Iran and a group of six countries led by the United States reached an agreement Tuesday morning that aims to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.
President Barack Obama said that because of the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.”
The deal reached in Vienna was met with vitriol by Republican members of Congress, who sought a deal that completely stripped Iran of its nuclear abilities, and skepticism as well as a bit of praise from the Jewish community.
“Tehran has a long history of misleading the world. Last Friday’s government-sponsored ‘Quds Day’ rallies, in which the masses again shouted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’ are a good example of why we shouldn’t be overly optimistic,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “I fear we may have entered into an agreement that revives the Iranian economy but won’t stop this regime from developing nuclear arms in the long term, which would have disastrous consequences for the entire region and the world. As the famous proverb goes, ‘The road to hell is often paved with good intentions.’”
Other groups expressed hope that Congress would deeply examine and debate the content of the agreement. President Obama vowed to veto any legislation that would prevent implementation of the deal.
Under the deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, and they will be subject to international supervision. Iran will not use its centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade, and it will get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium under the deal as well.
Iran will also modify its reactor in Arak so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, and the country will not build any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years under the deal.
Inspectors will have managed access to Iran’s nuclear facilities as well as its entire supply chain.
Sanction relief to be phased in under the deal includes the United States’ sanctions as well as sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted.
Obama praised the strength of the deal.
“Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments,” he said. “That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification.”
Not all Jewish community leaders praised the deal as highly as the president did.
“Today’s announcement of this nuclear agreement with Iran is a realization of the deepest fears and the most dire predictions of skeptics who have, for two years, been warning against exactly this outcome — a bad deal that both enriches this tyrannical regime and fails to strip Iran of nuclear weapons capability,” said Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project.
AIPAC, which had been critical of the negotations, said in a press release Tuesday it was reviewing the agreement. The American Jewish Committee and the National Jewish Democratic Council urged thorough scrutiny of the deal by Congress.
“Will the deal enhance the security of the United States, our allies in the Middle East and the world? If so, then it should be supported,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “If not, then it must be opposed. This may be the single most important foreign policy issue of our generation to come before legislators in Washington.”
Knesset member and former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, in a TIME.com column, said virtually all Israelis consider the deal disastrous.
“We see an Iranian regime that will deceive inspectors and, in the end, achieve military nuclear capabilities,” he wrote. “We see an Iranian nuclear program that, while perhaps temporarily curtailed, will remain capable of eventually producing hundreds of nuclear weapons.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the world must stay focused on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“The United States, the European Union, the United Nations — particularly the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — and the broader community of nations must each work to provide the necessary resources, structures, and capabilities that are required to ensure Iran’s full compliance with an agreement,” the organization’s statement said.
J Street welcomed the deal, adding that Congress should give it thorough review while remaining aware of the consequences of its rejection.
“From what we have seen so far and what we have learned from President Obama and the negotiators, this agreement appears to accurately reflect the parameters set forth in the April 2 framework,” the organization said in a statement. “It also appears to meet the critical criteria around which a consensus of U.S. and international nonproliferation experts has formed for a deal that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.”
The talks, which spanned 20 months, were extended three times. Part of the delay was reportedly due in part to Iran’s insistence that the United Nations lift its arms embargo and that the United Nations Security Council’s eventual resolution approving a nuclear deal not describe Iran’s nuclear program as illegal.
The arms embargo on conventional weapons was put into place by the Security Council nine years ago. The ban also applies to technology for ballistic missiles.
Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter told Congress last week, “The reason that we want to stop Iran from having an [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] program is that the ‘I’ in ICBM stands for intercontinental, which means having the capability of flying from Iran to the United States.”
Carter’s stance was echoed by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he also testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking,” Dempsey said.
Neither the administration nor Congress wants Iran’s ability to traffic arms eased. The possibility of Iran using billions of dollars in sanctions relief to buy missiles from Russia was described by The New York Times as a “nonstarter” for Obama.
There is also the concern that lifting the arms embargo would allow Iran to openly supply weapons to Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad in that country’s ongoing civil war. Russia openly supplies the embattled regime with weapons while Iran does so not-so-secretly.
Congress has 60 days to review a deal. During that review period no United States imposed sanctions can be lifted by Obama. Congress will then have the opportunity to vote up or down on the submitted deal.
Republicans have been quite vocal in their opposition to the deal. On “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “It’s going to be a very hard sell — if it’s completed — in Congress.”
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed his Senate counterpart prior to the agreement by saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “From everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration’s backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set up for themselves.”
He reiterated that “No deal is better than a bad deal,” a position favored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Though McConnell said he believed that he could get more than 60 votes in the Senate disapproving the deal, he conceded that Democrats are unlikely to go against a deal the president has pressed so hard to achieve.
For their part, Democrats expressed optimism that the administration would walk away from a bad deal.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a recent interview, “He fully realizes his legacy will not be the next 18 months and whether or not he gets a deal signed. It will be whether any deal, if there is one, endures and is effective and actually blocks Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
Melissa Apter writes for Washington Jewish Week and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marc Shapiro writes for the Baltimore Jewish Times and can be reached at email@example.com.