The Iran Agreement: Why we should give the peaceful solution a chance

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By Patrick Leahy

Two years of arduous negotiations now have produced an agreement to seal off Iran’s path to producing a nuclear weapon.

I will have questions in the detailed briefings and hearings ahead, as I’m sure others will.  But we already know quite a bit.

We know that this process already had succeeded in freezing Iran’s nuclear development in place.  Now we have an agreement to also roll back Iran’s program.

We know this is the most rigorous monitoring and inspection regimen ever included in a nonproliferation agreement, more rigorous than observers had predicted.  We know that without a deal, the constant monitoring and on-site inspections would go away, and so would support for the wide-ranging international sanctions that we painstakingly built.

We know that the sanctions reprieve in this agreement is temporary, limited and reversible.  It’s structured so that most of it — including the key banking, financial and oil sanctions — remains in place.  If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we and our partners will revoke the limited relief and impose added sanctions.

And most importantly, we know that a peaceful solution to the threat of a nuclear Iran is far better than the alternative of another major war in the Middle East.  Or of pulling out of the agreement, letting Iran resume its program, and imposing new sanctions, but without our allies. We know that this agreement would buy more time and open new opportunities to solve this and other threats that we face from Iran’s activities in the region, including the wrongful imprisonment of U.S. citizens, Iran’s support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and Iran’s abysmal human rights record and practices. Some have reflexively denounced the agreement before even reading it.  Many are the same people who reflexively supported going to war in Iraq.  I voted against that war, after reading the intelligence files and finding no credible evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  That colossal mistake killed or maimed thousands and by now has cost more than $2 trillion, with the meter still running.

It’s not easy to stick with the long slog of tough negotiations when others are clamoring for military solutions.  I know from conversations with the president and with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz how difficult this was, and that we were prepared to walk away rather than settle for a bad deal.  But they stuck with it.

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, some of President Kennedy’s top advisors pushed for a military attack.  A war between the two nuclear superpowers would have risked the annihilation of both countries, and probably the rest of the world.  We can be grateful that President Kennedy stuck with diplomacy and peacefully ended the crisis without taking us into war.

A workable agreement would not just buy more time; it can also buy new opportunities.  In Iran, the impetus for reforming its hostile and destabilizing foreign policy comes from the Iranian people.  Ordinary Iranians overwhelmingly do not want empire; they want economic reform and to re-engage with the world.  For decades the Iranian middle class has been smothered — first, by a revolution that abandoned their dreams, and then by a regime that imposed the consequences of its own bad behavior on their own people.  With this agreement, the Iranian middle class can continue to be a factor in future negotiations.

If this agreement can also bring even a small measure of stability to a long-troubled region, all the better.

The instant critics of this agreement are long on scorn but short on alternatives.  For the sake of our national interests and those of our allies, it only makes sense that we should first strive to make this work, instead of impulsively trying to thwart this chance.

The president has been unwavering in his insistence that the goal of this agreement is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and I commend him for his resolve.  It is now up to Congress to carry out its oversight responsibility with hearings and a full debate, before reaching premature conclusions.  We should keep a clear-eyed focus on the real national security interests at stake for our country, and for our allies.

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Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s senior U.S. senator, is the ranking member of the Senate’s Subcommittee On The State Department And Foreign Operations.