Why Hawks Are Trying to Kill Interim Nuclear Pact with Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry celebrates the Iran deal with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Photo: Photoshot/Vostock Photo

Secretary of State John Kerry celebrates the Iran deal with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Photo: Photoshot/Vostock Photo

Why are Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their congressional allies in both American political parties trying to kill an interim nuclear deal with Iran that effectively freezes (and in some instances rolls back) the Iranian nuclear program until a comprehensive deal can be reached to permanently limit the program so that Iran cannot build a nuclear bomb?

In the lead up to the interim deal, if one wanted to be charitable, one could have assumed that these hawks were acting as the “bad cop,” using the threat of even more economic sanctions to strengthen the Obama administration’s “good cop” hand to exert maximum pressure on Iran to limit its nuclear program. However, after an interim deal has been reached, these same hardliners are likely to push Congress to ratchet up sanctions anyway in a blatant attempt to kill that deal and further negotiations. Of course, President Obama can likely successfully veto their efforts, but unfortunately their motivation for taking this barefaced course can only be attributed to rejecting peace for war with Iran.

In both America and Israel, politicians customarily need to pretend to avoid war, even though intentions are otherwise. For example, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush blamed Saddam Hussein for kicking out international weapons inspectors trying to find what turned out to be nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction”—a hostile act—when the inspectors really exited that country because of the imminent U.S. attack. So the hawks have claimed falsely that the interim agreement rolls back no part of Iran’s nuclear program and have vehemently opposed the deal because it is not tough enough.

First of all, generating enough fissionable material is the toughest step to building a nuclear bomb, and three paths exist to get there:

  1. by further enriching uranium already enriched to 20 percent;
  2. by using fast centrifuges to enrich 3.5 percent uranium; and
  3. to make plutonium using a heavy water nuclear reactor.

The interim accord rolls back the first by requiring Iran to eliminate its stockpile of 20 percent uranium one way or another, and it essentially freezes numbers two and three. The second is frozen by prohibiting the installation and operation of new centrifuges and by capping Iran’s stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium. The third is frozen by prohibiting Iran from testing or producing nuclear fuel for the Arak heavy water reactor or making it operational. The agreement also provides for strict international inspections to make sure Iran is complying with this freeze/rollback. Meanwhile, the United States and the international community have kept the core of their economic sanctions—shutting Iran out of the world’s banking system and a ban on the importation of Iranian oil, the country’s life’s blood—until a comprehensive deal can be reached, with only a minor unfreezing of certain Iranian overseas assets until then.

One might ask the hawks blatantly trying to scuttle the interim agreement what alternative they propose. They claim that they instead want a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program—which is permitted by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as long as it is not used to make a bomb—an outcome that has no chance of happening. Meanwhile, during any complex and lengthy negotiation toward such an end state of nirvana, Iran could string the West along while continuing to make more progress toward getting the bomb. At least the interim agreement freezes the Iranian program until negotiations on a more comprehensive agreement can be attempted. Even if those future negotiations eventually fail, it would seem that the interim agreement provides a “pareto improvement.” This is a fancy economic term for making at least one party better off without making the other worse off. In this case, both parties seem better off because Iran gets some slight sanctions relief, and the West gets a verifiable freeze on Iran’s nuclear program while an attempt is made to negotiate severe permanent constraints on Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb.

The hawks—the Israelis, the Saudis, and their congressional allies—however, oppose this pareto improvement for the two negotiating parties, because it’s not a pareto improvement for them. If the goal were to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the interim agreement would seem to offer at least no down side. However, if the real objective is to weaken Iran as power in the Middle East through a military attack by either the United States or Israel, using Iran’s nuclear program as an excuse, the interim agreement—and of course any future comprehensive agreement laying the Iranian nuclear issue to rest for good—is a disaster because it removes the imperative for any military strike.

ivan-eland-2Behind the façade of the Iran nuclear issue, what the hawks really fear is that a general rapprochement between the U.S. superpower and Iran, made possible by a nuclear deal, could lead to realignment in the Mideast region to the perceived detriment of Israel and Saudi Arabia, each of whose archenemy is Iran. Their reasoning goes that if the United States settles some its differences with Iran and has a better relationship with that country, Iran’s power will grow at their expense. That explains the hawks’ white-hot opposition to a rather benign interim agreement, which could eventually lead to peace, instead of war, with Iran.

Ivan Eland
The Independent


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    PS What is the actual LEGAL STATUS of this ‘agreement’? Its terms subvert UN resolutions. It is not being presented as a treaty for Congressional approval – or as a binding commitment on Iran that the US would have treaty rights to enforce.

    And exactly WHAT was agreed? Every day it seems that the ‘agreement’ settled less and less actual on-the-ground issues, with more and more ‘implementation details’ to first be ‘negotiated’.

