On Nuclear Deal with Iran
From JVP Westchester:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
via Geri Shapiro, by e-mail
Dear Senator Gillibrand:
I write on behalf of the Westchester Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). A national, grassroots organization dedicated to a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East based on human rights and democracy, JVP strongly supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between world powers and Iran. The reasons for our support include:
- A majority of Americans, including American Jews, support the deal. Along with an overwhelming majority of Americans – including a majority of American Jews – we believe that a negotiated agreement is the only way to alleviate international concern about Iran’s nuclear program and avert war. The JCPOA ensures a more peaceful future for the United States, Iran, Israel, and Palestinians by averting war and blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. At the same time, an agreement with Iran will begin to lift sanctions that have punished ordinary Iranians, allowing them to build a brighter, and potentially more democratic, future.
- The JCPOA enhances U.S. security, and no alternative to it has been proposed. We believe that the JCPOA enhances both U.S. security and regional stability in the Middle East. To contemplate repudiating the U.S.’s own painstakingly worked diplomatic agreement in as inflamed a region as the Middle East seems pure insanity. It must be noted that the critics who oppose the agreement provide no alternatives, openly implying that they view the unilateral use of military force as a preferable course of action. Diplomacy has always been heralded as the way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and the JCPOA is the epitome of successful diplomacy. If this successfully negotiated deal were to unravel because of U.S. intransigence, we would have squandered the considerable goodwill of our friends and adversaries alike. Rejection of the deal would have disastrous consequences for the United States and Iran, as well as for the prospects of peace in Israel and Palestine.
- Congressional rejection of the deal would deeply damage U.S. international influence and prestige. For years, the U.S. has defended its sanctions as necessary to compel Iran to engage in diplomacy over its nuclear program. The State Department maintained in public statements that “These nations [the P5+1] have made clear that Iran’s full compliance with its international nuclear obligations would open the door to its receiving treatment as a normal non-nuclear-weapon state under The Nonproliferation Treaty and sanctions being lifted.” (Emphasis added.)
Now, having engaged in the diplomatic process, Iran has committed to an historic diplomatic accord with the U.S., its most important allies and some of its most troublesome adversaries – precisely the avowed object of successive U.S. administrations’ policy. Yet agents within the legislature are threatening to scupper it. If this were to come to pass, the U.S. would suffer a great blow to its authority, influence, and prestige in the international community, for a number of reasons.
- Under both State Department policy and international law, the sanctions must be terminated at the conclusion of successful diplomatic negotiations. The State Department has unequivocally stated that the conclusion of successful negotiations will trigger termination of the unilateral sanctions against Iran. The negotiations that led to the JCPOA were undeniably successful. Our allies have proudly promoted it, and the Security Council immediately signaled its endorsement of the agreement by unanimously adopting Resolution 2231.
One expert observer, law professor Dan Joyner, called JCPOA and its companion Security Council Resolution 2231 “a major success of international diplomacy, as well as a significant achievement of international law in facilitating the implementation of the diplomatic accord.” Joyner stated that his reaction on reading the accord document and Security Council resolution was “frankly astonishment that the parties had been able to agree on such an amazingly complex, thorough and comprehensive diplomatic accord.”
For Congress to reject this “astonishing” diplomatic agreement, which it has long been stated U.S. policy to pursue, would greatly erode respect for the U.S.’s authority as an international actor. Congressional rejection would effectively declare to the world at large that the legislative branch of government does not trust its President and diplomatic service to engage in and conclude diplomacy.  This rejection would be all the more damaging in light of the unprecedentedly broad coalition of States whose own governments had endorsed the product of these diplomatic efforts.
As much as it would degrade the U.S.’s international credibility, Congressional rejection of the JCPOA would also put the U.S. in breach of its international law obligations. The unilaterally imposed U.S. sanctions have the status of “countermeasures,” that is, measures that would under normal circumstances contravene the rules of international law, but are deemed legitimate only insofar as they are a proportionate response to an internationally wrongful act committed by a foreign state. It is incontrovertible that countermeasures must be terminated when the internationally wrongful act ceases.
- The JCPOA is not a treaty. It is important to stress that the diplomatically negotiated agreement is not a treaty – it creates no new substantive legal obligations for any party, but rather sets the conditions whereunder sanctions will be suspended. Accordingly, the JCPOA should not be reviewed as if it were a newly-conceived international agreement to exchange mutual obligations. Rather, as explained above, because sanctions are only permissible for as long as the wrong that occasioned the sanctions continues, the sole inquiry for Congress is whether Iran’s internationally wrongful act continues following the conclusion of the JCPOA.
- Rep. Lowey’s rejection of the deal is based on an incorrect understanding of the question facing Congress. It is truly regrettable that Rep. Nita Lowey has announced she will not support the historic multilateral accord, stating that “in [her] judgment, sufficient safeguards are not in place to address the risks associated with the agreement.”
We respectfully submit that thinking like Rep. Lowey’s fundamentally misapprehends Congress’s task here: in view of the executive’s unequivocal representation that the diplomatic conditions for beginning to dismantle the sanctions regime are currently met, Congress cannot override this determination on the strength of speculative worries that the limitations on Iran’s future actions may be inadequate.
- The arguments against the JCPOA are politically driven and without merit. It is unfortunate but true that right wing American and Israeli politicians treat the extraordinary diplomatic achievement of the JCPOA as a cynical opportunity for rabble-rousing. The meritlessness of the opposition’s substantive arguments is as glaring as their partisan agenda.
- The much-touted threats to Israeli security are illusory. Conservatives, Israel’s leadership, and Israel lobby groups have stoked fear of Iran’s nuclear program for decades. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has contended repeatedly, and with dubious basis, that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was imminent.
