Coons Then: ‘I Won’t Support a Bad Deal.’ Now: ‘I Will Support a Bad Deal’
On July 14, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) issued the following statement:
The United States must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten our national security, the security of Israel, and the stability of the entire Middle East.
I will review the details of this agreement promptly, and I will only support it if this deal prevents every Iranian pathway to develop a nuclear weapons capability. In conversations with senior Administration officials, I have been clear about the specifics of what I want to see from this nuclear agreement. The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must have timely and effective access to military and sensitive facilities in Iran, and be able to fully assess Iran’s past illicit nuclear weapons efforts. The agreement must include strict limits on advanced centrifuge research and development to prevent a rapid upgrade of Iran’s future capacity to enrich uranium. Any sanctions relief must be based on Iran first meeting its obligations under this deal. Finally, the international community must maintain its ability to re-impose sanctions should Iran violate the agreement.
Virtually every condition he gave to endorse the deal has been broken.
And Coons knows it.
His speech yesterday, in which he said that he supports the deal, is highly critical of the deal he is supporting:
Frankly, this is not the agreement I hoped for. I am troubled that the parties to this agreement – particularly Iran – have differing interpretations of key terms, and I remain deeply concerned about our ability to hold Iran to the terms of this agreement as we understand them. Under this agreement, Iran retains a civilian nuclear enrichment program that grows steadily in scope and the hardened underground nuclear facility at Fordow continues to exist filled with centrifuges which, while sidelined from enrichment for fifteen years, are not permanently shelved. Once Iran verifiably meets its obligations, it will gain access to tens of billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen by our sanctions. We should expect that Iran will use some of those funds to support and arm its proxies in the region – terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that threaten and attack Israel, or to support the murderous regime of Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. Five years after the agreement, the U.N.’s embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran will end, and eight years after the agreement, the U.N. embargo on ballistic missile technology will end.
I have a number of serious concerns based on Iran’s past behavior of cheating on nuclear agreements and our experiences trying to block other countries from developing nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic of Iran has long threatened the United States and Israel in both fiery speeches and terrorist acts, and it continues to support terrorist groups across the region. Even as the P5+1 representatives were meeting to finalize this agreement, Iran tried an American Washington Post reporter for spying and other Americans remained jailed on trumped up charges in a notorious Iranian prison. So let’s be clear – no one should mistake Iran for a friend of the United States.
One of the most important aspects of the agreement is the enforcement mechanisms. Here, too, this is not the agreement I would have preferred. We cannot trust the Iranians, and from the requirements and scope of snapping back sanctions to the timing and mechanisms of inspections, I found several areas in the text of the agreement where I would prefer the terms of enforcement to be clearer and stronger. I also stand with my colleagues who have raised real questions about the details of the IAEA’s agreement with Iran over the assessment of past nuclear weaponization activities at Parchin and the integrity of future inspections and enforcement as a result.
I have deep concern about the scope and implications of Iran’s permitted centrifuge development program after ten years and its nuclear enrichment capacity after fifteen years. Even if the Iranians comply with the letter and spirit of the agreement as negotiators for the United States understand it, a stronger, financially stable, and economically interconnected Iran will develop an expanded nuclear enrichment program after a decade which – if it then chooses to violate the agreement – would allow it to quickly develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. This agreement – at best – freezes Iran’s nuclear enrichment program – it does not dismantle or destroy it as I hoped it would.
Beyond the terms of the agreement, opponents decry the singular focus of the negotiations on the nuclear program to the exclusion of human rights issues and Iranian support for terrorism. I share their frustration. Iran’s record of arming terrorist organizations, imprisoning people of faith, accusing Americans of spying during visits to see their family, and stifling all forms of civil society, is well known and among the worst in the world. We cannot begin to consider a constructive dialogue with Iran until these issues are addressed. Frankly, I do not share the optimism of those who believe Iran is on the verge of truly opening to the West or of becoming a moderating force in the region. While we can hope and pray that someday the people of Iran will push their extreme leaders to moderation, we cannot count on that happening and we have to consider our path forward with a deserved and deep distrust of Iran’s intentions.
But, in the end, Coons feels that he had no choice:
Ultimately, after consulting with financial and policy experts, I’m convinced that the potential turmoil for our key alliances in Europe and Asia and the uncertainty of the outcome of forcing our reluctant allies back to the table are not worth the uncertain possibility that we could secure a stronger deal. Thus, in a very hard choice between either rejecting the agreement and taking on the uncertainty and risks of compelling a return to sanctions and negotiations or a path that accepts the positives of this deal and attempts to manage and minimize the short and long term consequences of its flaws, I choose the latter.
This is the stated logic of many senators, although we cannot know how much White House arm-twisting was happening behind the scenes to buttress the pro-deal arguments.
It is clear that Coons has violated his own conditions for supporting the agreement. And so have many other senators.
What this shows, quite clearly, is that the White House bluster that “no deal is better than a bad deal” has been fiction all along. The entire point of the White House political efforts during the negotiations was to hammer out a deal no matter what, to gather U.N. and world support for the bad deal, especially among Iran’s trading partners, and then to give what Alan Dershowitz called a “Hobson’s choice” to Congress, where members are forced to choose between a manifestly bad deal or the uncertainty of no deal where the sanctions regime has already been destroyed by U.S. actions.
No one outside the White House and J Street likes this deal. Any support of the deal is a result of creating an environment in which opposition appears as distasteful as support.
The most ironic part of Coons’s speech is this:
Finally, I will support this agreement despite its flaws because it is the better strategy for the United States to lead a coalesced global community in containing the spread of nuclear weapons….Right now, we have an opportunity to lead our allies in containing a dangerous nation’s ability to secure a weapon of mass destruction. We can do this through a combination of diplomacy and deterrence that gives our allies in the region the support to defend themselves and the confidence that if diplomacy fails, we will invoke military options to achieve it.
Yes, the U.S. has been the leader — in ensuring that Iran will have nuclear weapons in 15 years. The idea that the U.S. can lead the coalition opposing Iran, when it has done everything possible to strengthen Iran, is a triumph of after-the-fact justification on Coons’s part.
These negotiations have destroyed the U.S.’s ability to lead the world against tyranny.