The pending vote on the Iran nuclear deal, for me, is like the 2002 vote to invade Iraq, which is still changing the course of history and countless people’s lives.
Our discussions then and today marshaled a full analysis of the pros and cons of our actions.
I opposed invading Iraq because I was convinced we had not exhausted all diplomatic options and questioned our lack of planning for the aftermath.
As another difficult decision approaches, I am convinced that after an extensive number of discussions and reviewing materials, the Iran nuclear agreement creates a viable path to reducing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability now and for the future.
In July, I stated the necessary elements for negotiations between the international community and Iran to end its nuclear weapons program.
Any deal must dismantle Iran’s current nuclear infrastructure, allow for a robust inspections regime, and only offer sanctions relief for Iran’s strict compliance.
Currently, Iran is two or three months away from creating a nuclear weapon. The nuclear agreement not only places restrictions on its nuclear program for the next 10 to 15 years, but it sets Iran back a full year from acquiring enough material to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran must give up 97 percent of its enriched uranium and can only possess three percent of low-enriched uranium, far below the highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon.
The deal requires Iran to reduce its possession of centrifuges, which are needed to enrich uranium, by 70 percent.
Iran is required to replace the current plutonium core at its Arak plant with one that cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The intrusive inspections provisions of the deal allow for continuous monitoring of facilities where nuclear activities take place.
If inspectors suspect nuclear activity at other sites, they can request access. If Iran declines, the international community will determine whether inspectors get access and any attempt by Iran to delay or deny access to these sites would result in swift renewal of international sanctions.
The deal’s opponents have raised valid concerns. There is risk inherent in any international arms agreement – the issue of weapons transfers and the reimposition of sanctions are examples. However, the notion Congress should reject the agreement to get a better deal will only leave us with the status quo or worse.
If Congress strikes down American support for the deal, the international sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table will likely crumble, which would be to Iran’s economic advantage.
Furthermore, Iran will still be two or three months away from a nuclear weapon.
Would such a collapse not damage U.S. influence as the global convening authority?
This agreement has never been about trusting the Iranian government or forcing it to end its support of terrorism in the region. The U.S. and our Middle East allies continue to condemn its destabilizing hegemonic behavior and are determined to end the overall threat from Iran.
This agreement has always been about getting the best deal possible to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Since the announced agreement, I’ve read and analyzed the deal and listened intently to experts on all sides, including nuclear scientists and IAEA inspectors. I’ve had candid exchanges with the White House, Israeli officials, and our other allies in the region about what this deal means for U.S. national security and the security of the region.
I have had thoughtful conversations with my constituents and close friends in Israel whose concern over this agreement is palpable. As someone who has lived in Israel and who has returned many times since, I understand that for Israelis and Americans with close ties to Israel, the Iranian threat is not an abstract concern. This is very real to them and it is very real to me.
Working with my House colleagues, I pressed President Obama on the need for Congress and all stakeholders to remain focused on tight implementation of the agreement. The president emphasized that we have “a wide range of unilateral and multilateral responses that we can employ should Iran fail to meet its commitments.”
I am under no illusions this agreement will end Iran’s role as an obstacle to stability in the Middle East, but I do believe we will have a better chance at containing and mitigating the risk posed by Iran than if Congress rejects the agreement.
This editorial first appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune