On Iran, A ‘Third Option’


Is there an alternative to the choice between a flawed but potentially effective Iran deal and another military confrontation in the Mideast? Some very thoughtful voices are saying there is.

Faced with the reality that the agreement will be approved in Congress this month, several foreign policy experts are advocating that the administration strengthen its position and allay key fears among members of Congress as well as those of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Mideast countries feeling threatened by Iran. This can be done through Congress, the experts assert, without going back to the negotiating table with Iran.

Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Affairs, described this “third option” in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. He offered seven points that “would address many of the legitimate questions and concerns voiced by members of Congress and others in a manner that would protect U.S. interests and position the U.S. to deal with the Iranian challenge for the long haul.”

Haas urged the administration to state that the U.S. would protect its interests in the region, including its allies’ security, and use military force if necessary to do so. Among his other key points: violations of the agreement by Iran will be met with sanctions “and other appropriate responses,” and the U.S. will consult with the other P5+1 countries on an additional agreement “that would extend limits on Iran’s nuclear program.”

Similarly, Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has called for ways to bolster the agreement. Hopefully, such changes would be initiated by President Obama, whose Aug. 19 letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler began the process. The letter said the U.S. would never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon and called for appointing a U.S. official to implement the agreement and watch for violations.

Satloff, in dialogue with Atlantic magazine journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, raised 10 questions for President Obama that included: Does the president believe he understands Israel’s security needs better than its democratically elected leaders? Why has the president “refused to spell out the penalties Iran would suffer for violations of the agreement”? How can the president say the agreement produced a “permanent” solution to the threat of a nuclear bomb from Iran when the restrictions on centrifuges and enrichment expire in 10-15 years?

President Obama sought to assure the American Jewish community about the potency of the agreement in a live webcast last Friday. In noting repeatedly that “we are family” — and that sometimes family arguments can be sharper than disputes with others — he expressed confidence that the tensions between the administration and many in the Jewish community will dissipate after the congressional vote, particularly when the agreement is adhered to in the coming months and years.

We appreciate the president’s sincerity of purpose but would feel more confident if he would address the serious points being raised and strengthen the agreement. As Richard Haas concluded, “the stakes warrant both branches [the White House and Congress] going the extra mile so that the U.S. can speak with a single, strong voice.”