Why we disagree with Chuck Schumer on the Iran deal

August 14, 2015
U.S. Senator Schumer speaks after the cloture vote on the nomination of Lynch to be Attorney General, in Washington

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key voice in the Democratic Party leadership, has announced that he will not support the international agreement designed to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We realize that all senators must balance their concerns about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action against the consequences for the United States if Washington rejects it. We just do not agree with how the senator balances up the account. Here’s why:

Schumer’s explanation did not go into his views on the consequences of rejection. He says he will vote against the deal not because he believes “war is a viable option” or “to challenge the path of diplomacy.”  Instead, his reasoning is based on his belief that “Iran will not change.” The deal, however, is not about trusting Iran, changing its regime or even avoiding war. It is about preventing Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Schumer’s alternative to the agreement is to “keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more.”

He does not explain how his strategy would be accomplished without the support of Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, the other parties to the deal besides the United States and Iran. He also does not address the consequences if Washington fails to honor its commitment to a multilateral agreement negotiated over 18 months.

Ministers and officials pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammon, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (L to R) pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Klamar/Pool

Rejection of the agreement would severely undermine the U.S. role as a leader and reliable partner around the globe. If Washington walks away from this hard-fought multilateral agreement, its dependability would likely be doubted for decades.

Rejection would also destroy the effective coalition that brought Iran to the negotiating table. China and Russia would likely resume trade with Iran. U.S. allies, unsettled by Washington’s behavior, would move their own separate ways.

The other five negotiators would likely have little stomach for going back to Iran “for a better deal.” The ambassadors of the five countries recently assured members of Congress that their governments would not return to the negotiating table should Washington reject the agreement.

Future sanctions would then have to be largely unilateral U.S. efforts — and less effective. There would be no coalition standing by to restore sanctions or apply other pressures if Iran did not comply. It would also be difficult to develop joint forceful action against Iran should it decide to go for a nuclear weapon.

Schumer’s suggestion that the United States “impose secondary sanctions on other nations” would likely be challenged by Washington’s friends and allies. It could rapidly lead to alternative financial arrangements disadvantageous to America over the long term. A U.S. policy of extending unilateral sanctions to other nations that had agreed to lift them on Iran would also risk damaging the power and influence of the U.S. Treasury.

Tehran would be the winner of this U.S. rejection because it would achieve its major objective: the lifting of most sanctions without being required to accept constraints on its nuclear program. Iran could also claim to be a victim of American perfidy and try to convince other nations to break with U.S. leadership and with the entire international sanctions regime.

Meanwhile, Israel would be the loser, as Iran would resume its nuclear program without inspections and would garner support from other nations around the world. Ninety countries, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have already supported the deal. Though Israel opposes it, many key Israelis do not, including retired senior generals and a former Mossad leader.

The history of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear program without constraints is instructive. From 2005 to 2013, Iran rocketed from about 200 installed centrifuges to 20,000, while Washington sought to stop them through sanctions. Unrestrained by the joint nuclear agreement, Iran could quickly resume its aggressive nuclear program: move from 20,000 to 200,000 installed centrifuges, resume enriching uranium to 20 percent in its deeply buried facility, finish its plutonium reactor and develop reprocessing.

Vindicated in his distrust of the United States, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali  Khamenei would no longer have any incentive to negotiate. The much flaunted and powerful Iranian “hard-liners” would likely return to dominate national politics and push President Hassan Rouhani’s more centrist team aside permanently. A return to the “hard-trodden path of diplomacy,” as Schumer proposes, would have to be conducted without Iran and its six negotiating parties.

The scuttling of the agreement could also put the United States on a path to another war in the Middle East. The uncertainty about the restored, unrestrained Iranian nuclear program would rapidly become an unacceptable mystery. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors would find the unprecedented inspections program of the Iran nuclear agreement foregone, probably forever.

The hair-on-fire spiral from fears of Iranian intentions would lead again —  as in 2012 and 2013 — to demands for military action. As uncertainty mounted, Israel might again find it necessary to attack Iran and expect U.S. support.

