Ex-Obama aide says US should pass law mandating military action if Iran violates nuclear deal

Speaking in Tel Aviv, Dennis Ross says the White House and Congress could work together to agree in advance what the price of violations will be.

US-made F-16 fighter jets in action. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US-made F-16 fighter jets in action.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Congressional legislation mandating US military action against Iran in case it breaches commitments under the accord being negotiated may be one way of bridging gaps between the US and Israel over the Iranian nuclear issue, Dennis Ross said on Tuesday.
Former Middle East envoy Ross, who from 2009-2011 was a key White House official dealing with Iran, told the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv that the US must be clear in any agreement what the consequences would be for Iranian violations.
“You cannot wait until you face the violations, and decide what it [the consequences], will be,” he said. “You actually should work that out now.”
Ross said this is one area where the administration could work together with Congress, which “has made clear it wants to put its imprint” on a possible agreement, and agree in advance what the price of violations will be.
For example, he said, if despite an agreement the Iranians were found to be engaged in a “dash” to nuclear breakout, the consequence should be the use of American military force.
“There should be legislation, worked out with the Hill in advance, which says if we catch them with the following kinds of violations, then the implication is that we are going to take out those facilities.” he said.
Ross said this is something that would deter the Iranians, and go a long way toward addressing one of Israel’s main concerns.
Ross also said that a new set of protocols will also be necessary to ensure that there is a transparent regime that allows supervisory access at anytime and at any place inside Iran, and that these new protocols have to take into account tens of thousands of centrifuges, not just one or two thousand.
If the Iranians know they can be detected trying to dash to a nuclear device, and if they also know that this would automatically trigger the American use of force, “it is likely to deter them in the first place, and goes a long way toward addressing the core of Israel’s concerns,” he said.
Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, was not convinced.
He said this would not assuage Jerusalem’s concerns, because Israel does not trust the Iranians. The Iranians would not take seriously an American threat to use force, he added, since what would have driven such legislation in the first place is the “fear of having to do anything.”
Former Mideast envoy and envoy to Israel Martin Indyk also expressed skepticism at the idea, which he nevertheless called “creative,” saying that both the White House and Congress would be hesitant to forge an agreement that would essentially “put Iran’s finger on the American trigger. Not that the US would not be willing to use force, but to have it done automatically is something I suspect both the president and Congress would have a problem with.”
Indyk suggested that one way the gap could be bridged between America’s being able to tolerate Iran as a “near threshold” nuclear power, while Israel cannot, is for the US to enter immediately into discussions with Jerusalem “about a nuclear guarantee for Israel.”
He said these discussions were already held at Camp David in 2000 during negotiations between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, and Barak asked – in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians – for an American nuclear defense guarantee.
“It was approved then, and the US president [Bill Clinton] said if there is a deal, we’ll do this,” Indyk said.
It would now be a different kind of deal, but Indyk said such a pact “may go a considerable distance toward calming Israel’s concerns about the Iranians reneging on commitments it makes in this deal.”
Indyk suggested that this would be not just a presidential guarantee, but a “treaty arrangement that would require legislation, and I’m sure it would pass pretty much unanimously.”