Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday March15, 2015

The Islamic Republic of Iran can’t be trusted. This is the essence of the argument against the international agreement taking shape with Iran to restrict its nuclear program.

It’s still my intention to address this subject here. But first, recent events have raised a more immediate question- namely, can the Republican Party be trusted with the security of the United States?

It was bad enough when House Speaker John Boehner, breaking with all historical precedent, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress for the sole purpose of trashing the policies of the sitting president of the United States.

This past week, the Republicans doubled down on their contempt for President Barack Obama. Forty-seven Republican senators signed an open letter to the leadership in Iran, which is nothing less than an unvarnished attempt to scuttle the agreement currently being negotiated.  In that letter, the Republicans tell Iran that any agreement President Obama signs without Congressional approval probably won’t last beyond his presidency, (thus siding with Iranian hardliners.)

David Ignatius, the Washington Post’s knowledgeable and centrist national security analyst called the letter “grossly irresponsible.” And he points out, “Not only did it undercut President Obama’s ability to negotiate a diplomatic agreement, but it also undermined the aspect of the Iran nuclear deal that would potentially be most beneficial to the United States and Israel …. an agreement whose duration is long enough that it will bind Iran’s actions into the next generation of leaders that will follow Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is 75 and ailing.”

The deadline to reach a framework agreement with Iran is March 24. A detailed pact would then be due by the end of June. President Obama has the constitutional authority to negotiate and sign such an agreement. He can lift those Iranian sanctions for which he issued executive orders. And he can suspend sanctions imposed by Congress, although eventually it would have to vote to formally remove them.

But here is the central point. If the effort of six world powers to reach a negotiated agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon fails, then the most likely option becomes bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. The consequences of such a war are incalculable. But we know even that would, at best, delay Iran getting nuclear weapons by about two years.

Now, on the question of trust, there are indeed good reasons to be suspicious of Iran’s true intentions. Here are some of the major ones:

-For many years Iran has reprocessed uranium – a key ingredient for making nuclear weapons – at a rate which exceeds that needed for peaceful nuclear purposes. And it has tried to hide some of its nuclear facilities. Still, for several years, American intelligence agencies have maintained that a final decision by the Ayatollah Khamenei to actually build a bomb, has not yet been made.

-Following the American invasion of Iraq, Iran provided Iraqi Shiite militias with the means to produce thousands of roadside IED’s (improvised explosive devices) which killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers. Beyond that, Iran’s broad support for Iraqi Shiites has been a major factor in their continuing sectarian conflicts with Iraqi Sunnis.

- Iran has created proxies- Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories - which threaten Israel and encourage civil strife in the region. Hezbollah has been one of the instruments Iran has used to prop up the dictator Bashar Assad in the bloody Syrian civil war. (Assad’s ruling Alawites are a Shiite offshoot.)

-Iran’s desire to assert political influence among Shiites in its own neighborhood is understandable. But its use of terrorism is unacceptable. On that subject the U.S. still holds Iran responsible for the U.S. Marine barrack’s bombing in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241Americans.

-And most Americans will never forgive Iran for holding 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days, after taking over the American Embassy in Tehran in September of 1979.

But dare I say, Iran has its reasons for not trusting the United States either.

-In 1953, inspired by oil and Cold War politics, the CIA working with the British, engineered a coup which overthrew the elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossedegh. Estimates of the death toll were as high as 300. But Iranian democracy was the main casualty as the Americans installed the Shah, whose iron rule lasted 26 years until the 1979 revolution when the current Shiite theocracy seized power.

-During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the U.S. tilted toward Iraq, providing Saddam Hussein with weapons, satellite intelligence and even the chemicals which Saddam used, first on the Iranians and then on his own people. Over eight years, a million people may have been killed. Many of Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards Corps are bitter veterans of that war.

-in 1988 the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down a civilian Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people including 60 children. The captain said it was an accident but an American inquiry left serious questions about that claim.

-In Afghanistan in 2001-02 Iran initially provided tangible assistance to the American effort to contain the Taliban and al Qaida - until President George W. Bush publicly linked Iran with Iraq and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil”- implying support for eventual “regime change” in all three states.

-In 2012, Iran charged the CIA, British and Israeli intelligence with the assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists. This followed similar international speculation regarding their violent deaths.

Clearly, there are reasons aplenty for lack of trust on both sides. But as President Ronald Reagan put it when negotiating with the Soviets in the 1980’s - “trust but verify.” In fact, during the negotiations of the past year Iran accepted significant verification procedures. And the final agreement will include even more robust means of monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. Will they be air-tight? Perhaps not. But if there is no agreement, there will be zero verification procedures in place. And no restraints whatsoever to Iran building a bomb – short of war.

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