This week marks two years since the United States and the other nations of the P5+1 first agreed to the JCPOA agreement with Iran nuclear. On this anniversary, J Street wanted to answer a few important questions about the impact of the deal, how it’s being viewed, and the prospects for its future.
Q: Has the Iran nuclear agreement been successful?
A: Simply put, yes. In the years since the JCPOA was signed, the Iran nuclear program has been utterly defanged. Inspectors have verified that Iran has complied with all the steps it was required to take. Iran has reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent and disabled its plutonium reactor, filling it with concrete. The Iranians have dismantled 12,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium and have given an account of their past nuclear work to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They have allowed themselves to be subjected to the most intrusive nuclear inspection and verification regime in history, including the installation of the most modern monitoring equipment and unprecedented surveillance of the entire uranium and centrifuge supply chains.
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Thanks to the agreement, the world no longer faces the danger of an Iran on the verge of being able to develop a nuclear weapon. Without firing a shot, the US and the international community have neutralized a major threat — and ensured that we now have greater intelligence about Iran’s nuclear facilities and capabilities than we could have dreamed of a few years ago.
Q: How has the Trump administration acted with regard to the agreement and Iran?
A: Both during the election campaign and during his term in office, the president and many of those around him have made little secret of their contempt for the nuclear agreement and for President Obama’s diplomacy. But they have had to begrudgingly acknowledge that the agreement is working. In April, the administration certified to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. In May, they reissued sanctions waivers necessary to maintain US compliance.
At the same time, members of the administration have shown that they don’t fully understand or appreciate the accomplishments of the JCPOA, and have indicated that the deal could be endangered by them in the future. Even while certifying Iran’s compliance, Secretary of State Tillerson stated that “The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and announced a comprehensive review of US Iran nuclear policy. The administration has overall taken a hawkish, hard-line approach toward Iran — and is facing pressure from allies like Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) to pursue an extremely dangerous policy of “regime change” in Iran.
Q: How is the agreement viewed by Israeli leaders and security experts today?
A: When the JCPOA was first negotiated and signed, Prime Minister Netanyahu was among the leading voices denouncing it — and encouraging Congress to reject it. But he was out of step with the majority of the Israeli security and intelligence establishment, which saw the benefits of the agreement for Israel’s security. Former senior IDF commanders and directors of the Mossad and Shin Bet came out in support of the deal.
Two years later, they have been validated by the thorough and effective implementation of the deal. Uzi Eilam, the former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, has written that “With all due respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu, he was flat out wrong — and my colleagues and I were right. This was and remains a good agreement. It’s made Israel and the world safer.” Carmi Gillon, former director of the Shin Bet, wrote this week that “Two years later, the results are in — and they show a clear success.” Even some of those who initially opposed the agreement, like Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, now praise the JCPOA’s accomplishments.
Meanwhile, while the prime minister continues to express his concerns about the deal and press for a harder line against Iran nuclear, vocal opposition to the JCPOA seems to have slipped far down his list of priorities — a tacit acknowledgment that the disasters he warned about if the agreement was implemented are nowhere in sight.
Q: What is the level of support for the agreement among the American public and the American Jewish community?
A: Two years after the agreement was reached, it is broadly popular among Americans at large, particularly in the American Jewish community — and that popularity is growing. An April 2017 poll conducted by Morning Consult/Politico found that 56 percent of registered voters support the deal, while just 29 percent oppose — up from 49 percent support/36 percent oppose in the summer of 2016. 53 percent of Republican voters now support the agreement, up from 37 percent.
In the American Jewish community, the margin of support has always been higher than in the population as a whole. July 2015 polling commissioned by J Street shortly after the agreement was signed found that American Jews backed the deal by a 20-point margin, consistent with the 18-point margin in a poll conducted by the LA Jewish Journal. J Street-commissioned polling of Jewish voters on election night 2016 found that support growing, with a new 26 percent margin of support.
Q: What is the risk that hawks in Congress may undermine the agreement?
A: J Street has urged Congress to take caution to ensure that important steps to counter Iran’s malign, non-nuclear behaviors are not used to quietly undermine or violate the JCPOA. We were pleased to see the Senate Foreign Relations Committee make two key amendments to the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act” (S.722) to ensure that the bill would not violate the agreement — changes that J Street strongly advocated for. But we also noted that the bill risks altering US-Iranian relations in a way that harms US personnel and counter-extremism efforts in the region. That bill, which passed the Senate, is now awaiting action in House — where it may be held up due to its connection to separate, Russia-related sanctions.
While hawkish anti-deal lawmakers continue to put forward bills that seem designed to undermine the agreement, it remains unlikely that they could garner much bipartisan support. But J Street continues to urge members of both parties to be vigilant about the small details of Iran-related legislation — and to weigh the merits of passing largely symbolic legislation to achieve objectives that might be better met through future negotiations.
Q: How is the agreement being viewed in Iran, and what are the implications of President Rouhani’s recent victory in Iranian election?
A: When the JCPOA was first signed, it was greeted by millions of Iranians as a historic moment that could bring desperately-needed economic relief and potentially be the first step in a new opening to the Western world. In the year since some have been disappointed that Iran remains largely economically isolated. And anti-deal hardliners, including the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, have been emboldened by the election of President Trump and the increase in American saber-rattling. But the agreement is still viewed by a large majority as a positive and important step. Iranians made that clear when they decisively re-elected President Rouhani, who campaigned on the deal as a major achievement and promised further pursuit of diplomacy and moderation under his leadership.
In his victory speech, Rouhani stated that “With this election, the Iranian nation has announced that it wants to improve relations with the world based on mutual and national interests …Today, the Iranian nation knows that it wants to follow a nonviolent path of engagement with the world.” Of course, Rouhani is just one of several key power-players in Iran — some of whom continue to orchestrate aggressive and dangerous Iranian actions throughout the region. It remains to be seen whether American leaders will test Rouhani’s commitment by upholding the JCPOA and pursuing new diplomatic breakthroughs — or if, by stepping up threats of confrontation and regime change, they will undermine Iran’s rising moderates.