Forgotten flaw in Iran nuclear deal: It lets killers go free

August 3, 2015
A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally apposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York

A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protesters demonstrate during a rally apposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square, July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

President Barack Obama has in good faith negotiated an agreement with Iran that would end a broad range of economic sanctions on Iran, in return for Iran’s promise to scale back its efforts to build a nuclear bomb. I believe that Congress’s support of the agreement would be a very serious mistake.

I find persuasive the arguments of many analysts that the proposal fails because it lifts sanctions before Iran has over time proven that it is committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Perhaps even more importantly, I oppose the agreement because it does not require Iran to stop its funding of Hezbollah and other extremist hoodlums around the world.

But more fundamentally, I oppose the proposal because, while addressing strategic issues, the deal ignores a moral issue, among the most profound of our time.

Put simply: Iran sponsors terrorism. I am convinced I could prove that proposition in a court of law, and indeed some Americans have done so. Survivors of terrorist attacks have sued the Iranian government in American courts, and won significant judgments.

But the Iranian government has refused to pay those judgments, and the proposed agreement does nothing to challenge that intransigence. In fact, the agreement would release up to 150 billion dollars of frozen assets to Iran, without requiring that a dime go to paying off the survivors of Iran-sponsored terror.

I understand that sometimes strategic interests require us to negotiate with enemies; and I do not underestimate the imminence of Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb capability. And as a veteran of war, I favor peace, when peaceful means can be found to deter aggression.

But the world has within its grasp those peaceful means, in international sanctions, and those sanctions should be strengthened, not abandoned, so long as Iran sponsors terror against civilian populations and foments unrest among its neighbors. Some of those individuals and entities who will be removed from the sanctions list are associated with terrorism in addition to nuclear proliferation.

I have had the good fortune to have lived through a good deal of history, enough to know that history most often favors principled actions over short-term pragmatism.

One of the most significant regimens of international sanctions ever imposed was the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. In response to a humanitarian crisis in South Africa, that law imposed economic sanctions against South Africa, sanctions would not be lifted until South Africa met specified conditions, granting basic human rights to its own people.

When President Ronald Reagan vetoed that bill, Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu predicted that the veto would be “judged harshly by history.” Congress overrode the President’s veto, kept the sanctions in place – and five years later, minority white rule ended.

Historians still debate the role that those sanctions played in ending apartheid. But I don’t think anyone can doubt that Congress would be “judged harshly by history” had it given up, or had it agreed to end sanctions in return for a mere temporary suspension of apartheid rule. Congress met the most important moral issue of its time the way moral issues must be met – with principle.

And so must Congress act today in the face of Iranian terror and aggression.

The proposed agreement contains a very long list of individuals and institutions – previously identified as supporting attacks against the West or Iran’s nuclear bomb project – whose names are on international sanctions lists but who, should the agreement be approved, will soon be off. The roll call should make anyone shudder.

For example, among those who would be freed from European sanctions is Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of Iran’s Quds Force of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard and a suspect in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died in that bombing, and hundreds were injured, making it the deadliest bombing in the history of Argentina.

No one has ever been held accountable for those murdered, a denial of justice that led human rights leaders, among them Pope Francis, to sign a petition in protest. Justice moved slowly, but in 2007, the Argentine judicial authorities identified Ahmad Vahidi as one of those responsible for the bombing, INTERPOL listed him as wanted for “aggravated murder.” Incredibly, part of the deal with Iran would remove him from Europe’s sanctions list, before he ever faces the bar of justice.

Peruse the agreement some more, and you will find the name of Javad Al Yasin, the head of something called the “Research Centre for Explosion and Impact.” Al Yasin was on the sanctions list for his work in developing Iran’s nuclear bomb. Not only does the Iranian agreement take Al Yasin off the sanctions list, it even removes sanctions from the Research Centre for Explosion and Impact.

International sanctions against Iran were effective because they created an economic incentive for Iran to come to the bargaining table. But they were effective as well because they prevented funds from reaching named militants and organizations sponsoring attacks against the West. It would be a mistake of historic proportions to remove the sanctions without evidence that Iran has ceased its sponsorship of such attacks, and without a permanent end to their ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.

