The most important controversial international event fraught with intense future world danger in nearly 100 years is going to come to a head within the next two or three weeks.
At stake is American congressional approval of an agreement for the U.S. and five other world partners to lift strong economic sanctions on Iran in return for Iran's seriously curbing its nuclear program for 15 years, subject to on-site checks by United Nations inspectors.
President Barack Obama has said the deal cuts off "every pathway" toward a nuclear weapon and "is built on verification, not trust." Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the deal a victory for Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "mistake of historic proportions." Congressional Republicans with much venom promised to kill the deal, which would eventually require a two-thirds vote to override a presidential veto of their "no" vote.
Under the terms negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western officials, Tehran will reduce its stock of enriched uranium by 98 percent, disable two-thirds of its uranium-enriching centrifuges, and convert two research centers to prevent enrichment of plutonium to weapons-grade. The International Atomic Energy Agency will have access to any site it deems suspicious, subject to approval by a Western-dominated panel, within 24 days.
If Tehran fulfills these commitments, the West will suspend its sanctions in stages, lift a long-standing arms embargo over a five-year period and halt restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program in eight years. Any Iranian breach of these conditions will cause the U.N. sanctions to resume immediately.
Many commentators say the deal is far from perfect, but is the best available alternative. A few fear the U.S. made too many concessions that will lead to more sectarian bloodshed in the region.
Senate Republicans are preparing to try to scuttle the deal when it comes up for approval, and they received a boost when Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer jumped ship and opposed the deal.
On the other hand, 20 top U.S. nuclear scientists and 19 senior U.S. military officers have offered public statements in support of the agreement. Most interestingly, several U.S. Foreign Service officers have publicly supported the agreement, including a former U.S. career ambassador who is also an Orthodox Jew.
As a U.S. Foreign Service officer who served four years in Iran (1975-78) and dealt with the country and Iranians on many occasions then and since, I share the opinion of many other U.S. diplomats of more recent experience that the Iran of today is not the Iran of 40 years ago.
The current Iranian president and foreign minister are much more willing to negotiate; moreover the Iranian public reaction to the treaty in Iran since it was signed has been very positive.
Israel's Netanyahu has committed a major international mistake by trying to tell the United States what it should do. This will certainly put the U.S.-Israeli relationship into the deep freeze for the rest of the Obama administration. Indeed, many Israeli current and former military and intelligence officers have criticized their own government.
On the American side, the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 provides for both houses of Congress to vote for resolutions either approving or disapproving any agreement. If the votes fail to pass, the president can veto these measures, and to override this veto would require a two-thirds vote in both houses.
In effect, a congressional resolution to disapprove the Iran agreement may have substantial political echoes, but limited practical impact. It would not override Obama's authority to enter into the agreement, nor would it restrict his authority to participate in most aspects of enforcing the agreement.
In fact, the complicated maneuvers, including the waiting period while Iran completes the first steps of the agreement, may well last beyond his presidency. That would indeed cloud the crystal ball.
The intensity of conflict over this whole matter within the U.S. is a reminder of the last time the U.S. faced such a violent conflict in foreign affairs — President Woodrow Wilson's efforts 98 years ago to create an all-inclusive League of Nations in 1919-1920.
Our failure to "think big" as a nation on that occasion wound up planting the seeds for World War II, which destroyed whole countries and cost the world 70 million-plus dead.
This time, both sides are playing with nuclear weapons, and I devoutly hope you will join me in urging Kentucky's senators, as well as many others, to let us take this opportunity to approve this treaty to reduce tension in the Middle East.