The Iran Nuclear Deal: Reactions
Exploring the background of the Iran nuclear deal, this article is second in a series of six.
Favorable International Political and Diplomatic Reactions
There was a significant, positive, world-wide international response following the announcement that an agreement had been reached July 14, 2015. Most countries and international organizations welcomed the agreement except for a strong negative response from the Israeli government, numerous Republicans including all seventeen GOP candidates running for President at that time, and some Iranian hard-liners.
All the leaders of the countries that are parties to the Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have spoken in favor of the agreement. They include China, the European Union (EU), France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, stated, "The United Nations stands ready to fully cooperate with the parties in the process of implementing this historic and important agreement." On July 20, 2015, the Security Council unanimously approved (15-0) the resolution previously presented by the American Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. On the same day that the Security Council approved the resolution, the European Union formally approved the JCPOA via a vote of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (a group of foreign ministers) meeting in Brussels.
Many other international organizations expressed their approval of JCPOA. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the agreement a "historic breakthrough" and stated, "It is critical for Iran to implement the provisions of today's agreement and to fulfill all its international obligations and advance security in the region and beyond." Yukiya Amano, the current Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), welcomed the agreement and congratulated Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany (P5+1) countries and the EU and said he is confident that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is capable of doing the necessary monitoring and verification activities when requested. The Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said he hoped the JCPOA would bring "stability and security" to the Middle East. The Gulf Cooperation Council publicly announced backing for the agreement at a August 2, 2015 summit in Doha, Qatar. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations on August 6, 2015, following the 5th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting, along with the foreign ministers of India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, endorsed the deal, welcoming it as an "important resolution" to a pressing global concern.
The Reaction in the United States Congress
When it became apparent sometime early in 2015 that after nearly 20 months of intense negotiations Iran and P5+1 would reach an agreement, along with the approval of the Security Council of the United Nations and the European Union, the Republican leadership of both the Senate and the House (which had taken control of Congress after the election in 2014) reacted in a negative fashion. The GOP Congressional leaders in both chambers launched legislation for a "congressional review process", even before the JCPOA was finally signed on July 14, 2015.
Senator Bob Corker (R--TN), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 66 co-sponsors (both Republican and Democrat) introduced Senate Bill 615 called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 on February 27, 2015. The Senate replaced the text of a House-passed version of H.R. 1191 with the text of Senate Bill 615 as reported by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The Senate then approved the amended version of H.R. 1191 by a vote of 98 to 1 on May 7, 2015, followed by a vote in the House on May 14th, passed by 223 Republicans and 177 Democrats. On Friday, May 22nd the President reluctantly signed into law this legislation many weeks before the final accord was approved on July 15th.
Under U.S. law, the JCPOA is in the form of an executive agreement. In contrast to treaties, which require the consent of two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Senate, executive agreements ordinarily require no Congressional approval. The vast majority of international agreements negotiated by the U.S., especially in recent decades, have been executive agreements rather than treaties. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court held in American Insurance Association v. Garamendi, 539 U.S. 396, that "our cases have recognized that the President has authority to make 'executive agreements' with other countries, requiring no ratification by the Senate or approval by Congress, this power having been exercised since the early years of the Republic."
Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, signed into law May 22nd, the agreement was subjected to a sixty-day review in the United States Congress. Under the Act, Congress had sixty days (until September 17th) in which it could have passed a resolution of approval, a resolution of disapproval, or do nothing. (The Act included additional time beyond the sixty days for the president to veto a resolution and for Congress to take a vote on whether to override or sustain the veto.) President Obama said he will veto any resolution of disapproval. Thus, Republicans were only able to defeat the deal if they could have mustered the two-thirds of both houses of Congress needed to override a veto of any resolution of disapproval. In the alternative, the President could have considered this accord to be an executive agreement, but would have faced the same kind of litigation that is holding up reform of the immigration law.