And so, our negotiators must insist on an agreement in which Tehran agrees to permanent, not temporary, limitations on its abilities to prepare weapons-grade fissionable materials and ballistic missiles.

The sanctions must remain in place until Tehran renounces terrorism, stops funding Hezbollah, and honors judgments awarding compensation to those whose loved ones have been killed in past attacks.

Can we get such a deal? In urging the nation to support the end of sanctions, the president has said that the deal he presented to Congress is the best one that could be negotiated. Others disagree. But whoever is right, one thing is certain: no agreement is worth supporting if it undermines the most basic principles that must govern relations among civilized nations.

Shortly before his death, President John Kennedy delivered a speech in which he told Americans of the peace he hoped to bring to the world. He called it “genuine peace … not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time, but peace in all time.”

The proposed Iran agreement does just the opposite: faced with an international crisis, it just kicks the can down the road. It provides for temporary restrictions on nuclear aggression, while largely ignoring the broader threats of militant attacks and proxy war.

It asks the next generation to solve a problem that this generation refused to address squarely.

We owe it to our progeny to leave a record not of avoidance but of principled action. Congress should reject the proposed agreement.


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Which killers is the author of this self-serving piece talking about? The ones that gave Saddam Hussein chemical weapons to gas tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers and civilian? Or the captain and crew of the USS Vincennes which shot down IranAir655 with 290 aboard including 66 children?

Posted by Procivic | Report as abusive

The author sites having lived through a fair amount of history. I suggest he go back further. The Colonists were considered terrorists by the British (and even fought like them), who were the reigning imperial power of the day. And, they would say the reigning moral authority, as well.

The best, and perhaps the only way, to effect change in a neighbor is to concentrate on your own behavior. Respecting other cultures and beliefs doesn’t mean you have to adopt them. It does mean you shouldn’t try to change them … by carrot or stick.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

Iran will beggar its country to build a nuclear weapon…and they made leaps and bounds of progress until signing the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement in Nov 2013. The economic pain might have sent them to the negotiating table but absent an agreement, they WILL continue to pursue nuclear ambitions.

What’s to stop them with an agreement in place? The carefully drawn inspections program and the threat of renewed sanctions.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

Iran will beggar its country to build a nuclear weapon…and they made leaps and bounds of progress until signing the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement in Nov 2013. The economic pain might have sent them to the negotiating table but absent an agreement, they WILL continue to pursue nuclear ambitions.

What’s to stop them with an agreement in place? The carefully drawn inspections program and the threat of renewed sanctions.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

Did any of the several nuclear arms control accords we successfully negotiated with the Soviet Union require them to stop fomenting communist revolutions around the world? Nope. So, the argument that any nuclear arms control deal must be also cover a raft of other intractable issues is unrealistic and flies in the face of historical precedent.

And what purpose is served in criticizing the deal without acknowledging that the alternative is far worse?

Posted by misterjag | Report as abusive

I thought from his experience Robert Morgenthau should shed some serious light on the matter. All I read in this is some sort of Jewish ramblings. Here is something even an experienced man like Robert Morgenthau should consider… if we are trying to protect our allies in the middle east… we better try to contain Iran. Because Iran as such is a nuclear nation. Most of the big cities of our allies are well within the reach of Iranian missiles and Iran doesn’t need a full nuclear capability to bring massive destruction upon those cities. All they need is a dirty bomb and they already have enough material to make one in matter of hours. If we are going to rid the world of nuclear weapons then there are a lot more others we need to include in the talks, like Israel. I don’t think that is the intention. So we better see Iran as a nuclear nation and deal with them.

Posted by Looter | Report as abusive

Read the article and the six comments so far. All reminds me of a friendly bit of country-club banter. I can’t help but feel that there’s an underlying motive in Mr. Morgenthau’s discourse, however. One issue that appears to get mentioned more than others is the moral obligation for Iran to pay judgments awarded by American courts. Did Mr. Morgenthau perhaps argue any of those cases? Just wondering.

