Six people who keep a close eye on Iranian nuclear negotiations told a Whippany audience June 2 that a tentative agreement being pressed by the Obama administration was dangerous for Israel, the United States, and Arab nations in the Middle East.
The 90-minute panel on “the emerging Iran nuclear deal” was organized by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and sponsored by it and seven other Jewish organizations.
As he opened the program, Jim Daniels, chair of the CRC’s Iran Task Force, told 125 people in the federation’s conference center that “all this noise” about the talks was “making the majority of people in the Jewish community and the community-at-large concerned and fearful.”
That concern was reflected in remarks by Michael Singh, the managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Removing a microphone from the podium and climbing down from a platform to address his audience from the floor, Singh said it seemed probable, under the deal currently being worked out by the United States and its allies, that Iran would have many of the sanctions against it lifted and still be allowed to preserve its nuclear capability.
“It would have the option of having nuclear weapons in the future,” said Singh, who served as State Department adviser in the George W. Bush administration.
Singh said the United States and its allies have already agreed to the Iranians’ refusal to allow inspectors into its military sites, where, he said, they are working to produce nuclear fuel.
Many details “are vague. Iran won’t answer these questions,” said Singh, adding that he is also troubled by the fact that “Iran has the most sophisticated and largest arsenal of ballistic missiles of any non-nuclear weapons state in the world.”
In addition, Singh said, Iran “has not reduced its enriched uranium stockpiles as it said it would, and the response of the United States has been dismissive.”
When Mark Wallace, CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran, asked the audience to indicate whether they believed the proposal was “a bad deal,” all but one person in the audience raised a hand.
The sole dissenter, Emile Shatner of Montclair, told NJ Jewish News after the meeting that he “was not sure if the deal is good or bad. It is impossible to tell at this time. I don’t question the effort President Obama is putting into it, and I can only hope that he is successful in slowing down the ability of Iran to make nuclear weapons.”
“What you or I say is irrelevant,” Wallace told the audience. “I would suggest to you that Iran has definitely become nuclear and the dangers have increased…. All the reasons we wanted to prevent Iran from going nuclear are on the ascent…. Right now Iran is acting like a nuclear power and the threats to all of our security are happening right now.”
Shimon Mercer-Wood, consul of media affairs in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed his country’s concerns about the proposed deal.
“If my country had a choice between having a threat to its existence and doing things that other people — including close friends — would find it difficult to understand, my country will do things that other people — including close friends — would find it difficult to understand,” he said, “clearly hinting at Israel’s taking military action against Iran.
Pledging “that Iran will not have nuclear weapons,” Mercer-Wood said, “We have been trying to cooperate with an ally — the United States — which is the only country that can take the option of having nuclear weapons away from Iran without widespread bloodshed. That was the intention of sanctions that that left Iran gasping for air.”
But, he said, negotiations have moved to “what the French call ‘rapprochement.’ Both sides move slowly, slowly closer together, and that is where we stand today,” he said. “Iran has not come clean with what it has done so far, and this means it will not be honest in the future, either.”
Mercer-Wood insisted that “the military option must be left on the table. Even if you want to avoid war and declaring at all costs you want to avoid war is not going to get you peace…. Having the option on the table now is more likely to prevent war in the future.”
Winding up the evening, Sarit Catz, the CRC’s Israel advocacy chair, urged audience members to increase their lobbying efforts with New Jersey’s United State senators and House members.
“One day, God forbid, if Iran has a nuclear bomb, I don’t want to look my kids and my grandchildren in the face knowing that there was something, anything, that I could have done that I didn’t do,” she said.