Many local Jewish leaders are feeling pessimistic less than a week before the Nov. 24 deadline of talks intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Reflecting the views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they worry that a deal that would allow Iran a limited uranium enrichment capacity, ostensibly for peaceful energy purposes, would be a “disaster of historic proportions,” as Netanyahu told a national Jewish audience via Skype in Washington on Nov. 11.
“The worst thing that could happen now is for the international community to agree to a deal that would leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power and removes its sanctions,” he said.
It’s not yet clear whether Iran and the major powers will reach a deal by the deadline, although numerous experts suggest that were such a deal achieved, it would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium at limited levels while easing the stringent sanctions on Iranian oil revenues and banking.
“President Obama wants to make a deal no matter what at practically any cost. I have lost faith in him,” said Jim Daniels, who chairs the Stop Iran Task Force at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s Community Relations Committee. “It is a very drastic situation.”
Daniels believes Iran’s economy “has just about recovered” now that once-strict sanctions have been loosened, while the administration has “wishful thinking like a child would” that the Iranians will abandon their intention to develop nuclear weapons.
“Obama has blown it, and it is about time we face up to it,” he said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and ranking Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) issued a joint statement Nov. 13 that implicitly criticized the administration’s approach. They have called for no less than a deal that would “dismantle” Iran’s nuclear program.
Their letter called for tough new sanctions that “will require stringent limits on nuclear-related research, development, and procurement.” They insisted on Iran’s “coming clean” on possible military applications, and on a “robust inspection and verification regime for decades to prevent Iran from breaking-out or covertly sneaking-out.”
The CRC endorsed the Menendez-Kirk letter in a statement (see sidebar).
Gabriel Pedreira, communications director at United Against a Nuclear Iran, said his organization was hoping for tougher sanctions.
“The Obama administration and its partners have given in a lot. They have released a lot of money, but what have the Iranians given up in exchange? Iran has not dismantled any of its centrifuges,” he said.
Pedreira rejected the notion that concern shared by America and Iran over the threat of ISIS might be a basis for reaching agreement on Iran’s nuclear development.
“Iran is not a reliable partner in fighting international terrorism,” he said. “Iran is a leading sponsor of terrorism in the world today. Our feeling is that bargaining with Iran over ISIS is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.”
Asked what he would advise the Obama administration, Pedreira said, “I would tell them not to strike a deal just for the sake of striking a deal. I think there is a lot of pressure for a foreign policy victory and I can understand that, but at the same time it is important that we have to be smart about this. All the evidence suggests that more pressure, not less, has to be applied to avoid the disastrous consequences of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran.”
Supporters of the deal say that if it were to include a rigorous verification protocol and slash uranium enrichment enough to prevent Iran from suddenly “breaking out” a weapons program, it could ease tensions between Iran and the West and strengthen Iranian moderates.
Doni Remba of Westfield, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Change, said a compromise with Iran “would significantly reduce the number of Iranian centrifuges, remove much of Iran’s nuclear gas stockpile to Russia, and create a new, more stringent inspection and monitoring program at its nuclear facilities.” Those measures, he said, “will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.”
Such an agreement would be “a good deal for the security of Israel, for the U.S., and for the world,” Remba told NJJN in an e-mail interview. “An agreement that ‘dismantles’ Iran’s nuclear program, in Sen. Menendez’s words, isn’t realistically possible. We mustn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
“I hope there will be a deal,” said Marty Levine of Maplewood, a member of the executive committee of Northern New Jersey’s J Street chapter. “If there can’t be a deal now, I hope the deadline will be extended so that ultimately there will be a deal, and I hope it will be solid enough that the Senate will be convinced enough to approve it. Negotiation is only way to solve this thing.”
Although he said he “didn’t want to minimize the problem” of Iranian nuclear weapons, Levine added, “I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear war with Israel, but who knows? We really don’t want to get to that point.”