    The agreement does represent globally evident COMMITMENTS by the US and Iran, commitments whose violations won’t look good or be easy. But exactly what are those commitments? Well, here are the main ones:

    From the US, the agreement in effect announces the easing and therefore the foreseen end of sanctions – so that already there’s been the start of a global land-rush to once again do business with Iran, and the Iranian rial has appreciated. No matter what happens, it will now be very difficult for the US to convince third-party countries to once again abide by reinstated or tightened sanctions rules.

    From the US the agreement in effect also announces that at a minimum, now and in any ‘final’ followup, Iran will have acknowledged ‘rights to enrich’ uranium (unlike other non-proliferation states, which can just import uranium fuel for power stations).

    In return, Iran is committed to a Coca Cola stage: a partial ‘pause that refreshes’ – at least for parts of its nuke-weapons drive (while the remaining parts are free to advance). So for the next six months, centrifuges can keep spinning, and quietly to the side more can keep getting built. Plutonium reactors can keep getting built, along with roads etc to them. Just their last-stage activation is postponed: only after a wait of all of six months from now can the meanwhile prepared equipment be installed and switched on in the meanwhile prepared buildings.

    Shortly after the Nov 1938 Munich agreement, Hitler’s government staged Kristallnacht, its bloodiest repression to date of human rights in Germany.

    Shortly after the Nov 2013 Geneva agreement, Khamenei’s government has staged more repressions of Bahais and hangings and imprisonments of
    political prisoners.

    So, maybe we can ask the ghost of Mr Chamberlain what we should call the Geneva agreement? How about ‘peace in our time’?

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    As usual, Eland and co. naively equate a so-called ‘peace’ agreement to actual peace, and tag as ‘hawks’ those who sadly and realistically point out that in fact a weak agreement will increase prospects of actual war.
    In effect, the new agreement simply legitimizes Iran getting nukes by installments – while effectively subverting the existing semi-effective sanctions, which, once partially dismantled, cannot effectively be reimposed. Contra Eland, there is every reason for treating the present ‘agreement’ as ‘final’ rather than ‘interim’, because as time passes and the sanctions sag and the centrifuges keep spinning the Iran regime will have ever less incentive to worry about a ‘final’ agreement other than one which is even weaker.
    Israel is permanently small, vulnerable, and has a host of ideologically sworn-to-destroy-her larger enemies. She had little choice but quietly at first opportunity to get a last-ditch-deterrent nuke force.
    Not so the Iran Khamenei regime – the world’s prime exporter of terror and a regime which – as managed by so-called ‘moderate’ Ruhani – has in fact continued and intensified repressions at home and continues openly to brag that its intent is to see to the end of Israel and the undoing of Western nations too. If a regime as openly in-our-face nasty as Khamenei’s is allowed to get nukes, the nuclear genie is truly out of the bottle. All manner of nations will refuse to play ‘sucker’ any more for un-enforced nuke non-proliferation agreements, but will see themselves forced to get nukes – or anyhow as better off by doing so.

  3. says

    Is there something about Death to Israel you don’t understand? There is no such thing as a real negotiation with Iran over its obvious stealth program to get nukes, there’s only whirring centrifuges and time passing. North Korea signed a deal, then announced their nukes anyway, so why should Iran be any different? Once Iran has nukes, they will likely use them on Saudi Arabia and Israel both. Even if they don’t, there will be a Middle East arms race as Saudi Arabia gets nukes from Pakistan, making the chances of an Armageddon grow exponentially. Once that happens, all this mincing of words about deals will take its place in history alongside Neville Chamberlin’s “Peace in our time” – I hope not.

    So, it’s time that Israel announced a Zero Tolerance for Centrifuges Policy, then nuked Iran’s nuclear facilities. It’s not about warmongering, sorry. Only a strategic strike to take centrifuges off Iran’s table. Israel has long had nukes, and has been more than tolerant to wait this long as Iran continues its skin game that gambles with Israeli blood.

    • Paul McDermott says

      My God how these Zionists rattle their sabers while claiming that they’ll be victims if Iran doesn’t knuckle under and submit to Western ultimatums! Seems we heard all this same “crying wolf” before we got dragged into that disastrous invasion of Iraq.

      “Nuke Iran’s nuclear facilities”?? Are we really willing to get drawn further into war in the Middle Eastern war?

      I agree we need to prevent other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. But threatening them with an attack, especially with nuclear-tipped warheads, is only going to make them feel more vulnerable, especially given Israel’s track record of having attacked all of its neighbors except Saudi Arabia. Maybe if Israel hadn’t acquired nuclear weapons the “nuclear genie” wouldn’t have gotten out of the bag in the first place. Perhaps, to be fair, we should consider putting sanctions on Israel until it gives up its nuclear weapons and signs the NPT. A nuclear-free Middle East would allow all of us to sleep better at night.

      “Iran is determined to wipe Israel off the map”?? Heard that one a thousand times? Well, it sure looks like Israel has been doing its damnedest to wipe Palestine off the map.

      Winslow and Weinstein, give us a break!

  4. Bbunsen says

    One thing you have to understand about the hawks: they realize that war is good business (at least for them; not so good for the men and women the hawks send to actually fight that war).

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