Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Egypt and Israel, said the Iran nuclear deal “is not just OK, but is beneficial to Israel, certainly beneficial to the United States, and is a very significant advance over anything that we, the United States, had tried to do over more than two decades to stop and start to roll back the Iranian nuclear program.”
Kurtzer’s endorsement of the international agreement came during an Aug. 13 conference call sponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey and the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.
The call was part of a series of programs featuring pro and con views of the Iran deal — intended, according to the Heart of NJ federation, to “enable individuals to form their own opinions and take any action engaging elected representatives as they see fit.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is urging lawmakers to vote against the pact in numbers to override a presidential veto. The liberal pro-Israel group J Street is backing the deal.
Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, warned that if Congress ultimately votes against the pact, “the situation for everybody’s security, especially for Israel, would become far more dangerous and complex in a very short period of time, because Iran would have gone from a frozen program into a more active program.”
That more active program would include “enhanced enrichment, working on advanced centrifuges, and working on the plutonium track without any inhibitions that are built into the agreement.”
The day after the pact goes into effect, Kurtzer said in response to a question, “Iran’s behavior will be tested at every single turn of the agreement’s implementation. None of the sanctions relief will start to kick in until Iran actually starts to produce a number of the elements that the agreement calls for, such as removal of 98 percent of its enriched uranium and dismantling a significant number of its centrifuges…. The Iranians have to start implementing the agreement before they get any sanctions relief.”
While opponents of the agreement have urged negotiators to “get a better deal,” Kurtzer said that would be impossible because none of America’s negotiating partners would return to the bargaining table, nor would Iran.
He predicted “a period of immediate chaos following the turning down of the agreement” because “all of the provisions Iran has been living with…would immediately be called into question by Iran.”
“If the Iranians restart their program because there is no deal,” Kurtzer said, “it is quite possible they would resume and enhance their program to a point where they would become a threshold country at a pace and time of their own choosing.”
That would provoke a sharp response from Israel, he predicted, including a heightened nuclear alert.
“I don’t think Israel would necessarily have to build anything new, but they certainly would be making sure their system is literally on stand-by and ready, and that in itself becomes a dangerous tipping point in a situation where any kind of miscalculation can lead to very tragic consequences,” he warned.
He also could foresee a widening arms race in other parts of the Middle East if no agreement is in place.
“Nobody knows whether or not other countries in this region will start their own pathway to a nuclear weapons capability if Iran is under no constraints,” he said. “There certainly will be a much heightened sense of alarm and concern if the Iranian program emerges from this without any of the constraints of the inspection and verification that are built into this agreement.”
One participant asked if voting down the pact would cause the United States — and by extension, Israel — to lose influence.
“There is no question that U.S. credibility and diplomatic leverage in other situations and overall international standing will decline very dramatically and, given the fact that in most cases of international diplomacy we are the only friend of Israel, Israel’s stock will go down accordingly,” said Kurtzer.
He noted that the United States imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran for almost 20 years, to little effect.
“It was only when we were able to bring the international community into the sanctions game that Iran started to feel the biting effect,” he said. “All of that collapses, and the losers become the United States and Israel with weakened positions in international relations.”
Critics of the deal — including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who spoke on a previous call sponsored by the Heart of NJ federation and other groups — worry that once sanctions are lifted, Iran will use recovered funds to support terrorist groups in the Middle East.
It is “a very large area of concern,” Kurtzer said, and “we have to make clear to the Iranians that we’re not going to take bad behavior lightly.”
But while he said the issue of terrorism was not part of the negotiations, neither was “an intention on the part of any of the negotiating parties to give Iran a pass or a green light to continue doing the things it is doing in the region. “
The Iranian people “now expect there will be an economic benefit” in exchange for abandoning pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.