An Insurance of Failure in Iran

NOTE: A response by Col. Richard Klass to an OpEd published in the Washington Post.

Senator Robert Menendez OpEd in the January 10, 2014 Washington Post (A Diplomatic Insurance Policy Against Iran) advocates a policy that will ensure failure.  If S.1881 (the so-called Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act) should pass over a promised presidential veto, it is highly likely to scuttle the negotiations between the P-Five plus one and Iran to curb Iran's nuclear program.

First, Chairman Menendez’s basis for this action is unsound:

•         He cites continued work on the ARAC nuclear reactor, but this non-nuclear construction is allowed by the interim agreement. Ensuring its inability to produce weapons grade material can only be achieved by negotiations -- or war.

•     The new generation of centrifuges is not banned by the interim agreement.  Since Iran will be allowed some enrichment capability in the permanent agreement -- or there will not be an agreement -- having the most efficient of a reduced number makes sense.

•         Iran's space and missile program is and will be outside of any nuclear agreement and introducing such extraneous issues is not constructive.

•         The Iranian lawmakers’ suggested retaliatory legislation to go to sixty percent enrichment should be considered a mirror image of S.1881 and a similar attempt to scuttle any agreement.

•         Iranian’s huffing and puffing about stronger enforcement of continuing sanctions, such as those cited by the Chairman, are normal negotiating tactics.

The Chairman did not address the fact that six nations and the European Union are negotiating with Iran, not just the U.S.  Already there are indications that the Russians and some European nations are preparing for a post-sanction world.  If U.S. actions such as S.181 are seen as the cause of the collapse of negotiations, the international sanctions regime undoubtedly will collapse.

Nor does the Chairman consider how the passage of this legislation could weaken the president's negotiating authority.  A sudden congressional intrusion that can be considered to breach the interim agreement threatens what all agree is a delicate and difficult process.

Finally there is the issue of the language regarding full economic, diplomatic and military support to Israel if it feels endangered.  Here is the double dilemma.  On the one hand, the current Israeli government has declared that any Iranian enrichment capability is an existential threat to the Jewish state. On the other hand, no agreement is possible unless Iran retains some enrichment capability.  That means that the current Israeli government would consider such an agreement signed by Iran and the P-Five plus One to be an existential threat!   Those in Israel and the U.S. who prefer a military "solution" will take the S.1881 language, despite protestations, as an open ended invitation to attack.  Iran is likely to see it the same way, and those in Iran opposed to an agreement will have a powerful argument against one.

Most military experts question the ability of Israel to conduct an effective attack on Iran's nuclear facilities without U.S. help.  At a minimum aerial refueling and intelligence support would be needed.  So might search and rescue support, probably by U.S. Navy assets in the area.  In short, such support would be an act of war.

This is an exceptionally dangerous game. Chairman Menendez should hold serious hearings to explore the consequences of his proposed legislation. Instead of an insurance policy, it may ensure failure.

Col. Klass is a member of the Council for a Livable World's Board of Directors. He is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, the National War College and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He flew over 200 combat missions in Vietnam and served in the Executive Office of the President as a White House Fellow. His awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.