Obama Secures Iran Nuclear Deal in Senate

Phyllis Bennis, the author of Understanding the US-Iran Crisis, examines the opposition to the Iran nuclear deal by the Senate Republicans.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

On Wednesday Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland came out in support of President Obama’s Iran deal, providing the White House with the votes it needs to survive a Republican-led effort to kill the deal. Mikulski is the 34th Democrat in favor of this nuclear accord, meaning that Obama has enough votes to sustain a veto of the Republican resolution to stop the deal.

Here to discuss this is Phyllis Bennis. She is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and she directs the New Internationalism Project there. She’s he author of many books, among them Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer. Phyllis, thank you so much for joining us.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: Phyllis, it’s very good news of course that we now have 34 Democrats willing to support the Iran nuclear deal. But why is President Obama having such a hard time getting support from his own party on the deal?

BENNIS: Well, I think there’s two reasons, and they’re both political. Neither has anything to do with the substance of the deal. I mean, keep in mind this is a deal about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, something that all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies agree Iran is not trying to do. So it’s not about what’s in the deal, despite all the rhetoric about it’s not enough, and we want a better deal, et cetera, et cetera. It’s about the politics.

And the politics are very, very complicated. Because on the one hand, you have supporters of Israel who have made–the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has made a point out of saying that this is the most important threat to Israel, that it’s somehow an existential threat to Israel, that this is a terrible deal. And you have AIPAC, the largest component of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., which put in $40 million at the beginning of this 60-day campaign, and there are reports that it’s been doubled by other funders as well, but tens of millions of dollars just for a 60-day campaign of ads focused on why this is such a terrible deal.

So that makes things very difficult for members of Congress, the Senate, the House, who depend on some of those same funders to be reelected. And at the end of the day that’s what being in the house is all about. It’s about being re-elected. So there’s that whole set of things.

Then there’s the set of things among Republicans, primarily. Maybe some Democrats, but at least Republicans, for whom nothing Obama wants can be accepted. This is the group that says if Barack Obama wants this, I’m against it. And they want it to fail because Obama wants it to succeed, in the interests of his legacy and in the interests of avoiding a future war, et cetera. Those two political reasons are why it’s so difficult to get support. It’s not about what actually is in this very important but really quite narrow agreement between Iran and the six world powers now endorsed by the UN Security Council as a whole.

PERIES: It is really unfortunate that such an important foreign policy achievement has become a partisan issue with the Republicans, especially the Republican presidential candidates now just lining up against the deal.

Let’s have a look at what one of the Republican presidential candidates, Marco Rubio, had to say about the deal.

MARCO RUBIO, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On my first day as president we’re going to reimpose them. I said it earlier today here in South Carolina. People who vote for me will know they are voting to repeal the deal with Iran on day number one. Not just impose the American sanctions that we have in place, increase them. And back it up with a credible threat of military force. In essence, as long as you’re spinning centrifuges we will have crippling sanctions on you. And if you try to build the weapon, we will destroy your program.

PEIRES: So Phyllis, if we are to believe the Marco Rubios of the world–according to him if this bill is even passed and it becomes veto-proof the future U.S. administrations could undo all this important diplomatic work that’s been done by not only the U.S. but the P5+1, and really derail this great political and diplomatic achievement. What do you make of that?

BENNIS: Well, it’s a very dangerous kind of threat to make lightly. And of course, we’re seeing it from a number of presidential candidates and others.

The problem we face here is that this is not a resolution of the Congress. This is an agreement signed by governments, by the heads of state or heads of government in these six countries, now endorsed by the UN Security Council. This is not a treaty that requires Senate ratification. The resolution that will come before the Congress, both the Senate and the House, is whether to disapprove of this resolution or not.

