Column | Iran deal decertification makes us less safe
No one disputes that the regime in Iran is dangerous, and everyone wants to find a way to stop its destructive behavior in the Middle East and beyond. The choice to “decertify” the Iran Deal, however, won’t get us closer to those goals. In fact, it makes us less safe.
Full disclosure: I’ve supported negotiations with Iran from the get-go. I believe that we do better when we talk to other countries, including those we count as enemies. It keeps authoritarian governments from controlling the narrative, and leaves critical channels open to de-escalate crises and even sometimes stave off conflict.
And sometimes, as is the case with the Iran Deal, it produces results.
The agreement was intended to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, and so far it has done just that. Thanks to the deal, Iran has lost more than 17,000 centrifuges, 95 percent of its nuclear fuel stockpile, and its only plutonium reactor. None of this requires us to trust Tehran, either; the International Atomic Energy Agency (or IAEA, the world’s best nuclear watchdogs) monitor Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, meaning they can see the uranium from the moment it comes out of the mines up through what scientists do with it in the lab.
Put simply, the deal is working – the IAEA has verified it continuously from day one, and our own intelligence community (plus senior defense officials in the Trump Administration like Secretary of Defense Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford) have agreed.
Still, the deal is imperfect. Some argue that because it does not address other dangerous Iranian behaviors – like its development of ballistic missiles, or its support for terrorism around the Middle East - we should get a better, more comprehensive deal.
But why start over? Why would we roll back the hard-fought progress that we’ve already made to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon? Never mind that many deal opponents don’t outline how they would get a more favorable agreement with even more concessions from Tehran.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s announcement presents a real risk for upending our current progress. His failure to recertify the deal passes the buck to Congress, which might then be tempted to impose new sanctions on Iran; if they re-impose old nuclear sanctions to punish non-nuclear behaviors, we break the deal.
And so what if we break the deal through this or other means? If the United States walks away from an agreement we helped negotiate, the consequences could range from damaging to dangerous.
For one, our international credibility would be at an all-time low – right when we should be giving diplomacy with North Korea our best shot to prevent a catastrophic conflict. In a similar vein, it would make imposing new sanctions on Iran extremely difficult; some of our less principled partners might decide to make a quick buck trading with Iran rather than starting the negotiation process over again.
But worst of all, walking away from the deal now would remove the limits on Iran’s nuclear program and the international inspectors that enforce them. Free from constraints, hardliners in Tehran could argue for a rush to a bomb, which would set us on the path to another bloody war in the Middle East.
“Decertifying” the Iran Deal puts us closer to all of these consequences, and it does nothing to make us safer. After President Trump’s announcement, it’s up to Congress to conduct proper oversight of the sanctions they just passed rather than try to further derail the deal. The administration, meanwhile, needs to not telegraph further uncertainty to Iran (even if that means keeping the president off Twitter for a few days).
Diplomacy is a messy and imperfect process, but it’s certainly preferable to war. The Iran Deal is working, so we should build on that progress – not roll it back.