The Fork in the Road – Building Trust or Digging in Deeper?

There’s certainly been plenty of impassioned rhetoric spewed in recent weeks about the P5+1 agreement with Iran.  (P5+1 stands for the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany ). Few people have even read the agreement I suspect, but you can right here on the White House website, all 159 pages, if you really want to.  Frankly, I have no desire to read the fine print, but I think the explanation provided by this nuclear physicist is a good substitute. The State Department’s website has plenty of information about this agreement too.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson spoke in favor of the Iranian nuke agreement this week in Albuquerque at Congregation Albert. Although linked to J Street, the Ambassador made clear that he was speaking only for himself. Two weeks earlier, the synagogue invited a speaker sponsored by AIPAC opposed to the agreement. In good humor, Wilson noted that he didn’t want to be the goy between the two Jews.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson speaking at Congregation Albert 8/26/15

Americans might best remember Ambassador Wilson for his role in exposing the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam Hussein obtaining yellow cake from Niger. Bush needed to fabricate a reason to go to war, and after Wilson exposed his lies in an article in the New York Times, the Bush Administration exposed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, ending her career. Her book, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed By Her Own Government has been made into a movie and I understand Sean Penn plays Wilson. Now, I have to see it!

On to serious matters.

Ambassador Wilson says the Iranian nuke agreement is both a technical and political agreement. Scientists from both Sandia Labs and Los Alamos Labs were involved in the negotiations. Iran has agreed to “very intrusive and comprehensive inspections” with very close oversight for the next 15-25 years.

The IAEA negotiated a “side agreement” with Iran on technical issues that has apparently created some angst among the naysayers, but Wilson didn’t appear concerned. He said Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Jewish Democrat from New York, has written the best piece about the agreement that he’s read.

Presentation at Congregation Albert - Albuquerque, NM

Presentation at Congregation Albert – Albuquerque, NM

“We can’t trust the Iranians!”  Wilson said it goes both ways, the Iranians don’t trust the Americans. We don’t need to trust the Iranians to live up to the agreement because there are mechanisms in the agreement to allow inspections and the scientists tell us that no one can remove nuclear traces within 24 days (the time designated in the agreement within which Iran must let IAEA inspectors to come in and look). Our scientists are telling us that there’s no way Iran could surreptitiously build a nuclear bomb without the world knowing about it. That argument against the agreement sounds like a red herring to me.

“Iranians will still have centrifuges — even after signing the agreement.”  They will be required to reduce their stockpile of centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 (I think is the # Wilson said.) Fewer is better than allowing them to continue to build new ones, which would be the case without the agreement.

Centrifuges

Centrifuges

“What will the Iranians do with the $150 Billion returned to them when the embargo is lifted (I think that’s the # I heard)?”  I don’t think Wilson speculated about the answer, but said the U.S. will be the big loser in a “profound way” if we fail to sign the agreement. “Our standing as a world leader will be sorely tested” and will “play right into the hands of the extremists in Iran.” “See, we told you the Americans can’t be trusted.”  Wilson doesn’t believe it would be in Israel’s long-term strategic interests to walk away from the agreement either. Retired members of the Israeli security support the agreement.

This doesn’t mean that the relationships between Iran and the rest of the world will come up all roses, Wilson said.  But this agreement will give the world 10-15 years to pursue confidence-building actions in the region. The negotiating process brought together allies, adversaries and competitors …. really a first!  “It’s a good deal to benefit the region.”

Question from the audience: “What happens if the U.S. doesn’t sign?”

The U.S. Congress would have to override President Obama’s veto. Then everything would be up in the air. Both the U.S. and Israel will be isolated from the rest of the world. Other countries will do business with Iran. Wilson believes the Iranian moderates won with this agreement, and the hardliners lost out. If the U.S. fails to sign, then the hardliners’ position is strengthened.

Ambassador Wilson said that Israel needs to find peace with its neighbors. This agreement gives Israel time to do that. Wilson did not hide his disdain for Netanyahu or AIPAC, which he said is an arm of Likud and divides all of us.  AIPAC shapes the discussion in a toxic way.

“Agreements lead to potential new agreements.” 

“De-escalation of tensions leads to further de-escalation.”

Iranians have a very long memory. Americans don’t. If the U.S. fails to sign onto this agreement which we played a leadership role in designing and negotiating, future generations of Iranians will understand they can’t trust America.

I was going to ask about the letter in the New York Times written by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian lead negotiator, urging the only nuclear country in the Middle East to follow suit now and agree to negotiate a nuclear free Middle East.  But someone else from the audience asked a related question, which Wilson deflected so I didn’t think he would answer my question.

I left the gathering at Congregation Albert believing that Congress is really standing at a fork in the road — with an opportunity to build trust in this volatile region or dig ourselves deeper into conflict and war. This is a very important decision for our members of Congress, for our nation’s future influence in foreign policy, and future generations. I hope they make the right decision.

Jafar Panahi, a leading Iranian film director (who has won numerous international awards including the Golden Bear in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015), supports the Iran Deal, as do many others.

Thanks to the talented Mike Swick who recorded the Ambassador’s remarks, here’s the entire 1+ hour video.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, Video

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