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16 Questions: “We the People” Demand Transparency on the Iran Nuclear Deal

If ever there was a time when Israel needed its supporters in America to speak up, this moment is it.
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March 29, 2022
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Up until now, the opposition to President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, has revolved around criticizing the deal. That’s been my approach as well. I’ve written several columns arguing that this new deal is a lot worse than the flawed original and endangers not just Israel but also the world.

In recent weeks, however, a twist has been added: People are demanding to see the details.

“Lawmakers in both parties say they have been left largely in the dark about what a new agreement with Iran might look like,” The Hill reported on March 21, “and they fear it will be significantly weaker than the deal former President Obama cut in 2015 because the United States has lost time and leverage.”

In a memo dated March 22, AIPAC called on Congress to “review any Iran agreement,” asserting that “Congress has the responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of any agreement and assess its impact on the United States and Israel.” 

In a memo dated March 22, AIPAC called on Congress to “review any Iran agreement,” asserting that “Congress has the responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of any agreement and assess its impact on the United States and Israel.” 

The memo added: “Based on reports out of Vienna, the new agreement with Iran will inevitably strengthen the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies, which will exacerbate the unprecedented magnitude and variety of threats to Israel. Congress must conduct rigorous oversight and review of the deal and assess its full impact on U.S. interests and those of our regional allies.”

On March 25, StandWithUs (SWU) launched a campaign entitled, “Let Congress & The American People Review the Iran Nuclear Deal,” asking supporters to “Email the President, the Secretary of State, and your Representatives supporting the right of Congress to review all nuclear deals with Iran’s regime.”

I attended an emergency meeting on March 24 organized by SWU where experts weighed in on the deal, and I came out of it convinced that the number one issue has become transparency.

I attended an emergency meeting on March 24 organized by StandWithUs where experts weighed in on the deal, and I came out of it convinced that the number one issue has become transparency.

Let’s pause for a minute to consider transparency. Regardless of where one sits politically, we can all agree that, in theory at least, one of the great things about this country is that our elected officials report to us. Through our vote, we can hire and fire. President Biden himself reports to us, meaning we have every right to know what he’s up to.

“The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

Those are the words of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson from her recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings. As someone who hails from a Third World monarchy, this notion of democratic accountability resonates deeply.

So, it is with all-American confidence that I and many others are pushing for transparency on the Iran nuclear deal, with at least the same enthusiasm that President Biden has shown for signing the deal. In view of reports that a deal is imminent, this need for transparency has taken on added urgency.

Regardless of where one sits politically, we can all agree that, in theory at least, one of the great things about this country is that our elected officials report to us. Through our vote, we can hire and fire. President Biden himself reports to us, meaning we have every right to know what he’s up to.

What do “we the people” have a right to know?

There’s no better summary than a March 10 letter to President Biden from a bipartisan group of Congressmembers, led by U.S. Representatives Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Elaine Luria (VA-2), and Tom Reed (NY-23). This letter is especially noteworthy because it’s not from a think tank or an activist group, but from Congress, the legislative body that represents us. This letter to the president, then, is our letter to the president. Here’s what they wrote: 

“Since the beginning of this Administration, we have hoped that renewed negotiations with Iran would achieve a longer and stronger agreement than the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), with clear nuclear restrictions and provisions addressing Iran’s international terror and missile programs.

“Among other issues, we are highly concerned about reports indicating the potential lifting of the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and of the sanctions placed on members of the office of the Supreme Leader. Without adequately addressing Iran’s role as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror — which was noticeably absent from the 2015 JCPOA — and simultaneously providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief, the United States would be providing a clear path for Iranian proxies to continue fueling terrorism.

“In his nomination hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken committed to maintaining terrorism-related sanctions on Iran. Lifting, waiving, or rescinding terrorism-related sanctions will violate his previous commitment to Congress.

“We will review any agreement closely, but from what we currently understand, it is hard to envision supporting an agreement along the lines being publicly discussed. As the State Department has often noted in reference to a nuclear agreement with Iran, ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’ We hope that no agreement is finalized without additionally addressing these concerns. Our support will be contingent largely on satisfactory answers to the following questions.”

