Lessons from a more inspired Helsinki
For the sake of national security, Trump must honor the Iran deal
Congress may soon face a big test on Oct 15, when the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act compels President Trump to certify whether Iran is in compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. If facts still matter in American foreign policy, the president will certify compliance. But if President Trump ignores the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency and his own State Department, brushes aside the urging of our closest allies in Europe, and decertifies Iranian compliance, it will be up to Congress to cast the most consequential vote on foreign policy since the 2002 tally which sent America on a collision course toward war in Iraq.
I spent close to 15 years working in the United States Senate for John Kerry, who was deeply engaged in foreign policy, and then another two and a half years at the State Department working on those issues from a different vantage point. I saw from both of those perspectives the important role Congress can and should play on national security, but also how dangerously fractious foreign policy has become at home. I don't envy my former colleagues on Capitol Hill who are too often the targets of President Trump's "weapons of mass distraction," and I don't diminish for a second just how hard that makes the conduct of responsible, bipartisan foreign policy. But if on Oct. 15, President Trump zigs when facts command him to zag, then Congress must follow the real facts, not the "fake news," and put the United States back on course.
Why? Because the Iran nuclear agreement is working, and if the United States destroys it, we will only isolate ourselves instead of isolating Iran, while losing our leverage internationally to confront Iran's destabilizing behavior, from its support of Hezbollah to proxy battles in Yemen. Breaking the agreement may well set off the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which the deal has successfully prevented. We need to be guided by facts. Congress must prove that facts still matter to at least one end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Here are just five fact-based reasons why it is the interests of the United States to protect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
First, it's working to meet its one and only goal: to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapons program by verifying every step of their compliance. We know Iran has upheld its end of the bargain. Before Iran received a dollar of sanctions relief, Iran had to eliminated 97 percent of its uranium stockpile, remove and destroy the core from its Arak reactor, block the production of weapons-grade plutonium, rip out more than 13,000 centrifuges, halt all uranium enrichment at the underground Fordow site, and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to implement the safeguards necessary to monitor Iran's nuclear program and implement transparency measures to permit the gold-standard of access to inspectors. Iran took all of these steps which moved the regime farther from a nuclear bomb than at any time over the last decade.
Second, in keeping with what Republican foreign policy experts like Brent Scowcroft and Richard Lugar described as "unprecedented" inspection and verification regimens, Iranian compliance is a fact, not an opinion. Following inspections, in eight consecutive reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified compliance. The State Department has reissued sanctions waivers and confirmed the same facts. Even senior members of the Trump administration like Secretary Rex Tillerson and Ambassador Nikki Haley have grudgingly admitted that Iran is technically in compliance. The Trump administration has failed to present any evidence of Iran violating the agreement. Seven United States senators, including some who opposed the deal, recently sent a letter to the administration reminding them that if evidence exists, the executive branch must present it to Congress within 10 days. To date, not a single briefing has occurred.
Third, sanctions alone - even debilitating multilateral sanctions - did not succeed in moving Iran off a path towards achieving nuclear weapons capacity. This is a fact. Despite years of unilateral sanctions by the United States and years spent by our country building global support for unprecedented sanctions that united our closest European friends with China and Russia, Iran's nuclear program grew until they had enough low enriched uranium that, if they took the next step in the fuel cycle, they'd have had enough to produce 10 nuclear bombs. Pressure brought Iran to the negotiating table, it didn't bring them to their knees.
Fourth, America's closest allies remain committed to the Iran deal. We will be alone and isolated if we unravel it. We will not be able to restore even the multilateral pressure that lead to the world's ability to negotiate the Iran deal. Germany's foreign minister says the agreement has "prevented a nuclear arms race." Federica Mogherini, the foreign minister for the European Union in New York last week reaffirmed, "The international community cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working and delivering."
Fifth, if the United States breaks the deal, Iran will be off the hook for compliance. Iran and Europe will blame the United States for the demise of the agreement. Iran could and would kick out inspectors, and we would lose the visibility into their nuclear program that the world worked so hard to gain. Don't take my word for it. Haaretz recently reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's own defense and intelligence establishment believes that if the United States withdraws, "the international community will be divided and the monitoring of Iran's nuclear program could suffer a setback."
We are living through a presidency committed to undoing anything President Trump's predecessor achieved. But the Iran deal wasn't just an American achievement, it was and is the world's achievement to end a nuclear threat and avoid a war. President Trump stubbornly recites "alternative facts," but on this issue he can still be held accountable if Congress instead follows John Adams's admonition that "facts are stubborn things." The world is counting on nothing less.
David Wade served as chief of staff of the U.S. Department of State from 2013 to 2015 and chief of staff to Senator John Kerry from 2008 to 2013.