Seminars at Steamboat speaker: Despite problems, Iran nuke deal is still the best choice

Tom Ross

Weighing Iran nuclear pact

Listen to a 60-minute condensed version of Middle East expert Martin Indyk’s Seminars at Steamboat speech at 9 p.m. Sunday on KUNC public radio 88.5 FM.

— Veteran U.S. Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk told a packed house in Steamboat Springs Monday night that although he sees problems with the Iran nuclear deal now being reviewed by Congress, he believes it’s the best option for the West and could represent an opportunity to bring more stability to the Middle East.

Indyk reminded his audience at the Strings Music Pavilion where he spoke in the final Seminars at Steamboat program of the summer, that when the Iranian government and the United Nations Security Council signed the agreement in July, Iran was within three months of creating enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon.

Weighing Iran nuclear pact

Listen to a 60-minute condensed version of Middle East expert Martin Indyk’s Seminars at Steamboat speech at 9 p.m. Sunday on KUNC public radio 88.5 FM.

“There are problems, and we need to confront them,” he said. Iran “will be able to (continue) to build a full-cycle civilian (nuclear program), and after 15 years, the ability to cross over from a civilian program to a military program goes back to three months…In my view, it’s not particularly safe.”

However, Indyk said, the inspections spelled out in the agreement go further than any nuclear treaty has gone before, and the choice is between an Iran that is “nuclear weapons free for 15 years at least, versus an Iran that is three months from having a nuclear weapon under eroding (international support for) sanctions.”

It’s incumbent on the U.S. and other nations, he said, to use those 15 years constructively to stymie Iran’s greater ambitions throughout the region.

“There’s a lot that can be done in 15 years, free of a nuclear threat,” Indyk said. “And that’s what we will need to do.”

He called for a strong American-backed alliance among Israel and its more moderate neighboring Sunni Muslim states to resist the Iranian threat, something he acknowledged would be much easier if an elusive Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement could be reached. And while he is acutely aware that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to block the Iranian nuclear deal, once in place, Indyk thinks it will create an opportunity for Israel.

Indyk is a former, two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel and was a top negotiator with Secretary of State John Kerry during the failed 2014 effort to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the current vice president of the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank that is committed to “strengthening American democracy” and promoting a safer international system.

To that end, the Brookings Institution studies economic and government systems. Depending upon who is asked, it has been described as left-leaning, left-centrist and centrist.

Asked by a member of his Steamboat audience, “What do we get in return from this deal?” Indyk responded, “Commitments from Iran never to build nuclear weapons, and because we can’t believe them, because of their history of lying and cheating, provides for the most intrusive regime of inspection to detect any cheating.”

The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia, have given the U.S. leeway to unilaterally re-impose economic sanctions on Iran if it is caught cheating again, Indyk said. But if that occasion arises, it will be a question of how big a violation would be sufficient to warrant restoring sanctions that might not be re-joined by other nations.

Asked by another audience member which of the current candidates for president he would favor, Indyk declared himself a Clinton loyalist due to his service in President Bill Clinton’s administration and his role as an adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.

Indyk described the Iran nuclear deal as, “The most consequential development in the Middle East, probably since the revolution in Egypt (of 2011),” and added, “The region has only known wars ever since.

“Suddenly, people are being reminded there are other ways to settle differences,” Indyk explained. “That is, through diplomacy and promoting negotiated compromises that have to take both sides’ minimum requirements into account. It’s a sad story that we have’t been able, in this volatile region, to use diplomacy to deal with the complicated issues that arise there. This Iran deal represents just that.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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