Politics & Policy

Are We Already Conceding the Bomb to Iran?

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
American policy must be to stop or slow, and not just contain, an Iranian nuclear weapon.

With a final round of talks underway in Vienna to strike a nuclear deal with Iran before this Monday, the November 24 deadline, anger is growing on Capitol Hill over what lawmakers believe will be a bad deal that the president is determined to implement without consulting Congress.

Many in Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — are coming to the realization that the nuclear talks amount to a dangerous U.S. sellout to Tehran. But few of them realize how far this sellout has gone.

The reported American concessions to Tehran represent a stunning reversal of years of U.S. policy and include implicitly recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, allowing Iran to operate 6,000 uranium centrifuges, and dropping longtime Western demands that Iran halt construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor, which will be a source of plutonium when completed. Iran also will not be forced to give up its large stockpile of reactor-grade uranium that currently could be used to make at least eight nuclear weapons if further enriched to weapons-grade.

Iran has refused to comply with a key requirement of the interim agreement: cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during this year’s talks and answering questions about past nuclear activities that appear related to weapons development. To make matters worse, according to a new IAEA report, Iran also cheated on the interim deal by developing advanced centrifuges and testing them with uranium.

Based on the enormous concessions offered by the United States last fall to get Iran to the negotiating table, further U.S. concessions made during this year’s talks, Iran’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA, and its cheating on the interim agreement, many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle believe that any nuclear agreement struck with Iran will be weak and unverifiable and will do little or nothing to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

So why would the Obama administration agree to such a deal?

There is only one explanation: In their desperation to get a nuclear deal with Iran that they hope will bolster the legacy of the Obama presidency, Obama officials are pursuing a policy of containment of an Iranian nuclear bomb. President Obama has in effect decided to concede the nuclear bomb to Tehran.

Many Americans will view this as an unfair charge. Obama officials will vigorously deny it. However, several influential liberal foreign-policy experts have taken exactly this view, arguing that an Iranian nuclear bomb cannot be avoided, and containment therefore is the best approach.

#page#For example, the late Kenneth Waltz, who was a professor of international relations at Columbia University, argued in a July/August 2012 Foreign Affairs article titled “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” that fears of an Iranian nuclear bomb are unfounded because history shows nuclear weapons stabilize regional tensions by creating a balance of power.

Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and senior fellow with the liberal Brookings Institution — a Washington think tank with considerable influence with the Obama administration — made similar arguments in a September 23, 2013, New York Times op-ed. He said if a deal with Iran on its nuclear program is not possible, containment is the best option. Pollack argued that it is extremely unlikely Iran would use nuclear weapons unprovoked or give them to terrorists.

Paul Pillar, another former CIA officer who now teaches at Georgetown University, argued in a March/April Washington Monthly article titled “We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran” that the threat from an Iranian nuclear bomb has been overhyped. Pillar believes “an Iranian nuclear weapon would not be an existential threat to Israel and would not give Iran a license to become more of a regional troublemaker.”

I believe these experts are dead wrong and that Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb can be halted or at least substantially delayed through tough sanctions and diplomatic pressure. I also think it is delusional to propose treating Iran as a rational state actor when it is a state sponsor of terror whose top leader last week released a detailed plan on how to wipe Israel off the map.

But the Obama approach to the nuclear talks is much worse than just conceding the bomb to Iran. The deal likely to emerge from this year’s talks will concede to Iran an expanding capacity to build multiple nuclear bombs. It is therefore not surprising that Israel and Saudi Arabia are so angry about the nuclear negotiations and why they could take matters into their own hands if such a deal is ever agreed to.

There can be no question that the president’s misguided decision to concede the bomb to Iran is driving the U.S. strategy in the nuclear talks. It is therefore imperative that Congress on a bipartisan basis repudiate these talks, pass new sanctions against Iran, and demand that the president go back to the drawing board with our European allies to forge a coherent, realistic, and firm strategy aimed at actually preventing the Iranian regime from realizing its nuclear-weapons ambitions.

It is possible that the nuclear talks with Iran may be extended next week because Iran is holding out for an even better deal with the West. An extension should also be rejected by Congress because it will continue unconscionable U.S. concessions made to Iran over the last year and will give Iran more time to enrich uranium and engage in possible weapons-related nuclear activities.

Congress must insist on a fundamental change in the U.S. approach to the Iranian nuclear program and make it clear that American policy must be to stop or slow and not just contain an Iranian nuclear bomb. This should require, at a minimum, that there be no further easing of sanctions against Iran until Tehran complies with all U.N. Security Council resolutions related to its nuclear program, fully cooperates with the IAEA, and provides truthful answers to all outstanding questions about its nuclear program.

— Fred Fleitz followed the Iranian nuclear program for the CIA, State Department, and House Intelligence Committee. He is now a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

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