Paradoxically, full U.S. military action against Iran would achieve only a three- to five-year delay in an Iranian surge toward a bomb, while the international nuclear deal would allow 15 years to test whether the agreement was on track to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. An Israel-U.S. military attack would more than likely assure a decision by Iran to move rapidly for a nuclear weapon, a decision it has not yet taken, according the director of U.S. national intelligence.

Within a month, Congress will face a momentous decision to kill this last chance for Washington to reach a verifiable Iranian commitment not to build a nuclear weapon. Congress can either accept or reject it by overriding an expected presidential veto — thereby taking sole and exclusive responsibility for the grave consequences for U.S. national security that would certainly follow.

10 comments

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“Rejection of the agreement would severely undermine the U.S. role as a leader and reliable partner around the globe”.

The U.S. is no longer viewed as a strong and reliable partner around the globe. They are no longer respected or trusted by most countries and the allies that they think they have are only such because of the aid/money they give them.

Posted by bcp1854 | Report as abusive

Schumer is a captive of the Israel lobby. His stance is nonsensical and disgraceful. This is politics at its worst.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

Those who oppose the Iran deal by stubbornly clinging to age old ideologies will be forced into permanent retirement eventually. That’s the sole unyielding principle behind surviving in this ever-changing world. One needs to be fluid like water in order to advance to the next era or risk dying off.

This country is already financially burdened to the point that we can no longer absorb the cost of fighting wars every decade, however small. It’s like a middle class family with 80k income while saddled with a 300k mortgage, 20k car loan and 10k in credit card debt yet still dreaming of taking a 10k family vacation every year. The math simply does, not, work.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

The current so called leadership of the United States is responsible for a rapidly disintegrating respect from the rest of the world, which will result in creating a socialist existence on a par with the likes of Greece. Let Iran have their bomb, because this administration is unable and unwilling to stop them. Warm up the ovens.

Posted by ArribaJuarez | Report as abusive

It’s really a shame that so much of our foreign policy in the US is held hostage by a small group of aging Isrealis and Cubans. How much longer will Americans be willing to support the bellicose leadership of Israel or the desires of a bunch of old Cubans in Miami?

Posted by elcantwell | Report as abusive

It is clear that Schumer’s vote is not in the interest of the United States, but in the interest of his career (becoming the leader of senate), and more importantly the support he receives from Israeli lobby. Israelis are destroying US credibility around the world, as they have done to themselves. Without US pressure no sane government or people would support the Israel.

Posted by Infidle | Report as abusive

Ambajuarez complains: “The current so called leadership of the United States is responsible for a rapidly disintegrating respect from the rest of the world…”

Actually that started with GW Bush and Cheney. They drove America into the diplomatic toilet, and the only people grateful to that administration are ISIS, who now has a free home in Iraq. (at the cost of 3 trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars).

GOP = failure.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

ArribaJuarez is talking like every other pro-war coward out there.

Stop Iran through more military action you say. Why don’t you enlist first and also donate every last dollar of your savings to fund this war?

Mind-numbing ‘Murica! slogans sure are easy to spout when you’re not the one on the frontlines.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

I respect Senator Schumer’s decision to oppose the Iran nuclear deal. The Jewish constituency will not forgive him if he decides to go along with the president. Deep down in his heart, he realizes that supporting the deal is in the best interest of the American people. He also, knows that the Iran deal will stand the test of time. Somehow I get the impression that the New York senator will not vote for overriding the President’s veto if the Republican congress heads to that path.

The truth is, President Obama will visit Tehran to normalize diplomatic relation before he exits the Oval Office to the same extent he did with Cuba even though he sent Kerry to hoist the flag in Havana.America always acknowledges the hard fact of life. At the end of day, going to war with Iran is going to war with Russia and China. Americans get that, big mouth Bibi does not.

Posted by RatnaMatin | Report as abusive

Number of Israeli troops who fought in Iraq: 0

Number of Israeli troops who fought in Afghanistan: 0

Number of Israeli troops deployed to fight ISIS: 0

Number of times per year Netanyahu complains that America does not do enough for him: 278

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive