and the interim agreement with Iran had not yet been implemented.

But once the interim agreement took effect, and after the administration shared more details about the plan, support for a vote on Kirk-Menendez began to evaporate, especially among Democrats. It began to look less like a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and more like a vehicle for Republicans to drive a wedge between pro-Israel Democrats and President Obama.

The bottom finally fell out on Thursday, when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and 41 other Republican senators sent a letter demanding a vote. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the bill’s co-author, responded by warning against making the bill a partisan issue.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement saying that, “We agree with the Chairman [Sen. Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”

More after the jump.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), said that Iran is “a serious, serious situation. For me to receive a totally partisan letter, we should not make this a partisan issue, and that’s what 42 Republicans have done. And I think it’s wrong.”  

One of AIPAC’s core principles is that support for legislation it backs must be bipartisan. This sometimes means compromise, but AIPAC knows that the U.S.-Israel relationship could be irreparably damaged if even the perception exists that congressional policy on Israel and Iran depends on which party is in power.

Forty-two GOP senators, led by “Partisan-in-Chief” Kirk, might want a vote right now, but AIPAC does not. It must have been hard for some AIPAC leaders to stand up to Kirk, but they made the right call. AIPAC stood up against partisanship on Israel, and in favor of its principles. We cannot let anyone turn Israel or Iran into a partisan issue.

AIPAC says it remains strongly committed to the passage of Kirk-Menendez. But unlike Kirk and his Republican partisans, AIPAC opposes an immediate vote on the legislation. No vote means no passage.

There may come a time when legislation like Kirk-Menendez is appropriate, but now is not the time. AIPAC’s position is very similar to the position the National Jewish Democratic Council articulated last month.

Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz last weekend that Kirk-Menendez “had no legs and no logic to stand on.”

Some of its supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.

The bill’s supporters had no rational response to the Administration’s claim that the same conditional sanctions that the bill was pushing could be legislated in a day if the talks collapsed or if Iran reneged on its commitments. They could muster only disingenuous disclaimers to the unequivocal assertion, by both Washington and Tehran, that the legislation, if approved, would contravene the Geneva agreement and bring about an Iranian walkout.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration sent a clear signal that sanctions against Iran remain in place and are enforceable during the talks, by imposing sanctions on more than 30 individuals and entities last week.

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Let Iran Be the Side That Failed the Talks


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges.

— by Steve Sheffey

Those who favor the Kirk-Menendez Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act are not warmongers. They favor the bill because, in their view, it will increase the chance for diplomacy to succeed.

Those who oppose the bill are not soft on Iran and are no less concerned about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. They oppose the bill because, in their view, the bill violates the interim agreement, would lessen the likelihood of a diplomatic solution, and weaken the sanctions architecture.

This is not some kind of a litmus test. There are strong friends of the U.S.-Israel relationship on both sides of this issue. No one should equate support for new sanctions with support, or lack of support, for Israel.

Some people are judging the interim agreement by the standards of what we hope will be the final agreement.

The purpose of the interim agreement is to delay, not end, Iran’s progress, so that Iran cannot run out the clock while we negotiate. It cannot and will not be the final agreement. If Iran does not fulfill its obligations under the interim agreement, it will lose even a limited sanctions relief.

More after the jump.
If talks with Iran fail, the world must know that they failed because of Iran, not because of the U.S.

If talks fail, we will need a unified international community to back us on increased sanctions or military action. If we impose sanctions that might contravene the interim agreement, the world will perceive — with some justification — that we, not Iran, are the intransigent party.

As Steven Spiegel wrote in Roll Call, “if the interim agreement is seen to have been upended by actions of the U.S. Congress, both the potential sanctions and military options will be threatened.”

It will be much more difficult, even almost impossible, to gain international support for sanctions and military action if the talks were seen to have broken down because of a controversial action by the U.S. Congress.

In that sense, voting for sanctions now could create the worst of both worlds: Iran will walk away from the talks as the offended party, and sanctions will be diminished as the Iranians develop an excuse to complete their nuclear ambitions. Congress should not give Tehran an opportunity for such a victory.

In a long but important article in the New York Review (I do not agree with all of it, but I agree with most of it), Jessica Matthews wrote that, “The bill’s authors, Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, argue that it strengthens the president’s hand. It does the reverse by making even more acute Iranian doubts that the president can deliver the relief from sanctions they are negotiating for.”

Its passage, as an act of bad faith on the U.S.’s part after having just agreed not to impose new sanctions during the term of the six-month deal, would probably cause Iran to walk away from the negotiations. Rouhani would risk political suicide at home if he did not.

