Politics & Government

Wasserman Schultz explains decision in lengthy Miami Herald op-ed

I have always approached decision-making with both my head and my heart, and depending on the nature of the choice, sometimes lean more on one versus the other. My review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a monumental agreement negotiated by the United States, the other P5+1 nations and Iran to quell Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions, has been no exception. Indeed at times it has been a simultaneous exercise in sober, fact-based analysis and emotional soul-searching.

This is the most difficult decision I have had to make in the nearly 23 years I have served in elected office, and this vote will be the most consequential.

It’s also one that is deeply personal. Iran’s leaders routinely call for the destruction of the United States, the nation to which I have dedicated my life to serving. Iran’s leaders are also virulent anti-Semites and call for the destruction of Israel, the historic homeland for me and millions of other Jews. 

Many people, whose opinions I respect immensely, have told me they believe this decision is a “no brainer” and that I should have long ago decided to vote for or against the agreement. This agreement is many things, but a “no brainer” is not one of them.

In July, I committed to an exhaustive review process to carefully examine the facts and consider the intangible elements of this agreement, basing my decisions exclusively on what I believed would be most likely to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear-weapons goals.

I have subsequently come to the conclusion that the agreement promotes the national-security interests of the United States and our allies and merits my vote of support.

I do not come to this decision lightly. I have probed the details of this agreement page by page, word by word, and had personal meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Lew. I heard directly from Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and had numerous highly classified briefings. I also spoke or met with independent economists, nuclear experts, military and intelligence experts in Israel and the United States, and ambassadors from our allies that are parties to the agreement as well as Israel’s ambassador.

Finally, before I finished my lengthy review, I held a series of meetings with my constituents so I could hear their concerns directly. I am proud to represent such an engaged constituency on the issues that matter, and I am proud of the time, energy and thoughtfulness the hundreds of individuals I met with or spoke to put into their review, whether for or against.

Vice President Biden saw these attributes on display firsthand when he led a roundtable discussion last week in my district, in an effort to answer questions and dispel myths for both me and some of my constituents.

This agreement is not perfect. But I join many in the belief that with complex, multilateral, nuclear non-proliferation negotiations with inherent geopolitical implications for the entire world, there is no such thing as a “perfect” deal.

I still have concerns about this agreement. Given Iran’s status as one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism, opponents (and supporters) of this agreement say Iran cannot be trusted, that they will cheat. It is also clear that whether or not the United States supports this deal, Iran will undoubtedly get access to some amount of additional resources to divert to their nefarious activities.

I also have concerns about the scope of vigilance we will maintain over the course of this agreement. If Iran complies for the first few years and their economy starts to improve, I worry that complacency might set in. It is critical that we maintain the intensive level of oversight and scrutiny this deal lays out.

Considering the many legitimate and deeply troubling concerns, opponents have made a forceful argument that a stronger agreement could be negotiated if we reject this deal and pressure our allies and Iran back to the negotiating table. Initially sharing those concerns propelled me to thoroughly explore the viability of an alternative agreement.

Proponents of the “alternative deal option” point out that if Congress rejects the deal, our sanctions would stay in place, and we could force our allies to choose business with Iran or with the United States. They argue that the United States, as the most significant economic power in the world, could force our allies in the P5+1 countries and Iran back to the negotiating table to get a better deal.

As I discussed the idea of this possible alternative agreement with ambassadors from our European allies, economists and academics, they repeatedly presented me with facts and arguments to which opponents of the JCPOA have not produced contrary evidence.

In other words, regardless of whether the United States approves the agreement, the robust sanctions regime we have in place now will erode, if not completely fall apart. Our allies, such as Great Britain, France and Germany and many dozens of other nations, particularly China and Russia, will simply not continue their own unilateral sanctions nor vigorously enforce the multilateral sanctions that were the mechanisms that brought Iran to its economic knees in the first place and to the negotiating table. These are not just my suspicions. This is what I have been told directly by our allies’ diplomats.

Other nations joined our sanctions — many at the direct urging of President Obama — with the explicit purpose of bringing Iran into an international agreement to curtail its nuclear-weapons program. From their perspective of uniform support, this was the goal of those sanctions.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the United States rejected the agreement and American sanctions remained in place. It’s marginally possible that some of our European allies would enforce some of their sanctions. But even at best if as much as 90 percent of sanctions on Iran remained in place, how would we realistically secure 150 percent more concessions with fewer sanctions than were previously in place? It’s just not realistically possible in my estimation.

Analysts across the academic and political spectrum agree that if the United States walks away from this agreement, it will be impossible to maintain a robust sanctions program against Iran, including President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who told the Aspen Institute as much just a few weeks ago.

Attempting to use access to our banking system to force our allies and Iran back to the negotiating table is simply unrealistic.

The bottom line is that even if the United States rejects this deal, Iran will likely have access to billions of dollars. When I asked opponents of the agreement to produce evidence to the contrary, they came up empty-handed. I was not able to make sense out of the argument that with access to additional resources, we should leave Iran without a deal, unguarded and unchecked.

Therefore, my review leads me to the conclusion that we cannot now get a better deal, as I was unable to find a credible source to say otherwise.

With this agreement in place, we will have access to and intelligence about Iran’s nuclear activities. There is 24/7/365 access and monitoring of all of Iran’s previously declared nuclear sites. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran will also implement an Additional Protocol agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which includes even more monitoring and inspections. The various monitoring mechanisms last over 10, 15 and 25 years, and the Additional Protocol exists in perpetuity.