Posted by jantsch | Report as abusive

Also, does nothing to get the American prisoners held captive back…

Posted by Jane.Doe | Report as abusive

Bob Morgenthau’s father was Henry Morgenthau, who was FDR’s Treasury Secretary, and as such a major figure if not indeed the major figure in the conception, direction, and implementation of the New Deal – and as of the late 1930s he directed and oversaw the US funding of WW2. Most historians’ accounts conclude that Henry Morgenthau was despite his power, influence, and close relationship with FDR ineffective in raising the question of Jewish refugees from Hitler until very, very late in the war, and was unable even then to persuade FDR to direct any action to, for example, bomb the rail lines that were carrying Jews (and others) to the death camps. When the war was won, Henry Morgenthau argued that Germany must be de-industrialized and reduced to a purely agrarian state.

How one chooses to interpret these historic facts and their possible influence and effect on Bob Morgenthau’s essay is at the reader’s discretion, but they are all readily verifiable.

Posted by JeanPeregrine | Report as abusive

While I respect Mr. Morgenthau for his service to America, I disagree with his conclusions. The US should allow Iran to join the ranks of modern, peaceful, and prosperous countries.

We have to be careful when using this label “terrorist” because what the US has done, specifically in killing one of Iran’s democratically elected leaders, could also be considered terrorism.

President Obama has gotten this one right. The US should not bow to outside interests such as Israel who want perpetual war. Gradual modernization is our hope for creating a stable and peaceful Iran.

Posted by Cleveland2012 | Report as abusive

Sounds like the US are giving Iran enough rope to hang themselves. Pretty clever really.

Posted by angryprole | Report as abusive

Existing sanctions against Iran are in connection with nuclear proliferation only. The lawyer’s logic here could be used to impose the same sanctions against other countries, including the US and Israel, and I’m sure there are others, for their matter-of-record extrajudicial proceedings. To demand strict compliance with international law, without exception, a nation must first have clean hands.

Posted by JimVan | Report as abusive

The author is a ghost writer for Netanyahu, with another strategic ‘weighted’ barb aimed at derailing the peace accord. Like many silks and establishment figures on the conservative side of Western politics, they are intent on exposing tedious flaws on an individual basis, without visualising the broader picture. The people of Iran want to move forward to a peaceful, prosperous future engaging with the modern, market driven and very democratic model the West is showcasing. The ageing Ayatollahs’ antiquated, dusty and 5th Century-relevant texts are questioned in a majority under 30s and progressive populous. Should 20 to 30 year old proud Iranian people be held to account for deals struck between ageing clerics and ruthless opportunists, in the deserts of the past. Give peace a chance.

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

Going by Mr. Morgenthau’s argument, the apartheid state of Israel should be sanctioned for the type of government they have (same as South Africa use to be) and their treatment of the Palestinians.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

Iran actually has more reason not to trust us.

Some of the comments here mention the weapons and gas given to Iraq by the USA so they could fight as a proxy for us. We then turned on Iraq – so are we to be trusted? We invaded a country that had done nothing to us – Iraq – destroying its government and civil way of life, killing hundreds of thousands. We also forget the shooting down of an Iranian civilian jet, the arming of Usama Bin Laden, and of course the coup we fostered in Iran – replacing a democratically elected government in Iran with our puppet, the Shah.

This article was written by the son of a man who wanted to repeat after WWII the mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles to gain vengeance. A wise man wisely recognized that peace can be obtained only through open dialog and developing common goals. Fortunately for us and Europe, Marshall’s plan was implemented instead of Morgathau’s.

This article is the usual fear-mongering that keeps mankind from making progress. If we followed the writer’s logic, we never would have made agreements/treaties with the USSR, the Chinese, the Vietnamese…… something Ronald Reagan embraced…..

We cannot support the hard right in Israel’s position at the expense of our own interests.

Posted by DeeToo | Report as abusive