The letter then listed 16 specific questions. If you care about this issue, it’s worth reading every word:

1. Will an agreement be presented to Congress pursuant to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA)? Regardless of any substance, the law and proper oversight role of Congress must be respected.

2. What will Iran’s breakout time be when the agreement is implemented?

3. What will Iran’s breakout time be in January 2024, and each subsequent year until 2031? In calculating breakout time, please assume that Iran carries out the maximum allowable uranium enrichment activity pursuant to the JCPOA.

4. Is there a consensus within the U.S. government on these breakout time figures?  If not, please detail the differing views within the Administration. Similarly, is there consensus on these figures by our international partners?  If not, please provide details on any differing views amongst our allies.

5. Will Russia gain any economic benefit from an Iran agreement?

6. If Iran subsequently believes the agreement has been violated, or that it has not received the promised sanctions relief, will Russia be in a position to return enriched uranium to Iran?  In essence, will Vladimir Putin become the de facto judge of compliance with an agreement?

7. How much money will Iran gain immediate access to when a deal is announced?  What is the estimated value of sanctions relief in year one of the agreement, and for each subsequent year through 2031? If there are differing views on these figures within the Administration, please provide details on these differences.

8. Does the Administration intend to request Congress pass legislation to lift the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) in 2023 as required by the JCPOA? If Congress does not lift ISA, what actions does the Administration expect from Iran? 

9. Does the Administration support the lifting of U.N. Security Council prohibitions on outside support to Iran’s ballistic missile program? Such prohibitions are currently set to occur in October 2023 pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2231.

10. The snapback mechanism in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 expires in 2025. What recourse will the U.S. have should Iran violate the agreement after that time?

11. Does the Administration intend to remove the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of the IRGC? Will sanctions on the IRGC in any other way be diminished?

12. Will sanctions targeting the Supreme Leader, his office, subordinates, or associated foundations be lifted or lessened in any way?

13. Will sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) be lifted or lessened in any way? If so, can the Administration certify that the CBI has in no way been engaged in any support for terrorism in facilitation of transactions for terrorist entities (including the IRGC) in the past year?

14. Will sanctions be lifted, or lessened in any way, on any other entity or individual that has engaged in support for terrorism, or been designated under Executive Order 13224 for providing material support to a designated terrorist entity?

15. Will Iran be required to satisfactorily answer outstanding questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the discovery of undisclosed uranium particles at multiple cites?

16. Will U.S. human rights programing in Iran continue subsequent to an agreement?

Now let’s imagine that you’re a Trump-hating, diehard Democrat who also supports Israel. Is there one question above that you object to? Are you not interested to know “how much money will Iran gain immediate access to when a deal is announced?” Or whether Vladimir Putin will become “the de facto judge of compliance with an agreement?”

Or whether the Administration intends “to remove the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of the IRGC?” Or whether Iran will be required to “satisfactorily answer outstanding questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the discovery of undisclosed uranium particles at multiple cites?” Or whether “U.S. human rights programing in Iran [will] continue subsequent to an agreement?” Or any of the other multiple questions?

It’s hard to understand why groups who consider themselves pro-Israel, such as J Street or the Jewish Democratic Council of America, have not embraced these questions and are not publicly pressuring the Biden administration to give us answers. Are they satisfied with the deal as they now see it? Do they not believe in the value of full transparency?  

It’s hard to understand why groups who consider themselves pro-Israel, such as J Street or the Jewish Democratic Council of America, have not embraced these questions and are not publicly pressuring the Biden administration to give us answers. Are they satisfied with the deal as they now see it?

In short, anyone who claims to be pro-Israel, or anyone, for that matter, who believes in governmental accountability, is entitled to get answers to these 16 critical questions.

I know what you’re thinking: The obvious reason the Biden administration hasn’t been more transparent is precisely because the deal is so weak. Instead of giving us what they promised — a “longer and stronger” deal — all indications are that they will give us a “shorter and weaker” deal. Who would want to show that off?