The agreement’s requirement that Iran eliminate 98 percent of its highly enriched uranium stockpile ensures that its capability to achieve weapons-grade material is made much more difficult and pushed far into the future.

In an unprecedented standard, the agreement requires monitoring and inspections at every stage of the nuclear supply chain, starting with mining to milling to processing and storing.

Even if Iran cheats, with this agreement in place it is clear to me that we will know much more about its nuclear program than we do now, which will give us the ability to more effectively eliminate it if that ever becomes necessary.

Without this agreement, we lose all of that.

There has also been a lot of confusion about whether or not Iran must disclose information about past “possible military dimensions,” or PMDs, of its nuclear program, and whether it will be “self-inspecting” to complete this process.

U.S. intelligence revealed years ago that Iran had engaged in nuclear weapons research activity at military sites, specifically the Parchin military base. Before Iran can get any sanctions relief under this agreement, the IAEA must certify that it has enough information about Iran’s PMDs.

After reading an Associated Press story that suggested Iran would be able to “self-inspect” and report to the IAEA on their PMD, I sat in an intelligence briefing in the White House Situation Room and told the administration that if the story was true, I would vote against the agreement. While I cannot go into detail here, I received a thorough and classified briefing about the intricate process the IAEA has in place to assess Iran’s PMDs that satisfied my deep alarm over this issue. Iran cannot self-inspect.

Another area of concern is about the “24-day” clock on inspections of suspicious sites. To me, the agreement presented a troubling number of maximum days Iran would have to grant inspectors access upon request. First, a point of clarification: This timeline only applies to undeclared and suspicious sites.

However, evidence of nuclear activity using fissionable material lasts more than 1,000 years, so all nuclear experts I have spoken to agree that 24 days is not enough time for Iran to prevent detection were that material being used for a nuclear-weapons program.

Naturally, the assumption would be that an Iran determined to cheat could use prohibited hardware and engage in research that would be less detectable or could be moved. However, the previously mentioned monitoring of the entire nuclear supply chain makes this far less likely.

The agreement also requires the Joint Commission, made up of the P5+1 countries to approve any purchase of material, including dual-use material that Iran could use for its nuclear program, providing an additional avenue to prevent and catch Iran if it cheats.

There is also confusion about the ability to “snapback” sanctions if Iran cheats. I was concerned about the ability to reimpose sanctions for major violations by Iran, and in some ways even more concerned about our ability to incrementally punish the country for smaller violations. The United States and any of the P5+1 countries can unilaterally reapply all of our sanctions if Iran is caught in a major violation.

I and many other members of Congress pushed to ensure that if Iran cheats in minor ways there are smaller, but biting, sanctions available to deter this activity and prevent them from creeping rather than racing to a bomb.

However, even with all the guarantees of the JCPOA, we must be vigilant and we must do more.

We must be absolutely firm in our resolve to take decisive action against Iran if it does not comply with the JCPOA. We must work closely with Israel to ensure it has the resources and technical capacity to counter any potential increase in terrorism against her citizens. We must maintain and enhance our allies’ ability to interdict and stop Iran from advancing its terrorist activity.

My commitment to the security of Israel as an American ally, but more personally as a deeply committed member of the Jewish community, has weighed heavily on me throughout my review process.

Make no mistake: This is an American national-security issue. But when Iran continues to call for the destruction of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, our most staunch ally in the region, and its proxy Hezbollah continues to launch attacks against innocent civilians, it is irresponsible not to consider this agreement’s impact on that nation.

Furthermore, almost everyone agrees, including American and Israeli intelligence, that under the agreement Iran will not be able to produce a nuclear bomb for at least 10-15 years. With the JCPOA in place, the United States and our allies will be able to more closely concentrate on stopping Iran’s terrorist activity.

Critically, all sanctions related to terrorism remain in place, and we will apply even more if their terror activity increases.

It is essential that if the agreement goes forward, that the United States develop a robust security package that allows Israel to access technology and hardware that would enable her to protect her people.

In fact, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, sitting on the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I pledge to be a vote and a voice to make that happen. I am confident in President Obama’s commitment to provide additional security to Israel because I have spoken with him about it personally and because of his demonstrated record through the Iron Dome missile-defense system and the significant military and intelligence cooperation that has increased under his administration.

After a thorough and careful review of the facts and deep, personal reflection and soul searching, I will vote to support moving the Iran agreement forward and to sustain the president’s veto if necessary. A constituent said to me during one of my many meetings at home in the past few weeks that I would not want to look back years from now and realize I made the wrong decision. It’s critically important to me that I not look back and feel that way. I am confident that the decision that I am making with the information I have is the correct one.

As the first Jewish woman to represent the state of Florida in Congress, I am disturbed to my core over how much of the debate around this hugely consequential issue has devolved into thinly veiled and sometimes blatant tropes of anti-Semitism. My colleagues who took principled stands in opposition are being accused of having dual loyalties. Those of my colleagues who support this deal are being accused of abandoning Israel or, worse, their own faith and people. Some of that hateful rhetoric has already been hurled my way, and I’m sure more is to come, though nothing could be further from the truth.

Throughout our history as a nation and certainly, throughout the Jewish people’s history, we have taken great risks for peace and security. Often, the easier path to choose was to dig in harder. But the thorough, pragmatic and factual analysis I have done and my fervent desire as a Jewish mother to ensure that Israel will always be there — l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation lead me to the conclusion that this agreement provides the best chance to ensure America’s, Israel’s and our allies’ security today and tomorrow.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, represents Congressional District 23 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and is chair of the Democratic National Committee.