(Persia Digest) – In an article published in the New York Times about the JCPOA nuclear deal, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, writes: By 1931 Winston Churchill had fought more election battles than any other member of the British Parliament. He ruefully calculated that “one day in 30” of his adult life had been consumed by “arduous and worrying” campaigning.
Churchill’s famous conclusion was that democracy constituted the “worst form of government — except for all those other forms that have been tried.” He was not succumbing to pessimism; on the contrary, faced with an array of unappetizing options, there is a deep wisdom in choosing the one with the smallest downside and then fixing its limitations.
So it is with the Iran nuclear agreement that President Trump is now reviewing, with May 12 — this Saturday — looming as the next deadline for him to pull out of the deal. Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages.
It has weaknesses, certainly, but I am convinced they can be remedied. Indeed at this moment Britain is working alongside the Trump administration and our French and German allies to ensure that they are.
Do not forget how this agreement has helped to avoid a possible catastrophe. In his address to the United Nations in September 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, rightly warned of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. At that moment, Iran’s nuclear plants held an estimated 11,500 centrifuges and nearly seven tons of low-enriched uranium — totals that would rise to nearly 20,000 centrifuges and eight tons of uranium.
Had the leaders of the Islamic Republic decided to go for a nuclear arsenal, they would have needed only a few months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for their first bomb.
The situation was even more worrying because, month by month, Iran was installing more centrifuges and building up its uranium stockpile. But under the deal, Iran has placed two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage and relinquished about 95 percent of its uranium stockpile. The “break out” time has been extended to at least a year — and the agreement is designed to keep it above that minimum threshold.
Moreover, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have been given extra powers to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities, increasing the likelihood that they would spot any attempt to build a weapon.
Now that these handcuffs are in place, I see no possible advantage in casting them aside. Only Iran would gain from abandoning the restrictions on its nuclear program.
Far better to police the deal with the greatest rigor — and the I.A.E.A. has certified Iran’s compliance so far — while working together to counter Tehran’s belligerent behavior in the region.
What has been gained from the nuclear deal? Imagine all the mutually contaminating civil wars and internecine conflicts that rage across the Middle East today. Then turn the dial and add the possibility of a regional nuclear arms race triggered by Iran dashing for a bomb. That is the scenario which the agreement has helped to prevent.
In a statement on Jan. 12, President Trump rightly identified Iran’s dangerous actions as a central cause of instability across the Middle East. Britain shares his concerns about Iran’s support for terrorist groups, its behavior in cyberspace and its long-range missile program. We also, of course, agree that Iran must never get a nuclear weapon; indeed Tehran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” such an arsenal appears (without any time limit) at the top of the deal’s preamble.
On all this, Britain and America are at one. Since the president’s speech, United States and United Kingdom diplomats have been working alongside their French and German counterparts to reach a joint approach toward Iran, focused on countering Tehran’s regional meddling, reducing its missile threat and ensuring that it can never build a nuclear weapon.
We all played our part in helping the Trump administration maximize the pressure on North Korea, a strategy that now appears to be bearing fruit. We share the same concerns about Iran. I believe we are very close to a position that would address President Trump’s concerns and strengthen trans-Atlantic unity.
At this delicate juncture, it would be a mistake to walk away from the nuclear agreement and remove the restraints that it places on Iran. Mr. Netanyahu recently described how Iran conducted a secret project between 1999 and 2003 to research the technology for a nuclear weapon. But that project actually underscores the importance of maintaining the restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, including the I.A.E.A.’s ability to inspect key facilities.
I believe that keeping the deal’s constraints on Iran’s nuclear program will also help counter Tehran’s aggressive regional behavior. I am sure of one thing: every available alternative is worse. The wisest course would be to improve the handcuffs rather than break them.