During the war in Iraq, Suleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Outgoing U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said about the Quds Force leader: "Qassem Soleimani is the one who has been exporting malign activities throughout the Middle East for some time now. He's absolutely responsible for killing many Americans, in fact I would say the last two years I was there the majority of our casualties came from his surrogates, not Sunni or Al Qaeda." Michael Barbero, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served three years in Iraq, wrote, “For a deal that is putatively focused on just Iran’s nuclear program, this empowerment of Iran’s terrorist in chief is inexplicable.” Suleimani has been responsible for training and supporting the forces of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as leading Shiite militias in Iraq who have been accused of committing atrocities against Sunni civilians. Suleimani was also designated for his role in the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in 2011.
While Secretary of State John Kerry has insisted that "under the United States' initiative... [Suleimani] will never be relieved of any sanctions," Suleimani’s brazen violation of existing sanctions raises concerns about the broader question of possible intentions by the administration to cooperate with Iran going forward, as recent stories in The New York Times and Politico indicate. The administration has repeatedly insisted that it plans to push back against Iranian aggression in the region and that the agreement makes it easier to do so. However, some experts have raised questions about whether that is in fact the case. Tony Badran, a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote on Thursday, “Obama is not about to jeopardize this deal by working against Iran regionally…Despite its protestations that there’s a firewall separating the nuclear issue from regional ones, the administration’s behavior belies this assertion…’pushback,' like ‘snapback,’ is a myth.”
Top Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D – N.Y.) announced yesterday evening their opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Schumer is one of the senior Democrats in the Senate and is slated to become party leader following the retirement of current leader Harry Reid (D – Nev.) in 2016. Engel is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Schumer released a statement yesterday arguing that when the deal as a whole is considered, “when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.” Schumer particularly objected to the sunset clause in the deal, which would allow Iran to build a “robust” nuclear infrastructure after ten y
Schumer also emphasized his concern regarding non-nuclear elements of the deal, including the lifting of sanctions and restrictions on Iran to import conventional weapons after five years and ballistic missiles after eight years.
Schumer further expressed his belief that Iran would not moderate its behavior over the course of the deal, noting, “if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.”
Schumer concluded the statement by announcing that he will vote against the agreement with the hope that stronger diplomacy will bring about a better deal.
The New York Times reported that Schumer’s announced opposition to the deal endangers the Democratic “firewall” that the administration and its allies have been trying to build in Congress. According to the Times, Schumer’s decision will make it more difficult for Democrats to have enough votes to sustain a filibuster and keep the deal from coming to a vote or to override the promised presidential veto.
Engel’s opposition was reported in Roll Call.
At the outset, I was troubled that Iran was not asked to stop enriching despite the fact that there were several separate UN Security Council resolutions compelling them to do so. I have raised questions and concerns throughout the negotiating phase and review period. The answers I’ve received simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East.
First, I don’t believe that this deal gives international inspectors adequate access to undeclared sites. I’m especially troubled by reports about how the Iranian military base at Parchin will be inspected. With these potential roadblocks, IAEA inspectors may be unable to finish their investigation into the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. While it may not be essential for Iran to provide a full mea culpa of its past activities, the access levels that Iran grants to the IAEA are indeed critical to our understanding of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. If the IAEA is dissatisfied by December 15th, the JCPOA does not clearly provide for a delay of sanctions relief.
I also view as a dangerous concession the sunset of the international sanctions on advanced conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. I was told that these issues weren’t on the table during the talks. So it’s unacceptable to me that after a maximum of five and eight years, respectively, the deal lifts these restrictions. Worse, if Iran were to repeat past behavior and violate the arms embargo or restrictions on its ballistic missile program, such an action wouldn’t violate the JCPOA and wouldn’t be subject to snapback sanctions.
Engel expressed concern that sanctions relief will serve to exacerbate Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East, observing that “[w]e can have no doubt about the malevolent intent of a country’s leaders who chant ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ just days after concluding a deal.”
Earlier in the week, three top Democrats in the House of Representatives – Steve Israel (D – N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D – N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) – all announced their opposition to the nuclear agreement. Previously, House Democrats Juan Vargas (D – Calif.), Grace Meng (D – N.Y.), Albio Sires (D – N.J.), and Kathleen Rice (D – N.Y.) had come out against the deal. (via TheTower.org)