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Iran Decision Expected on Rosh Hashanah

September 17 will be the last day Congress has to vote on the Iran deal, which according to a speech Obama gave on August 6, “Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option: another war in the Middle East.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has been poking holes in that contention wherever he can. On August 4, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and non-proliferation inspections and nuclear constraints of the Iran deal, he peppered speakers with their own words concerning the Iran deal, first challenging Obama’s statement.

“In fact, if the Administration and the P5+1 had not been able to strike an agreement with Iran, would we be at war with Iran right now?”

Dr. Gary Samore, Executive Director for Research of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said no. “I don’t think so. I think the Iranians have been very, very careful in pursuing their nuclear program in a way that they are hoping will avoid military action…Both President Bush and President Obama have decided not to use military force if the program was proceeding gradually.”

Ambassador Robert Joseph, Senior Scholar National Institute for Public Policy Washington, D.C., said he had the same view. “I don’t believe Iran wants a conventional war with the United States…The problem of this agreement is that it will shift the balance of power toward Iran. It will make Iran more capable and, in my view, more aggressive externally and more repressive domestically.”

David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector said, “Iran needs to know there are consequences if it violates the agreement. I’m very concerned that if we impose sanctions it will mean the end of this agreement (which backs up Secretary of State Kerry’s view). I think for all practical purposes we’ve busted the sanctions regime and given up our leverage.”

Menendez summed it up, “We have had three witnesses, two who support the agreement before the committee and one [who] opposes it, and all of them have said it is not a choice between this and war. I want to get that over with. I find that insulting.”

A day later, on August 5, at the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Hearing on the Implications of Sanctions Relief under the Iran Agreement, Menendez asked Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary for Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “Is it this agreement or war?” to which she said it was more complicated than that.

Putting it another way, Menendez asked, “So if we had not struck an agreement with Iran, would we be at war with Iran?”

“I believe that the chances that we would be going to war would go up exponentially,” said Sherman. “Sanctions have never gotten rid of their nuclear program, it’s only brought them to the table. If we walk away from this deal Iran will begin marching forward with their nuclear program further as they have done over the years, and the President of the United States has said he will not allow them to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Menendez asked Sherman if Congress would have the right to re-authorize sanctions enumerated in a bill he co-authored last year, the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires next year. “Do we have the right to re-authorize those sanctions now or at any given time?”

Kicking the can down the road, Sherman responded that because it didn’t expire until next year it was premature to have that discussion, though Congress would have that right.

Yet, Menendez said that this administration has credited that legislation as one of the significant elements in getting Iran to the negotiating table. Then, Menendez read a letter from Iran to the U.N. Security Council, chilling in its implications, that both the U.S. and the European Union will refrain from imposing sanctions or restrictive measures. “It is understood that re-introduction or re-imposition, including through extension, of the sanctions and restrictions will constitute significant non-performance which would relieve Iran from its commitments in part or in whole.”

“If Iran will walk away simply by the existence of sanctions that don’t go into effect unless there’s a violation in the future, you have to worry if what they’re doing is buying for time.”

Menendez said his final point was that “This Iranian regime cares about two things, preserving the regime and the revolution. They’re not going to enter into any agreement that doesn’t preserve the regime and the revolution and so they must think this is a good agreement for them to ultimately accomplish that goal, and that is worrisome.”

Then later on August 5, Senator Menendez was hearing more testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Implications for U.S. Policy in the Middle East and asking the same question, “Is it this agreement or war?” and Michael Singh, Managing Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said no. However, the agreement could incentivize neighboring countries to develop their own nuclear capabilities.

Dr. Ken Pollack, expert on national security, military affairs and the Persian Gulf at the Brookings Institution, said the gulf countries will be looking into acquiring nuclear capability but the United States is the intervening variable. “Iran has had a nuclear weapons program since the 1980s, so, too, has Iraq. The Saudis never did acquire a nuclear weapon because they felt they could rely on the United States…that is their preference.”

However, this type of arrangement did not work for the Ukraine, which can drastically change things, as well as the U.S.’s failure in Syria.

Menendez told MSNBC that after all the hearings and classified briefings, “I have serious reservations. I’ll be deciding. I’ll be going back to New Jersey, listening to constituents and then I’ll come to a conclusion but those serious reservations, I have tried to have them assuaged and what I see is we didn’t end Iran’s nuclear program, we actually preserved it.”

He said in time, Iran will have the option, if they choose to ultimately move towards a nuclear weapon. “Our choices then will even be more limited than they are today.”

Senator Cory Booker has also indicated his doubts and fears. He told the Orthodox Union, “We must make sure by any means necessary that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon…to make sure that the security of the region, the United States and the State of Israel is preserved.”

The day after Congress adjourned he told JLNJ, “Today I joined a call with the State Association of Jewish Federations, American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League to discuss my current thoughts on the proposed Iran deal with New Jerseyans. My position has not wavered—a nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable threat to American security, to the safety of our allies, and to Middle East stability. That’s why the most important question that needs to be asked and answered when evaluating this deal is whether it will credibly prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I continue to carefully weigh the details of this agreement in consultation with experts in both classified and unclassified settings to determine whether America’s security interests are advanced by it. My sincere hope is that they are, but I will hold this deal to a very high standard and in reaching any conclusion will participate in the rigorous Congressional scrutiny a deal of this magnitude warrants.”

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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