So if they vote to disapprove it, certain consequences happen. But if a new president comes in after this has begun and says, first day on the job I’m going to derail this, I’m going to break the deal with Iran, he’s also saying he’s going to break the deal with U.S. allies. He’s going to break the deal with the European Union, with France, with Germany, with the UK. This is what that threat represents. I’m going to break the deal with Russia and China, and tell them that they can do whatever they want because we’re going to do whatever we want. It’s an extraordinary thing. This is not just a deal with Iran. This is a global agreement which Iran has negotiated with six major powers, one of which is the U.S., So the notion that members of Congress can get up and say, you know what? We don’t like it, we think there should be a better deal–that boat has sailed. There is not going to be a better deal, which by their standards would mean a complete surrender on the part of Iran to something.

But this is a deal that has amazing potential. It’s quite narrow. It only deals with Iran’s potential capacity. If they ever decided to build a nuclear weapon it would prevent that. It would prevent all the various ways Iran might consider in the future, if they ever chose to, of producing enough enriched uranium or plutonium to build a nuclear weapon. It would make that impossible. And it would, crucially, begin the process of lifting the crippling sanctions that have ruined the Iranian economy. And particularly the economic interests, the financial realities, for the vast majority of ordinary people in Iran.

So it’s huge. But it’s very, very narrow. What it lays out as a potential gain is not so narrow. Potentially this could lead to the expansion of what is now a narrowly-defined non-proliferation effort preventing Iran from ever, if it chose, building a nuclear weapon to a real nuclear disarmament possibility in the form of creating a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the Middle East. Something that Iran has said it wants, that all the countries in the Middle East want, with the exception of Israel. And because of the Israeli position the U.S. says, we don’t want it.

This could change that. Crucially, this could lead to a new level of diplomatic and negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran aimed at ending the war in Syria that’s at the root of so much of the violence that’s now spreading across the Middle East. So there’s enormous potential. But this agreement, as it was agreed to and now protected today with, we now have 34 members of the Senate who are prepared to uphold the agreement, uphold the veto that would be required, in that situation we have the possibility for not just this narrow agreement going forward, but maybe something much broader for the future. And that’s hugely important.

At the end of the day this is a victory for diplomacy over war. It shows that diplomacy is possible. It shows that diplomacy works. And what we see is the use of military force in the wars that are ravaging the region are simply not working. So this should be a lesson for what is necessary to end tensions, to end wars. That we need diplomacy, that’s the lesson of the Iran deal.

PERIES: Now, Phyllis, one last question to you. One of the reasons the Republicans are so comfortable in entrenching themselves in taking and opposing the deal is because Israel and Netanyahu have come out opposing the deal. Now, is there any way that you see bridging the divide, as far as this political moment in U.S. history?

BENNIS: Well, I think for those who are seriously concerned about protecting Israelis, which is part of the process of protecting people throughout the region, this deal does more than anything else to protect Israelis, because it prevents a war. Israelis would be in great jeopardy if there were to be a war against Iran. And this deal imposes a diplomatic solution instead of war. So if you’re really talking about protecting Israelis, this is the deal to sign.

Now, if your concern is protecting Israel’s nuclear monopoly, Israel is of course the only country in the Middle East that has a nuclear weapon. It’s very dangerous, very destabilizing. If Iran ever in the future decided to build a nuclear weapon it would threaten Israel’s nuclear monopoly. It would not threaten Israel’s existence, it would threaten the nuclear monopoly. If that could be more public and more understood, I think there would be less of a freak out, if you will, about the effect of this deal on Israel. It protects Israelis.

Now, the problem we see is that the U.S. response is likely to not be that, but rather is likely to be further arming of the Israeli military. We’re already hearing that the current $3 billion or $3.1 billion a year that the U.S. gives in our tax money directly to the Israeli military is about to go up to $4.7 billion a year. $47 billion to replace the current $30 billion grant for ten years, for the next period of time. We don’t know what else either President Obama or members of Congress are going to be offering Israel as a kind of consolation prize, since they are perceived as the losers in this deal.

The reality is they’re not losers. No one in the Middle East region is a loser from this deal. Everybody wins because everyone is safer when we use diplomacy instead of war.

PERIES: Phyllis Bennis, as always thank you so much for joining us today.

BENNIS: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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