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Steve Chapman: The Iranian deal is still a good bargain

 

 

 

The case against the nuclear deal with Iran is reminiscent of what Woody Allen once said: "Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering -- and it's all over much too soon." The agreement, critics insist, is terrible and doesn't last long enough. 

 

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said on NPR Tuesday, "The problem is that the restrictions that the deal puts in place are automatically removed in a few years. This was the core problem of the deal from the beginning." 

 

If it's not a good deal for the U.S. and Israel, shouldn't we prefer that it be over as quickly as possible? The weird logic of the opponents is that because parts of the accord will end too soon, we should end the whole thing even sooner -- right now. Their implication is that all the flaws would be acceptable if only they would remain in effect until the end of time. 

 

At his briefing Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood beside a giant screen filled with two words: "Iran lied." This assertion was a surprise on the order of finding snow in Siberia. The United States entered negotiations on Iran's nuclear program precisely because we didn't believe the claim that it had only peaceful purposes. 

 

Had the Obama administration taken the Iranians to be paragons of honesty, it would not have held out for the most intrusive inspections regime ever imposed on a country. National security adviser Susan Rice said in 2015, "Our approach is distrust but verify." 

 

The Israelis point out that the inspectors didn't unearth the files Netanyahu released. They didn't need to. "All of it was information that the International Atomic Energy Agency already had and has already commented on," Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN. 

 

"Even if the documents assembled by Israel are genuine, they do not appear to reveal that prohibited nuclear weapons research and design activities continued in an organized fashion beyond 2003," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me. 

 

Besides, the nuclear inspectors aren't supposed to spend their time finding out what the Tehran government did 15 years ago. They are supposed to ensure that Iran is complying with its current obligations, and they've found over and over that it is. 

 

The important part of the session was what Netanyahu didn't say. He didn't say Iran has violated the agreement. 

 

The White House responded to his slide show with a statement that the disclosures prove Iran "has a robust, clandestine nuclear program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people" -- and then had to correct the statement to say Iran "had" such a program. Meaning: It no longer does. That would be thanks to the accord. 

 

The deal put severe limits on Iran. It had to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, dismantle its plutonium reactor and surrender 70 percent of its centrifuges. Inspectors can gain access to any site where they detect suspicious activity. The curbs on Iran are why Donald Trump's own defense secretary, James Mattis, has said it's in our national security interest to stay in the agreement. 

 

The president, however, says it must be revised or he'll withdraw. But why would Iran agree to changes without new concessions on our part? And why would Iran see any point in amending an agreement with a government that feels free to renege on its established commitments? 

 

Some restrictions on Iran's activities expire after 10 or 15 years. But if the administration would like to see those limits extended, the best hope is to abide by our obligations. Over time, Iran might grow more confident that it doesn't need nuclear weapons and agree to longer terms. 

 

Trump's threats are likely to have the opposite effect. They tell the Iranian government it can't rely on multilateral agreements and had better have a good military deterrent against its enemies. 

 

Trump accuses Barack Obama of sticking him with "a terrible deal." If the U.S. abandoned the deal, Iran would be free to evict the inspectors and resume the very activities that Netanyahu decried. 

 

At that point, we would be presented with the same choice that the agreement served to avert: Allow Iran to proceed with its nuclear program or start a war to try to prevent it. Talk about a terrible deal. 

 

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13.

 

 

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