When all the Senators arrived at their decisions on the Iran deal, we heard from the supportive Democratic Senators that this was the farthest thing from an easy call. It was only an agonizing vote for them because of worry over the domestic political ramifications and the habitual antipathy for Iran’s regime that characterizes U.S. legislators but, in their perusal of the JCPOA, they all did come upon the one creditable reservation to have, which is the slightly problematic aspect of the deal called the sunset clauses. Representative Adam Schiff spoke for his fellow Democrats when he told the New York Times, “The chief reservation I have about the agreement is the fact that in 15 years they have a highly modern and internationally legitimized enrichment capability.” This coincides with the Israeli Defense Force’s primary gripe in its assessment of the deal which, as Gil Cohen writes, “notes that one of the most problematic aspects of the pact relates to the immediate period after it expires.”
If Iran having near zero breakout time after certain restrictions lapse is the sole major concern, the P5+1 has fifteen years to figure something out before that bridge has to be crossed. Indeed, nowhere near that much time is required as the self-evident solution in the form of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone is readily available. Another compromise can perhaps be reached wherein Iran is supplied all the fuel it needs but would still be able to build its own industrial sized enrichment program, which would be kept inactive unless the suppliers renege on their obligations. But if the zone or some other understanding is not established by then, that still doesn’t give the US a green light to unilaterally attack if the Iranians are doing something we don’t like with their program, even including enriching to weapons grade. President Barack Obama claimed in an interview with Jane Eisner that a future Oval Office occupant “will have greater international legitimacy in the event that the President needs to initiate a strike against Iran’s nuclear program, will have the justification of them explicitly having violated international agreements that they entered into.” Except that’s not true due to Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, under which nations could view as “void any treaty which has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
By not lifting sanctions before the negotiations began, Washington has provided Tehran with a most convenient escape hatch. As Reza Nasri explains, “At a time of its choosing, Iran could very well invoke Article 52 to void any eventual arrangement with the P5+1 if sanctions are not lifted and threats not retracted–either explicitly or effectively through the moderation of rhetoric and normalization of the now hostile environment–prior to the execution of the arrangement’s terms.” Since that obviously didn’t happen, no one could object to the Iranians backing out of an agreement that was gotten in the context of such browbeating and waging of economic warfare. But even if Iran had no grounds for walking away from the JCPOA, the U.S. would be violating international law by unilaterally attacking Iran without authorization from the United Nations Security Council. If a nuclear-armed Iran would be a global threat requiring a military response, as is commonly claimed, it is only fitting, then, that the international community as a whole ought to make that determination and do so with an actual finding under Chapter 7 of the UN charter (no such finding was made when Iran got slapped with nuclear sanctions back in 2006) that Iran constitutes a threat to international peace.
Soon enough it will sink in that the international community working together would be the most effective approach towards Iran. Former Senators Carl Levin and John Warner have caught on to this, realizing that any viable military option has to be a multilateral coalition. They write, “In our many years on the Armed Services Committee, we saw time and again how America is stronger when we fight alongside allies. Iran must constantly be kept aware that…if credible evidence evolves that Iran is taking steps towards a nuclear arsenal, it would face the real possibility of military action by a unified coalition of nations to stop their efforts.” It could be that this type of campaign was what Obama meant all along every time he referred to the military option. Why else would Iran need to have its breakout capability be kept at a year when the U.S. could just bomb immediately once it became clear Iran was building nukes? It must be because Washington wants there to be a large window of time to convince the international community to approve and actively participate in any operations.