“Trust, but verify” is what Ronald Reagan said about arms control agreements with the old Soviet Union.
With Iran’s track record, President Barack Obama is right that the nuclear pact announced Tuesday must be even stricter. “This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification,” he said from the White House.
The agreement between Iran and six world powers led by the United States is historic. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would allow Iran to become a “terrorist nuclear superpower.”
Supporters, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, called it a historic accomplishment. “This is a strong agreement that meets our national security needs and I believe will stand the test of time,” she said in a statement.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer of California sounded a more skeptical note, saying that “if this agreement is what the administration says it is, it is a major, historic diplomatic breakthrough.”
The president has a lot of convincing to do, starting with Congress.
Because negotiators missed a July 9 deadline, Congress gets 60 days instead of 30 to review the agreement. However, Obama immediately vowed to veto any attempt to scuttle the deal. So that means opponents need to muster a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.
In the House, the president will be counting on Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to prevent just that. She praised Obama for “tough, bold and clear-eyed leadership” that produced the agreement. “Aggressive restrictions and inspections offer the best long-term plan to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” Pelosi said in a statement.
She is dead-on.
When you listen to the critics, ask yourself: Are they offering any kind of plausible alternative?
Without this pact, we’re left with what? More economic sanctions that hurt the civilian population as much as Iran’s leaders? A military strike that may or may not completely wipe out Iran’s nuclear capability, but could spark a wider war in the Middle East, where there is more than enough bloodshed already?
Under the 15-year agreement, Iran would be required to give up 98% of its enriched uranium and to reduce the number of centrifuges by two-thirds. That would lengthen the “breakout” time to produce a nuclear weapon to one year — giving the U.S. and other nations more time to respond if Iran pulls out of the accord.
In return, crippling international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and its financial sector would be lifted, generating billions of dollars for the regime. A key provision would “snap back” the sanctions if a majority of an eight-nation panel decides that Iran is violating the deal.
In his remarks Tuesday, Obama also quoted another former president, John F. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
Yes, this agreement should be closely vetted. But until opponents come up with a realistic strategy, it is the best option available.