But even if you’re an automatic supporter of President Biden and will vote Democrat until your dying days; even if you couldn’t give a hoot about foreign policy compared to issues like gas prices and social justice; even if you think Biden is doing a great job isolating and punishing Putin for his invasion of Ukraine; even if you think Biden is pro-Israel in his kishkes— if you believe in holding our elected officials accountable, you have every right to demand answers to these 16 questions.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images; Majid Saeedi/Getty Images; Peter Muhly – WPA Pool/Getty Images

If we don’t do it, who will? Let’s face it — when it comes to influencing our elected officials, “we the people” have more leverage than many foreign leaders. Someone like Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, for example, is constrained because he can’t afford to alienate the United States, Israel’s #1 ally. We don’t have that burden. If ever there was a time when Israel needed its supporters in America to speak up, this moment is it.

Let’s imagine that you’re a Trump-hating, diehard Democrat who also supports Israel. Are you not interested to know “how much money will Iran gain immediate access to when a deal is announced?” Or whether Vladimir Putin will become “the de facto judge of compliance with an agreement?”

I’ve rarely seen such unanimity around an issue. Unlike 2015, when those for the deal were at least as noisy as those against the deal, this time it’s as if the pro forces have gone into hiding. Maybe they realize what a tough sell it is, and they can’t wait until it’s behind them. Maybe they realize the lethal implication of the deal’s sunset clause: even in a best-case scenario in which Iran doesn’t cheat (hardly a given), within a few years an Iranian nuclear program will be perfectly legitimate. So, while this new deal would kick the nuclear can down the road, Israel and other countries would have to pick up the pieces.  

Because Prime Minister Bennett has publicly announced that Israel would not be bound by any agreement, we can expect Israel to accelerate its covert efforts against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Starting with the insertion of Stuxnet into centrifuges in Natanz, the Israelis have used a combination of cyberwarfare and sabotage to slow down the regime’s nuclear program. The shame is that after signing a deal, the Biden administration would be precluded from partnering in this sabotage strategy to ensure its success.

Instead, if a deal goes through, we can expect tens of billions in sanctions relief to flow to the world’s #1 sponsor of terror, a predatory theocratic regime that has been fully transparent about its desire to annihilate the Jewish state.

liorpt/Getty Images

My friend and author Yossi Klein Halevi used the word “madness” to describe the state of affairs. He wrote in an email: “The madness of the Iran deal is to offer Iran this irresistible trade-off: Restrain your nuclear capabilities for a relatively few years, and you will be granted the financial power and diplomatic immunity to become the region’s conventional Muslim power, subverting and destroying nations — even while remaining on the nuclear threshold, with the sunset clauses all but ensuring eventual nuclear breakout.” 

“The madness of the Iran deal is to offer Iran this irresistible trade-off: Restrain your nuclear capabilities for a relatively few years, and you will be granted the financial power and diplomatic immunity to become the region’s conventional Muslim power, subverting and destroying nations — even while remaining on the nuclear threshold, with the sunset clauses all but ensuring eventual nuclear breakout.”
–Yossi Klein Halevi

It’s natural to wonder why the world’s most powerful country would negotiate such a lousy deal with a murderous regime. Indeed, the head of Russia’s delegation, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, said recently that “Iran got much more than it could expect, much more.”

As I wrote in a recent column, I’ve heard several explanations for this radical American eagerness:

“[Biden] views the deal as upholding his and Obama’s legacy; he wants to undo anything Trump did; he’s desperate for any kind of ‘win’ after the disastrous exit from Afghanistan; he needs to lower gas prices to boost his approval numbers, and removing the sanctions against oil-wealthy Iran will help do that; he’s just following the advice of his overeager negotiators in Vienna (which would mean, of course, ignoring the three members of his Iran team who quit last month because Biden was being too soft.)”

Regardless of motives, however, as far as national interests are concerned, outcomes trump intent. What matters more than anything right now is that our elected officials are rushing headlong into a deal that is weak and potentially dangerous. The burden of proof is on them. 

Before they sign anything, they must answer our 16 questions. They work for us, remember?

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