There are many Republican Congressmen, and some Democrats, who wanted to kill the Iranian nuclear deal, not because of the merits of this accord, but basically for political reasons, particularly knee-jerk reactions to any proposal made by President Obama. Consequently, at the first hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 23rd purple political rhetoric flowed. When Secretary of the State Kerry, Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Moniz testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 23, 2015 Senator Corker in his opening remarks, addressing Secretary Kerry, said: "I believe you've been fleeced" and "…what you've really done here is you have turned Iran from being a pariah to Congress being a pariah." Idaho's Republican Senator Jim E. Risch told Kerry during the hearing that he had been "bamboozled" by Iran, claiming that whoever thinks this a good deal is "ludicrous" and "enters the ranks of the most naïve people in the world." Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) retorted "If you say Kerry was bamboozled, you say the entire world was bamboozled." Kerry defended the deal, retorting that, "We dismantled the Iranian ability to build a nuclear weapon." He also likened the possibility that a "better deal" could be made to a "fantasy" about a unicorn. The President, at his lengthy news conference on July 15th, said: "This deal is not built on trust. It's built on verification."
Reaction by American Experts, Diplomats and National Security Leaders
The reaction of most of America's top experts, diplomats, and national security leaders is directly contrary to the Congressional opposition. Twenty-nine of America's top scientists—including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms and former White House science advisers—wrote a public letter to President Obama on August 8, 2015 to praise the Iran deal. "We consider that the JCPOA [which] the United States and its partners negotiated with Iran will advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and can work as a guidepost for future non-proliferation agreements." They further noted that this is an innovative agreement with "much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework."
On July 17, 2015, a bipartisan open letter endorsing the Iran agreement was signed by more than 100 former U.S. ambassadors and high-ranking State Department officials. They wrote : "If properly implemented, this comprehensive and rigorously negotiate agreement can be an effective instrument in arresting Iran's nuclear program and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile and vitally important region of the Middle East. In our judgment the [plan] deserves Congressional support and the opportunity to show it can work. We firmly believe that the most effective way to protect U.S. national security, and that of our allies and friends is to ensure that tough-minded diplomacy has a chance to succeed before considering other more costly and risky alternatives."
Likewise, thirty-eight retired American generals and admirals released a joint open letter on August 11th declaring the deal "the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."
Another public letter to Congress urging approval of the agreement was signed by a bipartisan group of more than sixty "national-security leaders," including politicians, retired military officers, and diplomats. Among the Republicans who signed this letter are former Treasury Secretary Paul O-Neill, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills, and former Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum. Among the Democrats who signed the letter are former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Senate Majority leader George J. Mitchell; and former Defense Secretary William Perry.
Reaction of Iran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also praised the deal, speaking after Obama finished announcing the deal in a live address televised to his nation. Television stations in Iran broadcasted the U.S. President's statement live, translated into Farsi. "Negotiators have reached a good agreement and I announce to our people that our prayers have come true." He further said that the final agreement proved that "constructive engagement works" and presented the deal as a step on the road towards a wider goal of international cooperation: "With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges." Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohmannad Javad Zarif called it an "historic moment" and said: "Today could have been the end of hope on this issue, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope. Let's build on that." Many ordinary Iranians, families, and youth celebrated on the streets of Tehran, and others cheered the announcement on social media.
"The nuclear agreement is a national achievement [enabling the] economy, culture, defense and science sectors to prosper." Iranian Member of Parliament Ali Larijani, Speaker of Parliament.
On July 16th, two days after the agreement was signed, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made his first public comments on the final agreement in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani posted on Khamenei's website. Khamenei wrote that "bringing the negotiations to a conclusion was a milestone" but that "the prepared text, however, needs careful scrutiny." Iranian hard-liners took the letter as a signal of openness to criticize the deal. In a speech in Tehran marking the end of Ramadan made two days later, Khamenei said, "Our policies toward the arrogant government of the United States will not be changed at all." However, Khamenei also praised the negotiators who arranged the deal, which was taken as a symbol that he would not seek to block the deal in the Iranian Parliament or the Supreme National Security Council. Both of these bodies waited to act only after Congress has acted. Khamenei is believed to have approved the negotiations and the proposed nuclear agreement, giving Rouhani crucial political cover to do so. However, the New York Times reported that "Iran's influential hard-liners, who have criticized Mr. Rouhani in much the same way that President Obama has been denounced by Republicans in the United States, signaled their intent to undercut the agreement," which they believe to be too favorable to the West.
Opposition to the Iran nuclear deal was not unexpected, particularly from Israel and American pro-Israel groups. However, support came from well-informed sources, particularly former ambassadors and secretaries of state, both Democratic and Republican. Also discussed in Article Three of this series is the price or consequence of rejecting the Iran deal.