Alternatively, in the all too familiar pattern of the past decade, he might stay at the negotiating table and match unacceptable American demands with his own so that blame for failure would be muddled.

America’s negotiating partners and others whose support makes the sanctions work would feel the sting of bad faith as well. The sanctions regime that has been so painstakingly built through ten years of effort by determined American leaders of both parties could easily unravel.

Mathews concluded that, “A final agreement is by no means assured, but the opportunity is assuredly here.”

The price of an agreement will be accepting a thoroughly monitored, appropriately sized enrichment program in Iran that does not rise over 5 percent. The alternatives are war or a nuclear-armed Iran. Should this be a hard choice? Astonishingly, too many members of Congress seem to think so.

In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg wrote that, “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has just stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges. I would also like to note that this unequivocal statement, if sincere, means that there is no possibility of a nuclear deal between Iran and the six powers set to resume negotiating with it next month.”

And if that is the case, we will need all the international support we can muster for whatever comes next. Maybe now is not the time to muddy the waters with sanctions legislation that could scuttle the talks and undermine our international coalition.

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Senators Affirm Israel’s Right to Self-Defense

Last light, the Senate unanimously passed Resolution 599 supporting Israel’s “Pillar of Defense” operation against Hamas. According to The Times of Israel,

The United States Senate sent a message of solidarity to Israel on Thursday by unanimously passing a resolution that expressed firm support for Israel’s right to protect its people from terrorism on the second day of Pillar of Defense.

Introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), Senate Resolution 599 expressed ‘vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.’

Sixty-two Senators joined the bipartisan resolution as co-sponsors.

The full text of the resolution follows the jump.
112TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION S. RES. 599

Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES Mrs. GILLIBRAND (for herself and Mr. KIRK) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

RESOLUTION

Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism. Whereas Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying
the State of Israel;

  • Whereas Hamas has been designated by the Secretary of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization;
  • Whereas Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements between
    Israel and the Palestinians;
  • Whereas Hamas has launched thousands of rockets and missiles since Israel dismantled settlements and withdrew from Gaza in 2005;
  • Whereas terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have fired approximately 900 rockets and missile shells into
    Israel this year, an increase from roughly 675 attacks in 2011 and 350 in 2010;
  • Whereas Hamas has increased the range of its rockets, reportedly with support from Iran and others, putting additional
    large numbers of Israelis in danger of rocket attacks from Gaza;
  • Whereas, on November 14, 2012, President Barack Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated
    Israel’s right to self-defense; and
  • Whereas Israel, as a fellow democracy, has an inherent right to self defense in the face of terrorist attacks: Now,
    therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate —

  1. expresses unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes and strongly supports its inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism;
  2. reiterates that Hamas must end Gaza linked terrorist rocket and missile attacks against Israel, recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians;
  3. urges the United Nations Security Council to condemn the recent spike in Gaza-linked terrorist missile attacks against Israel, which risk causing civilian casualties in both Israel and Gaza; and
  4. encourages the President to continue to work diplomatically with the international community to prevent Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets and missiles against Israel.

Why Does the Farm Bill Matter to Us?

— by Hannah Lee

Most Americans are protected from the travails and vagaries of our food sources.  The five-year cycle of Congressional debates on agricultural subsidies may underwhelm you, but it is relevant to your family’s well-being in hidden ways.  On Thursday, the Senate approved a new farm bill that would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

More after the jump.
Sugar subsidies were left in place.  Crop insurance was reduced for the wealthiest farmers, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.  This was through the efforts of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), saving $1 billion over 10 years. Recipients would now have to take steps to reduce erosion and protect wetlands, according to a last-minute amendment by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia).  The bill eliminated about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, whether or not they grew crops.

The limited good news is new funding for the next generation of farmers through an amendment by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).  The bill will also expand block grants to states for research and promotion of fruits and vegetables.  It will encourage the expansion of farmers’ markets.  It will consolidate several conservation programs to make them more efficient.

Despite the efforts of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), the biggest cuts were to the food stamp program, now known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

The House will begin discussion of the bill after the July 4th recess.  The House Republican budget presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would reduce food stamp spending by about $134 billion over the next decade and turn the program into block grants for the states.

Among the 64 Senators approving the Farm Bill was our own Robert Casey (D), while among the 35 Senators rejecting the Farm Bill was Patrick Toomey (R).   Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) was the sole abstention.