Over the next three months, the fate of the Iran nuclear agreement and U.S. relations with Iran fall to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders. There is no one as important as Sen. Ben Cardin in determining the fate of this relationship.
In the early 1970s, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mahallat, Iran, a small town between Tehran and Esfahan. Today, I belong to the Peace Corps Iran Association, which works to improve relations between our countries. At least 1,500 volunteers served between 1962 and 1976. We have very strong and fond memories of our Iranian friends, colleagues and communities. We saw how deeply Iranians value their history as a nation and a great culture. And we experienced the hospitality for which Iranians are renowned. Peace Corps left Iran before the revolution and ensuing events, but we have held out hope that in time the rift between our countries would be overcome. The nuclear agreement is a monumental step in that direction.
I write today out of deep concern over reported negotiations Senator Cardin has had with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and National Security Advisor Herbert R. McMaster. As I understand it, they are trying to draft legislation to fulfill President Trump’s Jan. 12 ultimatum regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The president’s ultimatum has four conditions:
- Require Iran to allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors;
- Ensure that Iran never comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon;
- Set provisions that have no expiration date;
- Put in law the presumption that Iran’s nuclear and missile programs are inseparable, and that missile testing would be subject to severe sanctions.
The president’s unilateral demands could well bring down the nuclear agreement. Attempting to impose these conditions serves neither our security nor that of our allies. Working within the framework of the existing agreement is a far safer and more promising path to addressing outstanding issues in the future.
Several of these conditions are unnecessary. For others, the timing and unilateral intent are wrong. For example, inspections already are an integral part of the JCPOA, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has “multilayered oversight over Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain.” And by all reports, Iran is complying. In other words, the JCPOA is keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Within the 10- to 15-year time frame of the agreement, additional control options may be developed.
The issue of missiles is better addressed in conjunction with other countries. Just this fall, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed willingness to do just this.
Senators Cardin and Corker, General McMaster and Congress itself face a quandary: Any of these four demands would scuttle the agreement. Perhaps that is the president’s intention, but I would wonder if he has thought through the consequences. I realize that Senator Cardin voted against the agreement, but I also know from speaking with his staff that he understands the importance of honoring the agreement and making sure it works, now that it is in place.
At this time the world needs more diplomacy, not more conflict. Already, threats of nuclear war are emanating from both the White House and North Korea. To back away from this agreement or to instigate its collapse would empower Iran to pursue nuclear weapons. Quite possibly, this action could even launch a nuclear arms race between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Reneging on our agreement undermines the credibility of the United States. It creates ill will and deep distrust from all our partners in the agreement, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, China, Russia and Iran, and makes it much harder to resolve issues with Iran — short of war — in the future.
In the ancient world, King Croesus of Lydia consulted the Oracles of both Delphi and Thebes to determine whether to invade the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great. Both oracles gave the same reply, which was, “If you make war on the Persians, you will destroy a great empire.” He went to war and the prophecy was fulfilled. Unfortunately, the empire that was destroyed was his own.
I implore Senator Cardin, along with his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee including Ranking Member Bob Menendez, not to make any compromises that would jeopardize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.