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May 15, 2015 1:33 pm

Opinion: Talking to US Senators and Aides About Iran

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Capitol Hill. Photo: wiki commons.

On my trip to Washington on Wednesday for the NORPAC Mission, I ended up going to two senators’ offices.

We had a handout for all the members of Congress we met – which was probably about 90% of them in total. It was a scorecard that went through a number of issues about the Iranian nuclear agreement, saying that unless every single question was answered adequately, they should vote against it.

The questions (along with lots of supporting documentation for each one) were:

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a. ‘ANYTIME, ANYWHERE’ inspections regime: The final agreement calls for inspectors to determine whether Iran is complying with the agreement. Will those inspectors have the right, with minimal/no notice and no veto right to visit any site they suspect may be involved in any aspect of nuclear weapons research or production?

b. Phased lifting of sanctions: Will economic sanctions previously imposed on Iran be lifted upon signing of a final agreement or, instead, only over a period of months and years, conditioned on Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and in a way that gives Iran a continued and strong economic incentive to comply?

c. Lifting of sanctions conditioned on fully disclosing PMD (possible military dimensions of past nuclear related work) – Will Iran be required to disclose all research and substantive work that it has previously done on nuclear weapons before sanctions relief?

d. Severe limits on nuclear related research & development and on use of advanced centrifuges – Will the final agreement strictly limit Iran’s ability to research, develop and acquire (a) faster and more efficient centrifuges (the machines needed to enrich uranium, the key ingredient of a nuclear weapon) and (b) any other components of a nuclear weapon?

e. Shipping of enriched uranium out of Iran – Will the final agreement definitively cut off Iran’s ability to access its stock of enriched uranium, the key ingredient of a nuclear weapon, by requiring Iran to ship that uranium out of the country?

f. Effective ‘snapback’ mechanisms – Will the final agreement ensure that any Iranian violation will be (a) swiftly identified and (b) met with rapid reimposition of sanctions so that (c) Iran is deterred from violating the agreement in the first place?

g. Sunset provisions tied to changes in Iranian behavior – The final agreement will likely provide that many of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will lapse after 10 years, while others will lapse after 15. Will that lapse be automatic or will it be conditioned on Iran’s behavior – such as its support for terrorists and murderous regimes – having changed by the end of the given period?

h. Disposal of “extra” centrifuges – The April 2 framework agreement says that Iran will reduce its installed centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104, with 5,060 enriching uranium for the first ten years. Will the 12,000+ centrifuges that will not be needed during the first ten years be dismantled (and, ideally, shipped out the country) or, alternatively, disabled in some other way?

i. Trade-off of permanent sanctions relief for temporary restraints – The fundamental premise of the April 2 framework, and almost certainly of any final agreement, is that Iran will get (what is very likely to be) permanent relief from the most crippling sanctions in exchange for temporary restraints in its nuclear behavior, while leaving all major elements of its nuclear infrastructure intact. Is that a sound trade-off?

My group’s first meeting was with a Democrat who was very pro-Israel but also very pro-Obama. He had strongly supported Pillar of Defense, for example.

We spoke mostly to his aide (which is normally how these things go; actually speaking to the politicians does not happen as often) but the senator did come in and give a monologue. He said that as long as the Iran deal will push off their nuclear weapons capability for ten years, he would sign on. He also said that he met with Bibi in 2012 and told him that he felt that he was injecting partisan politics in the US-Israel relationship; saying that he felt that Netanyahu was campaigning for Romney.

Whether it is true or not, the fact that this was his perception is something that the Israeli leadership must pay attention to.

It is easy to get people like this to support Iron Dome, for example. But to get them to understand the problem with Iran is much harder.

The other meeting I had (our bus came late so there was only time for two meetings) was with another Southern senator’s office, but he was a Republican freshman senator. The Iran issues were preaching to the choir.

In that meeting I spoke to points G, H and I to the aide, making particular note that there was only a 12 year window between President Clinton’s announcement of a “good” deal with North Korea and their first atom bomb test. I said that if Iran doesn’t change its behavior of supporting terror, increasing its ICBM capability and generally taking over the region, there should be no way that things should be considered perfectly OK after ten years.

I don’t know how much of a difference this mission made for the Iran agreement, but it certainly didn’t hurt. And when members of Congress see so many Jews coming to visit them they know that this is an issue that many people care passionately about – enough to take a day off of work to help advocate for what we feel is so important not only for Israel but for the U.S. and the world as well.

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  • Israel-Lover

    “The Senator] also said that he met with Bibi in 2012 and told him that he felt that he was injecting partisan politics in the US-Israel relationship; saying that he felt that Netanyahu was campaigning for Romney.”

    “… he was a Republican freshman senator. The Iran issues were preaching to the choir.”

    In other words, it is not Bibi or Israel which is making the issue partisan; it is the Democratic and Republican parties themselves – the former in favor of appeasement, the latter in favor of courageous defence of our democratic ally.

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