There’s an old Iranian joke: Ask an Iranian “What’s two plus two?” and he will answer, “It depends on whether I’m buying or selling.” We Iranians take pride in our bazaari mentality. Nothing pleases us more than a successful negotiation. For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has stretched this skill to nefarious extremes.
At their outset, all Iranian Americans hoped the nuclear negotiations would bring a diplomatic resolution to three decades of enmity. Now, as Congress spends the next couple of months evaluating the deal, any analysis must begin by recognizing who is across the negotiating table. We must be clear-eyed about the Islamic Republic, a mendacious regime that for years has lied about building fortified underground nuclear weapons facilities, claiming, once discovered, that they were only for civilian purposes. The benefit of every doubt in the deal must be against the Islamic Republic because the regime cannot be trusted. By its own admission, the regime was compelled to negotiate — not out of any desire to mend fences or change its ways — but because it desperately needed the sanctions crippling Iran’s economy to be lifted.
The test Congress should apply in analyzing whether the deal should be approved is whether, on the whole, it makes America safer — not for 10 or 15 years — but for generations to come. In basic terms, the negotiations were premised on an exchange: Iran would dismantle its nuclear weapons program; in exchange, the West would lift economic sanctions. However, after numerous concessions, the exchange is far worse for America: For only 10 years, Iran will cut its centrifuges and agree to inspections in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions and the arms embargo. The deal — which now, at best, manages and delays (rather than prevents) Iranian nuclear weapons — has fatal flaws.
First, the deal does not require Iran to dismantle its enrichment infrastructure, permits Iran to continue research and development on its most advanced centrifuges, and largely expires after 10 years. Iran can simply wait a decade, reap the deal’s economic benefits, and then easily sprint to the bomb using its advanced centrifuges and newfound wealth. Lost amid celebrations in Tehran are reports that Iran’s leaders are celebrating “Western acceptance that Iran will continue to have a nuclear program, and that when the agreement ends in 2025 Iran will be able to enrich uranium and plutonium without limits.”
If Iran reduces its centrifuges and uranium stockpile and removes the core of the Arak reactor (which many estimate will take only six months), the deal will hand Iran upward of $150 billion and render Iran open for business.
Second, rather than what Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz promised in April would require “anywhere, anytime access,” the deal requires only “managed access.” International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors (which include no Americans) must first offer evidence of inappropriate activity to a commission that includes Iran, allowing Iran to delay inspections for 30 days. Only in the event of “significant non-performance” would there be any consequence for an Iranian breach — “snapback” sanctions — which Congress knows cannot be fully reconstituted easily or quickly.
Third, freeing Iran from economic sanctions and arms restrictions endangers America immediately. If Iran reduces its centrifuges and uranium stockpile and removes the core of the Arak reactor (which many estimate will take only six months), the deal will hand Iran upward of $150 billion and render Iran open for business. Yet, the deal does nothing to restrict how those billions may be spent or curb Iran’s human rights violations, sponsorship of terrorism and imprisonment of four American hostages. The administration concedes that some of that money will fund terror groups such as Hezbollah, but retorts that the deal was meant to address only the nuclear dispute. Even so, the decision to lift the arms embargo is baffling. In an 11th-hour concession that American military leaders vehemently opposed, the embargo on conventional weapons to Iran will be lifted in five years and on ballistic missiles in eight years, bringing the United States within the range of Iranian missiles. Why Iran demanded this concession raises troubling questions answered days ago by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei who, amid chants of “Death to America,” asked God to answer those prayers and promised that the deal would not alter Iran’s relationship with the United States, Hezbollah or Syria’s Bashar Assad.
The administration challenges critics of the deal to propose a better alternative, claiming that the only alternative is war. The alternative is a better deal that dismantles Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and reduces — not increases — Iran’s atrocities. We can either demand better terms now or face a far worse alternative in 10 years (or sooner, if Iran breaches the deal). In 10 years and one day, courtesy of this deal, a wealthy Iran armed with Russian air-defense systems — thus immune to sanctions or military strikes — will be free to build nuclear weapons.
This is where Congress can ensure a viable long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear threat by disapproving the deal. Congress can make sensible but meaningful amendments, including extending the deal’s duration, insisting on unhindered “anytime, anywhere access,” limiting Iran to first-generation centrifuges and extending the arms embargo. If Iran rejects these amendments, the United States should enforce existing sanctions, refuse to lift the arms embargo, and expand sanctions if Iranian intransigence and support for terrorism continue.
Finally, if Congress rejects the deal, a justified concern is whether sanctions can be sustained after the U.N. endorsed it and the other parties are eager to implement it. This new stage of negotiations would test American diplomacy and our European, Russian and Chinese partners’ resolve to truly stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If we expect them to choose their own geopolitical or economic interests over pushing for a viable deal now, do we really expect them to stand firmly with the United States if Iran breaches the deal or if Iran marches toward nuclear weapons in 10 years? No one in Tehran, after all, is chanting “Death to Russia” or “Death to China.” We cannot underestimate the power of American economic sanctions or rely on the U.N. or Iran’s enablers to protect American national security.
Iranians invented chess. By removing sanctions, lifting the arms embargo, and keeping Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, America is trading its queen, rook and bishop for pawns and a break in the action. At this defining moment, we can and must do better. Congress is in the position to do it.
Sam Yebri is the president and co-founder of 30 Years After, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the participation and leadership of Iranian-American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life.