Schram: In Iran nuke deal, devil’s in an assumption, not the details

Washington just jolted itself out of its familiar summer doldrums and into yet another hot war of policy and politics, this time over President Barack Obama’s global pact designed to halt Iran’s program to build a nuclear bomb.

Just as the first sunbeams hit the Capitol dome Tuesday morning, Obama was announcing the terms of an agreement reached by the United States, five other world powers and Iran. And in a flash, Republicans reacted to the complex document none of them had actually yet read.

“You have created a possible death sentence for Israel,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “This is the most dangerous, irresponsible step I have ever seen in the history of watching the Mideast.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama’s deal is “going to hand a dangerous regime billions of dollars in sanctions relief while paving the way for a nuclear Iran.”

All of which hardly caught Obama by surprise. After all, he already had vowed that he will veto any effort by Congress to reject the new Iran nuclear agreement. That means the Republican-controlled Congress, which has 60 days to disapprove the agreement, will need to muster a two-thirds vote to make their rejection stand. Which may not be impossible, because many Democrats who support Israel will be influenced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s denunciation of the treaty.

It is at this point in an analysis such as this where experts offer their insight that “the devil is in the details.” But that is not the case in this historic agreement.

This agreement’s enforcement details are tough and demanding: Iran won’t be allowed to create the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium needed to make a nuclear bomb. Iran must remove and store under international supervision two-thirds of the centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium. Iran must eliminate 98 percent of its highly enriched uranium now stockpiled. International sanctions will be removed when Iran complies with the pact’s provisions, but there are “snapback” provisions that will reapply those sanctions if Iran is found to have cheated.

What will make this document most controversial is a reality that dawned on the nation’s capital far later than that Washington sunrise: The devil isn’t in the details — it’s in the assumptions. Especially one assumption: That when the sanctions are ended because Iran complied with the no-nukes provisions, Iran might use that money to finance regional terrorism.

Ending Iran’s support of terrorism was never one of the underlying assumptions of what this process was about. Obama made that point clear Wednesday, saying: “This deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.”

Iran may well comply with the deal’s no-nukes provisions — and reap a windfall, as the sanctions it despises will gradually be lifted as United Nations experts verify Tehran’s compliance. It’s not hard to imagine that Iran may then use its windfall to finance terrorism in the region.

Perhaps that is the price the rest of the world must pay for a nuclear-free Iran. No one — not Netanyahu or any of Obama’s Republican critics — has unveiled a viable alternative to the current Iran nuclear deal.

But in the weeks ahead, the specter of Iran using its windfall to underwrite new terror in the Mideast will be an argument Obama’s critics will be taking to the bank.

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