August 31, 2015
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
Sen. Robert Menendez, left, has expressed opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, while Sen. Cory Booker, right, has neither publicly supported nor opposed the deal.
By Kelsey Davenport
As New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker considers whether to support or reject the nuclear deal with Iran next month, he should evaluate the deal on the merits. And on balance, the nuclear deal advances the security interests of the United States and neutralizes the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
If Sen. Booker chooses to follow in the footsteps of fellow New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, who announced his opposition to the deal earlier this month, he risks U.S. national security interests and the best, viable option to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.
Or Sen. Booker could choose to lead and support the deal, which will put in place long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and put its program under a microscope.
Sen. Booker has stated that his decision to support or reject the nuclear deal will be based on what is best for the safety and security of the United States. This is a complex agreement with significant security ramifications — it deserves that level of careful deliberation.
Over 75 scientists and nonproliferation experts, including several nuclear physicists from Princeton University, endorsed an Aug. 18 statement, which says that the deal “advances the security interests” of the United States and its allies and is a “net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.” Three dozen retired generals and admirals endorsed an open letter that argued “there is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
If implemented, the current agreement will ensure Iran’s capability to produce enough bomb-grade uranium sufficient for one weapon would be extended to approximately 12 months for over a decade. The deal will effectively eliminate Iran’s ability to produce and separate plutonium for a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years.
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Most importantly, the agreement will put in place a multi-layered monitoring regime that will put key nuclear sites under 24/7 surveillance. Measures under the deal also ensure that international inspectors will have timely access to any Iranian facility, including military sites, if there are concerns about an illicit nuclear weapons program.
Taken together, these rigorous limits and transparency measures will make it very likely that any future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly.
Opposing the deal, on the other hand, risks U.S. national security interests and increases the likelihood of a military conflict with Iran.
Sen. Menendez argues that the current agreement leaves in place Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Yet it is not possible to reach a deal that meets Sen. Menendez’s requirements. No deal can erase Iran’s nuclear weapons knowledge. It cannot be bombed, sanctioned, or negotiated away. The best option is to restrict Iran’s activities and put in place intrusive monitoring to ensure that Tehran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
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Sen. Menendez also argues that a “better deal” is possible and the United States should return to the talks and renegotiate elements of the deal. In an ideal world the deal could be made stronger–Iran would give up its uranium-enrichment program and abandon its plutonium reactor.
But there is no guarantee that Iran will play ball again if the United States walks away from this agreement. It is far more likely that Iran will take steps to escalate its nuclear program, moving closer to a quick dash to nuclear weapons.
More critically, it is unlikely that the international community will chose to support reentering negotiations after U.S. allies and the United Nations Security Council endorsed the deal. And without global support for sanctions, there will be far less pressure on Iran to return to talks.
In a few weeks, Congress will vote to support or reject the nuclear deal with Iran. That vote carries significant consequences. Rejecting the deal based on the argument that there is a “better deal” is a dangerous fantasy especially when the deal on the table gets the job done.
The nuclear deal is not perfect, but it meets key nonproliferation and security objectives. And with no realistic prospect for a better nuclear agreement, it deserves support from Congress.
Kelsey Davenport is the director for nonproliferation policy at the independent, nonpartisan Arms Control Association.