This week, Jews around the world have been going to their places of worship to celebrate Purim. At the center of the festivities is the reading of the Book of Esther. The book recounts the story of how the Jewish courtier Mordechai and his niece Esther thwart a genocidal plot against the Jews of Persia and vanquish their foes.
The tale is filled with comic elements, but the stakes involved are deadly serious. And it teaches that, in dealing with such perils, one must rely on one’s wisdom, courage and wiles. Dangerous times require daring methods.
Jews traditionally commemorate the occasion with a party, but when we return from our revelry, we will have to face soberly the specter of modern-day Persia – the Islamic Republic of Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
After months of negotiations, it appeared that the US was on the cusp of reentering the deal with Iran that president Donald Trump left in 2018. Ideally, a renewed deal would be, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated, both “longer and stronger” than the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Such a deal would address what Secretary Blinken called the “deeply problematic” issues that had not been part of the original agreement.
It is, however, still unclear what the precise details of a new deal will be. Recent press reports have not been encouraging. The new deal, it has been suggested, would provide many concessions to Iran, including lifting sanctions on its oil and shipping, and removing the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
One dreads the possibility that a 2022 JCPOA may actually turn out to be “shorter and weaker” than the original deal, rather than the stated goal of longer and stronger.
A US State Department official has remarked that “nothing is agreed till everything is agreed” and last week the talks were suspended after a Russian attempt to remove sanctions on itself, in order for it to trade with Iran. Given this current pause in the negotiations, it is worthwhile to spell out the terms of what a truly longer and stronger deal would include.
Such a would-be deal would not merely affect a deferral of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. This type of deal would not retain the so-called “sunset provisions” of the 2015 JCPOA that allow Iran to resume its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium in 2031. Rather, it would put a definitive halt to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Nor would it include an “inherent guarantee” that permits and even encourages Iran to rebuild its nuclear capacity should the US withdraw from the agreement.
A LONGER and stronger deal would oblige Iran to submit to “anytime, anywhere” inspections of its nuclear facilities and military installations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It would not allow Iran to cheat by delaying such inspections, giving it the ability to hide evidence of prohibited nuclear activities.
A longer and stronger deal would also address a host of issues the JCPOA avoided, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program, its abysmal human rights record, sponsorship of international terrorism, support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria, and its use of proxies in conflicts in Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza and beyond.
A longer and stronger deal would not be “front-loaded” and release to the Iranian government hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief that could be readily deployed for these and other malevolent purposes. And, a longer and stronger deal would require that all international hostages held by Iran be released before its signing.
Moreover, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the international crisis it has unleashed, Moscow’s role must now be reconsidered. We cannot rely on Russia to take possession of Iran’s spent fuel and enriched uranium and trust its president, Vladimir Putin, to be the arbiter of the West’s compliance, as press reports have indicated will be in the proposed deal. Russia ought not be able to carve out exemptions from sanctions to protect its own trade interests with Iran.
Finally, any deal with Iran would be presented to Congress for consideration and review pursuant to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). Indeed, given the consequential nature of such an agreement, it would be brought to the US Senate for ratification as a treaty in accordance with Article 2 of the US Constitution.
We may soon find out whether the assembled parties will be able to reach an agreement and, if so, just what it entails. We know that time is of the essence. The current status quo will not hold. It is estimated that Iran may be only a few weeks or months away from enriching the uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon.
Reaching this nuclear threshold would considerably further destabilize an already volatile region, encouraging neighboring nations to pursue their own nuclear programs, and setting off another arms race.
The international community must not let that happen. The US must not let that happen. It is tempting to say that almost any new deal is better than no deal. But that cannot be the standard.
On Purim, we use groggers – noisemakers – to blot out the name of our enemy. In real life, however, we cannot but confront our adversaries on the stage of history. We hope that our negotiators in Vienna and our leaders in Washington understand the stakes and act with both wisdom and courage.
The writer is CEO of The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of its 53 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him on Twitter @Daroff.