Iran deal safe from US attacks, for now
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Ten days after the signing in Geneva of a groundbreaking deal on Iran's nuclear program, the agreement appears safe from any serious attack by the strongly pro-Israel US Congress, at least for the balance of 2013.
Despite continuing grumblings about the first-phase agreement between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Britain) by Republicans and a couple of key Democrats, the chances that lawmakers will enact new sanctions against Iran before the year's end - as had been strongly urged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters here - seem to have evaporated.
Tehran has made clear that any new sanctions legislation - even if
its implementation would take effect only after the expiration of the six-month deal - would not only violate the terms of the agreement, but almost certainly derail the most promising diplomatic efforts in a decade to ensure that Iran's nuclear program does not result in its acquisition of a weapon.
"If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith," White House spokesman Jay Carney had told reporters on Tuesday.
The threat of Congressional action has receded amidst the consolidation of a virtual consensus among the foreign policy elite that the deal negotiated by, among others, Secretary of State John Kerry, is a good one, as well as its endorsement by several key Democrats, notably the chairs of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein, respectively.
In addition, a series of polls conducted both just before and after the November 24 deal was concluded has shown strong public support for the diplomatic route, particularly if the most likely alternative was military action.
In the run-up to the last negotiation, majorities of 64% and 56% of respondents told CNN and Washington Post polls, respectively, that they would support an agreement in which some economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program that would make it harder to build a bomb. Just after the accord was reached, a Reuters/IPSOS poll found that respondents favored the deal by a two-to-one margin (44%-22%).
A far more detailed survey released here Tuesday by Americans United for Change and conducted by a highly regarded political polling firm, Hart Research Associates, also found strong backing (57%) among likely voters who had heard at least a little about the deal.
When respondents were informed about the accord's basic terms - including the neutralization of Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, curbs on its 3.5% stockpile, and enhanced international inspections in exchange for the easing of some sanctions - support rose to 63% overall.
Moreover, that support crossed partisan and ideological lines: pluralities approaching 50% of self-described Republicans, "conservatives", and "very strong supporters of Israel" (who constituted nearly a third of the sample), said they favored the terms as depicted in the survey.
More than two-thirds (68%) agreed with the proposition that congress should not take any action that would block the accord or jeopardize negotiations for a permanent settlement, while only 21% favored additional sanctions legislation now even if it would break the agreement or jeopardize the negotiations.
"Underlying much of this is Americans' desire to avoid getting involved in another war in the Middle East," noted Geoffrey Garin, Hart's president and a top Democratic pollster. "There's great skepticism about using military force against Iran."
Despite Netanyahu's continuing denunciations of the November 24 accord as a "bad agreement" and "historic mistake", results such as these appear to have persuaded mainstream institutions of the Israel lobby, which have been avidly courted by the White House, not to go all-out for the immediate enactment of new sanctions legislation.
As noted by The Forward, the nation's largest-circulation Jewish newspaper that endorsed the deal "as a risk well worth taking," even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) appears more focused now on the terms of a final agreement, even as its echoes Netanyahu's critique and urges congress to enact "prospective sanctions" as soon as possible.
"AIPAC is now defining its red line as insisting that the United States 'deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability' - a vague term that falls short of Israel's demand for 'zero enrichment' of uranium by Iran for its nuclear production," according to the newspaper's well-connected diplomatic correspondent, Nathan Guttman.
Indeed, even as Netanyahu continued to assail the agreement, he quietly sent a delegation headed by his national security adviser here last week for meetings with the Obama administration focused on what specific limits can be placed on Iran's nuclear program in upcoming negotiations. Officially, Israel has insisted that virtually the entire program, including and especially Iran's uranium enrichment, be completely dismantled - a goal which Washington believes cannot be achieved.
Meanwhile, the elite consensus in favor of the current deal and the negotiation process appears to be consolidating.
An informal poll of more than 100 "National Security Insiders" published by the influential 'National Journal' found that more than 75% considered it a "good deal", although only 58% expressed confidence that the negotiations would end with a favorable settlement.
On Tuesday, nine former top-ranking foreign-service officers, including six ambassadors to Israel, released a letter sent to members of key national-security committees in congress praising the Geneva accord.
"More than any other option, 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," the group, which included four former undersecretaries who served in Republican administrations, wrote.
The letter followed another signed by former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski and subsequently endorsed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the eve of the Geneva talks opposing additional sanctions.
Two Republican heavyweights, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, also published an op-ed in the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal this week which, while negative and skeptical in tone, did not urge new sanctions or an end to negotiations. It called instead for the administration to insisting as part of any final accord on "Iran dismantling or mothballing a strategically significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure."
"We should be open to the possibility of purs(u)ing an agenda of long-term cooperation" with Tehran, it also noted.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.