A vote for security, diplomacy, and a chance for peace
After careful deliberation, I have concluded that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany, is our best option for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. I will vote to support the deal.
Central to this decision is my belief that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten global security and ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It can’t be allowed to happen; the question is how best to prevent it.
A perfect deal would permanently ban all nuclear enrichment by Iran. Unfortunately, we got nowhere with that during the Bush years, even after offering more sweeteners and incentives than anything in the JCPOA. Iran flouted our demands, added thousands of centrifuges and became a nuclear threshold state capable of “breakout”—i.e., enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb—in just a few months.
Instead of banning enrichment, the JCPOA seeks to block Iran’s path to a bomb by restricting enrichment to non-threatening levels for 15 years and imposing comprehensive inspection, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. In the first few months, 98% of Iran’s uranium stockpile would be destroyed, two-thirds of its centrifuges mothballed, key facilities disabled, and monitoring systems installed. Iran’s “breakout” would be rolled back to one year—enough time for the U.S. and our allies to catch and confront them before they develop a bomb.
My evaluation of the JCPOA focused on two questions: 1) will it actually prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and triggering a regional nuclear arms race? And 2) is there is a better option?
Because of Iran’s history of cheating on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “trust but verify” won’t suffice; we must “distrust and verify.” The JCPOA reflects that approach. I agree with the many nuclear experts and national security leaders who have concluded that the unprecedented monitoring and inspection provisions, with diligent enforcement, can keep Iran’s nuclear program “in a box” for 15 years.
Keeping Iran in that “box” is an existential concern for Israel, America’s friend and most important ally in the region. I have travelled to Israel, have family there, and am keenly aware of the unique security threats to Israel. I would not support the JCPOA if I thought it “paves the way” for an Iranian bomb as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has argued in opposition to the deal. American military and intelligence officials believe Mr. Netanyahu is wrong, as do a vast number of pro-Israel defense experts and even prominent military and intelligence leaders within Israel.
As for non-proliferation, those most likely to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran got them—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman—have all endorsed the JCPOA. That’s a key measure of confidence that we can prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
The JCPOA doesn’t change the Iranian regime’s brutal character or hostile agenda. This is a nuclear deal, not a political transformation. Just as we struck nuclear deals with the former Soviet Union while confronting their belligerence and aggression, we can and should do that with Iran. We should confront them on human rights and the outrageous imprisonment ofmy constituent Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist who has been held for over 400 days on trumped-up charges. We should continue to confront their support for terrorist groups through sanctions, and confront their attempts to foment regional conflict by vigorously enforcing embargoes on advanced weaponry, interdicting arms shipments, renewing our commitment to Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and strengthening regional alliances.
But we should also use this 15-year period to build on diplomatic progress and negotiate a permanent nuclear deal. The U.S. and our allies must make clear that Iran will never be allowed to resume a nuclear weapons program. Our firm resolve, and the growing aspirations of younger, less radicalized Iranians who want to be part of the world economy rather than a nuclear pariah, are key factors for achieving a longer-term diplomatic solution.
If we reject the JCPOA, is a “better deal” possible? Probably not. Our allies have bluntly said they won’t participate in sanctions if the U.S. rejects the JCPOA. With no sanctions partners and an enormous loss of credibility for abandoning our own deal, we would be playing a much weaker hand going forward. It’s hard to imagine any deal in that scenario, much less the “better deal” JCPOA opponents wishfully describe.
If a “better deal” isn’t achievable, the remaining option would be another very costly war. According to military leaders, destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities would require sustained bombing and given Iran’s formidable air defenses, casualties would be expected. The conflict could escalate into a broader war with unforeseeable consequences. The best case outcome: a two year setback for Iran’s nuclear program, during which time they would simply rebuild with heavier fortifications.
The JCPOA is not perfect, but it offers the most intelligent, effective path forward.
While struggling with this decision, the plight of my constituent Jason Rezaian has weighted heavily on me. I agree with the Obama administration that securing his release, along with three other innocent American prisoners, must remain separate from the nuclear deal. We cannot trade nuclear concessions as ransom. But I have conveyed to the President, Secretary Kerry, and other officials that we must press harder to bring these Americans home and I’ve received their assurances that will happen.
The whole world is evaluating Iran’s intentions and watching its actions. If Iran complies with its nuclear commitments in the months ahead, it can earn relief from nuclear sanctions and many countries and firms will consider whether Iran is safe and stable enough to do business there. Iran can show the world it respects the rule of law and human rights by releasing Jason and the other innocent Americans. I expect Iran to do this, and I’ll continue working with Jason’s family, administration officials and others to secure that outcome.
Congressman Jared Huffman