Aug 15 2017
By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in USA Today
Diplomacy is the only path to stop Kim Jong Un from obtaining a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States. Unfortunately, as President Trump grapples with the North Korean threat, he seems to have forgotten that same lesson we learned with Iran.
After pursuing an atomic bomb for decades, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was finally blocked when the world’s major powers secured the historic P5+1 agreementwith Tehran two years ago. Trump is now attempting to unravel it.
The White House must certify to Congress whether Iran is in compliance with the agreement every 90 days. By every account, Iran has done so.
But prior to the latest recertification, the president’s top national security advisers had to walk him back from unilaterally abandoning the agreement just to fulfill his campaign promise. Such an irrational decision would have isolated the United States and allowed Iran to resume its nuclear activities.
Under the P5+1 accord, the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Germany agreed to ease economic sanctions against Iran if it ended its nuclear weapons programs.
To be clear, the United States can unilaterally withdraw from the agreement and “snap-back,” or re-impose, all nuclear sanctions against Iran. However, absent a significant violation by the Iranians, a unilateral withdrawal would isolate the United States — not Iran.
That is because our negotiating partners have lived up to their end of the bargain by resuming business with Tehran. For example, the European conglomerate Airbus has begun delivering new aircraft to Iran Air and the French energy giant Total recently signed a major investment deal to develop one of Iran’s largest gas fields.
This new business is now legitimate and is the very reason the Iranians were willing to negotiate limits on their nuclear activities in the first place. Absent Iran blatantly violating the agreement, our negotiating partners are not going to sacrifice the economic benefits from the new business simply because Trump wants to undo his predecessor’s legacy.
If Trump unilaterally withdraws from the nuclear agreement, Iran could stay in it and continue to benefit from expanding trade with our negotiating partners. Or, it could withdraw from the agreement and resume its nuclear activities and force us to respond.
Having voluntarily walked away from an agreement for no reason, it is difficult to imagine the president would be able to lead the international community in pressuring Iran back to the negotiating table, let alone retain any credibility as we push for negotiations with North Korea.
The benefit of the nuclear agreement is clear: it prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It blocks every path to a nuclear device by strictly limiting Iran’s nuclear activities and imposing the world’s most intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency inspection program.
As long as the agreement is in place, it’s impossible for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon without our knowledge, giving us the ability to quickly react.
While the IAEA has repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, the country continues to support terrorist groups, violate its people’s human rights and threaten its neighbors with ballistic missiles. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have appropriately responded by sanctioning Iran for these activities and working to improve the security of our regional allies.
But scrapping the nuclear agreement doesn’t make us or our allies any safer. Nor would it halt Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and other terror groups. In fact, confronting Iran would only be more difficult if it was once again on the cusp of a nuclear weapon.
In May, Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, was re-elected by an almost 20-point margin. His pledges to continue improving the economy through more engagement with the rest of the world and to ease many of the country’s oppressive social restrictions clearly have resonated with the Iranian public.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump lobbied foreign leaders at the G20 summit to refuse to do business with Iran. Given that most trade and investment with Iran is now legal, the president’s actions violate the spirit of the agreement and are designed to deny Iran the economic benefits to which it is legally entitled.
Undermining the nuclear agreement directly weakens Rouhani by giving Iran’s hardliners an easy line of attack: the United States cannot be trusted and Rouhani is foolish to deal with them. Rather than playing into the hardliners’ hands, we should work to empower the more moderate Iranians who wish to reform their own government.
While we cannot turn a blind eye toward many of Iran’s policies, especially its support for Hezbollah, it would be foolish to unilaterally abandon a diplomatic agreement that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. That's especially true as we pursue similar diplomacy with North Korea toward a similar goal.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is a member and former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Follow her on Twitter: @SenFeinstein