Where We Stand on the Iran Deal

  • August 13, 2015

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

The debate about the Iran nuclear deal has compelled us to consult with members of Congress and Administration officials as well as to engage numerous experts to elicit a deeper understanding of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and its implications for the United States.

From the beginning, we raised a series of questions to Congress. Based on what we know now, our deep reservations expressed on July 24 remain. Indeed, because our profound concerns with the agreement have not yet been satisfactorily addressed, ADL believes that Congress should vote no.

Nevertheless and regardless of the outcome of a vote in Congress, we see an opportunity for all sides to find new ground based on bipartisan collaboration to consider a new way to approach the Islamic Republic. This is crucial because, despite the nuclear accord that has been struck, Iran clearly continues its nefarious behavior in the region. It must be addressed head on.

Yes, the deal offers significant barriers in Iran's nuclear path, for at least a decade that will keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, constraints not currently available through any other means. But, as noted by many experts, these limitations come to an end within 15 years in the best case. The potential loopholes in these constraints contribute to our unease. We admired the clarity of the reasoning offered by one of the Senate's most respected, long-standing members, Sen. Chuck Schumer which crystalized those concerns.

To be clear, we respect and appreciate the commitment of the Administration and Members of Congress who have engaged in a serious and sustained effort over many years to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat. We do not purport to possess expert knowledge of the complexities of nuclear physics or sanctions. However, ADL has had policy on this issue for over a decade because of our mission: to fight the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. And, for decades, Iran repeatedly has promoted anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism; killed American civilians; threatened to obliterate the Jewish State; and institutionalized illiberalism. So we are concerned not only that the agreement appears to offer Iran a legal and legitimate pathway to become a nuclear threshold state in just over a decade, but more immediately, standing as a normalized member of the international community.

In exchange for pausing rather than permanently terminating its nuclear program, Iran will receive billions of dollars that, contrary to the arguments offered by administration officials, will almost certainly allow it to advance its agenda of bigotry, expansionism and support for terrorism. Indeed in recent days, we have seen commercial delegations flood into Tehran even as its leaders flout international sanctions by visiting foreign capitals; its judiciary represses religious minorities at home; and its inciteful rhetoric becomes even more sophisticated and strident. These are ominous signs.

We want diplomacy to work, and we fully accept there are times when our leaders must forge agreements with countries whose ambitions we oppose. We are aware, however, that this deal walks past many of the red lines originally drawn by the United States and emboldens the Iranian regime even as it continually threatens the U.S. and our allies. That is why the United States must work to ensure that the ultimate red line, as stated by successive U.S. Presidents, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon, is made crystal clear not only in words, but through concrete steps taken both unilaterally and in concert with our allies.

Indeed, there are policies and actions relating to Iran's aggression that Republicans, Democrats and the White House might actually agree upon. As such, we urge all sides to move beyond a simple "yes" or "no" vote to affirm our shared values as the basis for new efforts to curtail the threatening activities of the Islamic Republic.

As Dr. Robert Satloff, Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in an online essay in The Atlantic, a vote to disapprove the deal can actually open up space for the Administration and Congress to address many, if not all, the serious concerns expressed about the shortcomings of the JCPOA and the challenges Iranian behavior pose to the region and the world. In Dr. Satloff's words, "'No' doesn't necessarily mean 'no, never.' It also can also mean 'not now, not this way.'"

This is important because Americans of all political persuasions agree on the intrinsic dignity of all people. As such, the United States should ratchet up the costs to Iran for its oppressive policies and regional meddling even as we offer an outstretched hand when it finally ceases such activities. There is a clear opportunity for a non-ideological consensus around three related points that can take us forward.

We believe a consensus can be created to address Iran's brutal human rights record. No one in any political camp here in the U.S. would excuse the institutionalized discrimination facing ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, including Baha'is, Christians, Jews, and Sunni Arabs. Their treatment ranges from quiet intimidation to systematic imprisonment. LGBT citizens fare far worse. The U.S. should be vigilant in using existing sanctions targeting these practices and explore new tools that might be needed. Serious consideration also should be given to taking action against Iran in international fora, for its repressive policies toward its own people simply because of what they believe or who they love.

Another important point of consensus is the broad understanding that Israel has a lot to worry about concerning Iran. Support for ever-deepening military and strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is broad, consistent, and bipartisan. We propose that the U.S. deepen its intelligence cooperation with Israel and work with the Jewish state to ensure it has sufficient defense arrangements, such that the President's oft-stated recognition that "Israel has the right to defend itself by itself" can match Israeli capabilities. Some have suggested that the delivery to Israel of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (M.O.P.), and the means to deploy it would demonstrate this regarding the Iranian nuclear infrastructure; however, this principle should be acted upon with regard to all aspects of the Iranian threat. And it would be constructive for the Israeli government to begin to engage with the Administration on these issues as soon as possible.

As a third consensus point, all parties know that Iran continues to destabilize the region and expand its sphere of influence using militias and terrorist proxies. Time and again, the words and actions of the Islamic Republic have reflected a tendency toward warmongering and worse. We would like to see the Administration and Congress articulate a regional strategy to counter destabilizing Iranian activities across the Middle East, including working with regional allies. This could involve interdicting the flow of Iranian weapons as well as engaging the Gulf Coordinating Council (GCC) directly in discussions around neutralizing the Assad regime in Syria and countering Iranian intervention in Yemen. It could encompass a new multilateral arrangement to address Iran's increasing use of cyber-terrorism to threaten its neighbors and attack our own institutions.

Finally, we implore all sides to tone down the heated rhetoric. The debate about the JCPOA and additional discussions should be conducted by all parties in a civil manner. No one needs to resort to innuendo or coarse attacks.

We stress that ADL cannot support the JCPOA in its current form. Without offering a robust set of measures to account for its vulnerabilities, the JCPOA presents too great a risk to the U.S. and for our critical allies like Israel. Until the administration acts to address these concerns, and whether or not it is approved by Congress, we urge a new path forward that convinces Iran to eschew its agenda of bigotry and violence. We should come together around smart policy approaches to enable this outcome and rebuild the confidence of our allies and those around the world who rightly feel uneasy about living in a Middle East in which an emboldened Iran has new resources and new standing to empower it.