Iran and the JCPOA

Focus is shifting in Washington as President Obama has enough congressional support to sustain a veto against a resolution of disapproval for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that aims to reduce Iran’s nuclear program.

Though a resolution of disapproval could be overturned, supporters of the deal have announced intent garner even more support for the deal, potentially saving ink in the president’s veto pen. If successful, the United States would send a stronger message to the international community of its intent to support diplomacy in the Middle East.

As mentioned in a previous post, the COB has shown support for the JCPOA, and we do this primarily out of our heritage as a peace church with a peace witness. With approval for the JCPOA in sight, time needs to be taken to discuss what it means for us as a church to show support for this deal. Equally important, it is important to understand what it does not mean.

This deal only addresses nonproliferation in Iran – not Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, its covert attempts to destabilize regimes, nor its aggression towards Israel. This narrowness, however, is not an inadequacy of the deal since it accomplishes the goal of thoroughly diminishes Iran’s nuclear capabilities. These outlying issues with the Iranian regime have led some critics to fear that Iran’s sanctions relief will help Tehran fuel more of these illicit programs and question Iran’s commitment to following the deal altogether.

Distrust in Iran, after all, is why the US does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons in the first place – hence the comprehensive regulations in what has been called “the most robust, intrusive, multilateral nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.” The strength of this monitoring program is endorsed by 29 of the nation’s top scientists, stating that the deal’s safeguards would prevent Iran from covertly developing a nuclear weapon.

Curbing Iran’s nuclear capacity in this zone of mistrust is the primary talking point of the JCPOA, but its capacity to actually build trust is potentially more important. US relations with Iran and the rest of the region automatically assume tension, especially because of the constant meddling of the US military in the Middle East. While simple nonproliferation is noble, the multilateral approach of the JCPOA reinforces the value of diplomacy as a pathway to holistic and lasting peace.

Said a letter from international relations scholars, “While the JCPOA is primarily a non-proliferation agreement that successfully closes off all weaponization pathways in the Iranian nuclear program, it carries with it significant peace dividends by making diplomacy and dialogue available for conflict resolution – a necessary step to tackle all of the region’s sources of tensions, be they terrorism, sectarianism, or unilateralism.”

It is here that the values that Brethren stand for can be found in the Iran deal. The 1988 Annual Conference stated, “The Brethren understand peace as something more than merely the silence of guns and bombs; it is also the presence of justice, the practice of mutuality, and the process of reconciliation.” It may sound like brash optimism to suggest that this deal paves the way to reconciliation, but to assert that walking away from the deal does this job better is ludicrous.

The real question is: Would the world be better without the deal?

One would be hard-pressed to say yes. Refusing the deal means rejecting the most comprehensive nuclear monitoring regime in history. With no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s “breakout” point would quickly draw near, especially as international sanctions fall away. Such a scenario almost guarantees that Iran would develop a nuclear weapon, despite critics’ attempts to suggest we have better options. Once these positions are analyzed, however, it is clear that the JCPOA is the best course of action.

A moderate argument for walking away suggests returning to the table to negotiate a new deal, one that further restricts the flow of sanctions relief so that Iran is guaranteed to not fund terrorist plots. However, the reality of returning to the table with the international support of the EU and two US rivals, China and Russia, is very slim. Without the support of the international community, the US would be hard-pressed to broker a deal that is nearly as comprehensive.

The same argument same can be made against those that think any deal is out of the question. Such critics would propose that imposing stricter sanctions would be more effective in crippling Iran’s nuclear program. After all, sanctions have already made Iran desperate enough to have a conversation, suggesting further sanctions would cripple Iran until it has no choice but to fold on its nuclear program. Opponents of the deal have threatened that, since the JCPOA will survive a resolution of disapproval, later legislation will be put forth that will reinstate sanctions and put pressure back on Iran. The problem with this logic is that US sanctions against Iran have been supported by other international sanctions. Since walking away from the deal, initially or through post hoc legislation, means the US would lose international support, US sanctions would not only prove increasingly meaningless and would certainly unravel.

This leaves opponents with a third option: call for direct US military intervention. This position is the easiest to denounce given the deplorable track record of US intervention in the Middle East. Ignoring the diplomatic option is also challenges the Brethren commitment to nonviolence and promotion of sustainable peace.

In short, there is no viable alternative for this deal. This deal not only reduces the chance of Iran using nuclear weapons against the United States, but even more importantly, this deal helps keep the imagined need for the US military intervention in Iran from becoming a reality. Despite the flaws of the deal, it truly is a step forward for US relations with Iran and the rest of the region. The JCPOA shows a commitment to diplomacy and meaningful engagement with world leaders. While Iran has stated that its policy will not change once the deal takes effect, this show of good faith by the US and other nations can pave the way to a more sustainable peace as the Iranian regime and the political climate in the Middle East changes in the next 15 years.The future cannot be predicted, but the light that shines from it is brighter under this deal.

Office of Public Witness
Church of the Brethren
Washington, DC

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