Don't Sabotage the Iran Deal

Members of Congress should give the new agreement with Iran time to work.

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Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill Nov. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
"This response is neither acceptable nor does it benefit democracy," Secretary of State John Kerry said of the Ukrainian government’s response to protests in Kiev.

If Congress isn't careful, it will sabotage our country's best opportunity to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran. The campaign to establish excessive new sanctions risks blowing up the preliminary deal reached to limit Iran's nuclear program before it's even gone into effect.

If neither Congress nor Iranian hardliners get in the way, this agreement will freeze Iran's nuclear progress for the first time in a decade. Key parts of Iran's nuclear program will be stopped or rolled back for six months, and Iran will submit to unprecedented inspections.

In return, Iran gets modest relief from existing sanctions and a commitment by the United States and our partners to refrain from adding any new ones. This six-month window gives our diplomats the space to hammer out a comprehensive settlement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.

The deal our diplomats negotiated with Iran is a landmark achievement for advancing America's national security interests and strengthening the global non-proliferation regime. We should be celebrating it, not dealing it a death of a thousand cuts.

In the House, GOP Leader Eric Cantor is pressing for new sanctions and tying our negotiators' hands with unrealistic ultimatums. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are soon expected to introduce a sanctions bill despite the risk that it could shut down negotiations entirely.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

This accord is based not on President Reagan's admonition to "trust but verify," but on Secretary of State John Kerry's policy of "verify and verify." The Geneva deal puts stringent safeguards in place to ensure Tehran does not dash toward a bomb and makes sure we know early on if Iran tries to cheat.

The deal will be continually tested to ensure that Iran is in compliance. Sanctions would be re-imposed if Tehran were to renege on its commitments. The first-step agreement puts the international community on a road that can end with the guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The top echelons of the national security establishment are behind this deal. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, an eminent bipartisan team of former national security advisors, have commended the deal, rightly pointing out that "such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Iran.]

Nine former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and former under secretaries of state have roundly endorsed the deal, noting in an open letter that "a diplomatic breakthrough on this issue will help ensure Israel's security and remove the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the region generally and Israel specifically." 

Elites from Israel's military and intelligence services have also welcomed it. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy highlighted the deal's expanded verification mechanisms in an interview with Israel Defense Force's Army Radio, saying in its favor, "We must also remember that from now on there will be day-to-day inspectors visiting the Iranian facilities."

Gen. Amos Yadlin (ret.), the former head of Israel's military intelligence, rejected the urge held by some members of Congress to reject any deal that doesn't eliminate Iran's nuclear program in its entirety. As he put it, it's "reasonable" to allow Iran some enrichment capabilities in a negotiated settlement.

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Just as importantly, a clear majority of the American public has called on members of Congress to defend the nuclear deal struck in Geneva. A recent poll shows that 64 percent of American voters would respond favorably to members of Congress who support efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran. The public wants a diplomatic resolution to this conflict, not another war. Congress should take heed.

Diplomacy is never easy. Piling on more sanctions while our diplomats are hashing out a final deal will only make their job harder. Resolving the outstanding concerns over Iran's nuclear program and persuading the Iranians that Congress will uphold its end of the bargain in rolling back sanctions is already an enormous responsibility. We should give that process time to work rather than taking potshots every step of the way.

This deal could be the beginning of the end of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran or of another devastating U.S. war in the Middle East. That's worth taking time to consider before we start making unrealistic demands or undermining our negotiators' position. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Kate Gould is the Legislative Associate for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

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