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Former Obama advisers warn against emerging Iran deal

Bipartisan group calls on US administration to hold out for a ‘good agreement,’ address Israel’s concerns over accord

US President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the G-7 summit in the Schloss Elmau Hotel near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, June 8, 2015. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the G-7 summit in the Schloss Elmau Hotel near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, June 8, 2015. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Several former members of President Barack Obama’s inner circle are among a bipartisan group of 18 diplomats, legislators, and experts warning against the emerging nuclear deal with Iran and urging the US administration to address Israel’s concerns regarding the pending accord.

In a public statement issued to the press Wednesday, the group said the deal being negotiated between the P5+1 and Iran “may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement'” and laid out a series of key requirements it said Iran should agree to ahead of the June 30 target date for the deal.

“The [current] agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability,” the group charged. “It will not require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure…It does not address Iran’s support for terrorist organizations (like Hezbollah and Hamas), its interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen (its ‘regional hegemony’), its ballistic missile arsenal, or its oppression of its own people.”

The signatories include Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to the president who oversaw Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the White House’s Iran policy during Obama’s first term; David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA; Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Robert Einhorn, a former special adviser to the Secretary of State for nonproliferation and arms control (2009-2013) who also helped devise sanctions against Iran; Gary Samore, a former coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction under President Obama who now heads United Against a Nuclear Iran; and General James Cartwright, who in 2007-2011 was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Former CIA director David Petraeus leaves the federal courthouse in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, April 23, 2015 after pleading guilty to sharing top government secrets with his biographer [photo credit: AP/Chuck Burton]
Former CIA director David Petraeus (photo credit: AP/Chuck Burton)
The letter writers urged a more robust monitoring and inspections mechanism that would grant IAEA inspectors “timely and effective access to any sites in Iran” and “review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities.”

The administration recently backed away from a promise to force Tehran to reveal its past nuclear activities as part of the negotiated deal, alarming opponents and supporters alike. And Iran has repeatedly indicated that not all its sites would be open to inspectors.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi and then-deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Olli Heinonen, after talks in Tehran, July 12, 2007. (photo credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi and then-deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Olli Heinonen, after talks in Tehran, July 12, 2007. (photo credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

While the signatories said that the US should not impose new sanctions while negotiations are underway, they warned that sanctions relief “must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations,” and “must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement.”

Sanctions for non-nuclear affairs, like terrorism, should remain in effect, the letter said.

Former Middle East ambassador and Obama adviser Dennis Ross at an event at the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem earlier this year (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Veteran US diplomat and former Obama adviser Dennis Ross (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

“Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this. The President should declare this to be US policy and Congress should formally endorse it,” the group said, adding that “without these features, many of us will find it difficult to support a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

They also urged the Obama administration not to treat the June 30 deadline as “inviolable” and called for US negotiators to stay at the table until a “good” agreement is reached.

“US alternatives to an agreement are unappealing, but Iran’s are worse. It has every incentive to reach an agreement and obtain relief from sanctions and international isolation well in advance of its elections next February. If anyone is to walk out of the negotiations, let it be Iran,” they warned.

Acknowledging Israel’s vociferous objections to the deal and its repeated warnings against allowing Iran to remain a nuclear threshold state, the signatories called on the Obama administration to “create a discreet, high-level mechanism with the Israeli government to identify and implement responses” to Israel’s concerns.

Regarding the US’s other regional allies, the letter called on the Obama administration to bolster any Iran agreement by “doing more in the region to check Iran and support our traditional friends,” including the expansion of training and arming of Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the sidelining of Iranian militias in Iraq; the acceleration of US train and equip programs in Syria for non-extremist opposition fighters; increased support for Saudi Arabia in the ongoing Yemen crisis; and generally curbing Iranian hegemony in the region.

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