Op-Ed: Iran Deal Implementation and Accountability for Bad Behavior

Jan 6, 2016 Issues: Foreign Affairs/Israel

The following piece was published on December 29, 2015, a version of which was published in both CNN.com and the New York Jewish Week. A full copy of the Op-Ed is below.

“On July 14, 2015, the United States signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.  I decided to support the agreement because I believe that approval of the JCPOA, for all its flaws, gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which would pose a genocidal threat to Israel and the rest of the world.  As I wrote in my statement at the time, “Although we know that Iran will remain a major menace to the region and the world, even without nuclear weapons, a nuclear armed Iran would represent an unacceptable threat to the United States, to Israel, and to global security.”  

“The agreement must be judged on the central question of whether it will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb – regardless of Iran’s continuing sponsorship of terrorism and human rights abuses, the instability it spreads across the region, and the explicit threats it continues to make against the United States and Israel.  The JCPOA was not meant to solve these problems, though these threats are real and must be taken seriously.  The United States and our allies must be ready and willing to counter these Iranian threats through other means.

“Earlier this month, the long-awaited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report confirmed what we have suspected for years about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program: Iran previously lied about its ambitions, and, until 2009, actively sought to develop the technology for nuclear weapons.  A UN Security Council Panel of Experts recently determined that Iran tested a nuclear-capable missile on October 10th in violation of Security Council Resolution 1929.  Iran probably did so again on November 21st, meaning that, since the signing of the nuclear agreement, Iran has illegally tested two missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.  Again, Iran has demonstrated why it cannot be trusted and must be stopped from developing a nuclear bomb.   

“Many will argue that these activities prove that the agreement doesn’t work and that supporting it was a mistake.  This, however, fails to distinguish between the main objective of the agreement—to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb—and our responsibilities to counter Iran’s other nefarious activities.  The IAEA and UN Panel reports validate the reasons behind forcing Iran into accepting an agreement that dismantles the vast majority of its nuclear infrastructure and requires unprecedented access to and oversight of Iran’s nuclear facilities and supply chain by international inspectors, without limiting our future options – including military.  Such evidence emphasizes why it was so important for the United States to support the JCPOA in order to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. 

“The world—led by the U.S.—must make sure Iran is held to the restrictions and obligations of the JCPOA, in addition to countering Iran’s illegal behavior outside the scope of the agreement.  This, along with the need to increase our support for and cooperation with Israel, was the main issue I and many of my colleagues raised with the White House during the review period.  

“In the President’s Letter to me of August 19, 2015, President Obama clearly stated the Administration’s position: “[It] is imperative that, even as we effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon through implementation of the JCPOA, we take steps to ensure we and our allies and partners are more capable than ever to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities and support for terrorism.”  A key step to this end was a commitment to enforce international and U.S. law, including sanctions related to Iran’s non-nuclear activities, and to keep Congress fully informed of all aspects of Iranian compliance with the agreement.  180 days after entering into the JCPOA, the Administration is required to provide a report to Congress on Iran’s nuclear program, the status of the agreement’s implementation, as well as on “Iranian terrorism, human rights, ballistic missiles, and money laundering activities, among others.”  That report is expected in mid to late January.  As part of our commitment to strictly monitor Iran’s illicit conduct and to counter Iran’s nuclear and conventional threats, we must now make clear exactly what needs to be covered in that report.

“This month, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, enhancing U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah and its supporters.  As a terrorist organization widely recognized as a proxy for Iran, Hezbollah continues to violate Security Council Resolution 1701 with its build-up of rockets aimed at Israel in southern Lebanon.  Further conflict will be inevitable if Hezbollah is not stopped from posing such a danger, as Israel cannot be expected indefinitely to tolerate a buildup of ever more dangerous and accurate rockets aimed at Israeli citizens on its border. 

“Failing to take punitive action when international laws are broken is an abuse of our institutions and of the shared responsibility to stand up to bad behavior.  As part of the 180 day report to Congress, the Administration should include an update on Iran’s support to Hezbollah, especially as related to the buildup of rockets in southern Lebanon, as well as U.S. efforts to block Hezbollah’s conduct in the region.  There must also be a clear understanding of how we are, as promised in President Obama’s letter, maintaining and enforcing existing sanctions, along with possibilities for deploying new sanctions against Iran for its continued sponsorship of terrorism and human rights abuses.  And there need to be assurances that appropriate steps are being taken against Iran for its latest missile testing violations, as well as plans for punishing future nuclear and conventional violations if/when they occur.

“If implemented properly, the JCPOA will prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb.  But it does not relieve us of the obligation not only to insist on its complete and proper implementation, but also, separately, to confront and counter Iran’s other terrible behavior.”