We observe that in U.S. discussions of this issue and others, Mr. Netanyahu’s voice is often amplified out of all proportion and claimed as representative of the views of Jewish people everywhere. He does not represent us, and we fear his outsize influence on members of Congress.
As has now been widely reported, his extreme views are not even in concert with the views of Israel’s security establishment, which broadly supports the Iran deal and rejects Mr. Netanyahu’s cynical fearmongering. A recent Washington Post article summarized the public statements in support of the accord by a number of Israeli officials and former officials with deep ties to the Israeli defense apparatus, including: Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet, opining in an interview with the Daily Beast, that Israel’s politicians were playing “with fears in a fearful society;” Efraim Halevy, former chief of the Mossad, extolling President Obama’s achievement on reaching the framework agreement in April this year in an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronot, identifying its principal achievements (including the inspection regime and the neutralizing of key nuclear facilities); and Amos Yadlin, a retired air force general and former head of Israeli military intelligence, who stated in an interview with Israeli radio that “there is a chance to set Iran back by many years.” And these are not the only Israeli military establishment figures who have spoken out in support of the agreement.
- The campaign to defeat the JCPOA is concerned only with shortsighted partisan politics. Here in the U.S., too, the opponents of the JCPOA are primarily motivated by ideology. It has become very clear that the alliance of Republican Congress with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israel lobby, including the likes of Sheldon Adelson, has the Democratic party in its sights, and the Democrats will be the big losers if this alliance succeeds in blocking the agreement. These forces agitating for the JCPOA’s rejection believe that they will tarnish the legacy of President Obama and gain leverage in the upcoming presidential elections. They are eager to, and they are indifferent to the harm that rejection of the deal would work on U.S. national interests.
If Congress rejects the JCPOA, the real damage would be done to the U.S. as a whole, and its standing in the world. In effect, the Republicans would have Congress vote again for war, and this time such a vote would come on the heels of an agreement that the whole world views as the path away from war. Democrats who sign on for this result will only give the Republicans cover.
We urge you to vote for peace and against war. Americans and New Yorkers, Jews and non-Jews will be with you. Democratic voters in New York, and indeed, the nation, do not want Congress to undermine one of the sitting, Democratic President’s most important accomplishments. Starting on the road to peace in the Middle East will be an important asset in the upcoming election season.
In conclusion, rejection of the agreement would leave Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon unrestricted, severely damage United States relationships with our closest allies and put the U.S. and Iran on a path to war. It would count as a significant black mark against the potency and good faith of American diplomacy, one that could take a generation to overcome. The deal with Iran, supported by a majority of Americans including a majority of American Jews, is a huge step forward for dialogue and negotiations. It is essential that the U.S. Congress support the diplomatic process.
Head of Legislative Committee
 Scott Clement, How We All Basically Agree on the Iran Deal, The Washington Post, July 14, 2015.
 Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, Most US Jews Support Iran Nuclear Deal, J Street Poll Finds, The Times of Israel, June 10, 2015. http://www.timesofisrael.com/most-us-jews-support-iran-nuclear-deal-j-street-poll-finds/ [accessed July 15, 2015]
 See, e.g., “Iran sanctions,” http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/index.htm [accessed 8/5/2015] (explaining that one of the purposes for the sanctions was “to induce Iran to engage constructively, through discussions with the United States, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia in the “E3+3 process,” to fulfill its nonproliferation obligations.”)
 Dan Joyner, Security Council Resolution 2231 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, EJIL:Talk!, July 27, 2015 http://www.ejiltalk.org/security-council-resolution-2231-and-the-joint-comprehensive-plan-of-action-on-irans-nuclear-program/#more-13461
 As the conduct of foreign relations is principally an executive branch function, statutory measures imposing sanctions on foreign States generally leave to the President authority to determine when sanctions should be terminated, waived, or suspended. See U.S. Congressional Research Service, Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions, R43311, Dianne E. Rennack, author, July 15, 2015, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43311.pdf. [accessed 8/5/2015]
 See Articles of State Responsibility, art. 22, in Report of the International Law Commission to the General Assembly, 56 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 10) at 43, 180 U.N. Doc. A/56/10 (2001) (hereafter “Articles of State Responsibility”). See also, N. Jansen Calamita, Sanctions, Countermeasures, and the Iranian Nuclear Issue, 42 Vanderbilt J. Transnat’l Law 1393 (2009) (generally discussing international legal framework for sanctions against Iran, and at 1418 et seq., exploring the contours of permissible countermeasures in this context).
 See Articles of State Responsibility, art. 22 and Commentary.
 Juan Cole, Is Netanyahu’s Case Against Iran Collapsing?, Truthdig, May 11, 2014. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/is_israeli_pm_netanyahus_case_against_iran_collapsing_20140512 [accessed
 Ishaan Tharoor, How An Iran Deal Can Be Good for Israel, According to Some Israelis Who Know What They’re Talking About, Washington Post, July 22, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/07/22/how-the-iran-deal-is-good-for-israel-according-to-israelis-who-know-what-theyre-talking-about/ [accessed 8/5/2015] See also, Haaretz, Israeli Nuclear Expert: Netanyahu Using Iran Threat for Political Gain, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.589534 [accessed 5/11/2014], for the views of former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Uzi Eilam, also criticizing Netanyahu’s stance on the Iran negotiations then still underway.
 J.J. Goldberg, Israel Security Establishment Breaks With Bibi on Iran Deal, The Forward, July 23, 2015. http://forward.com/opinion/312461/cracks-widen-as-israel-security-insiders-break-with-politicians-on-iran-dea/ [accessed 8/5/2015]