Parsing the framework
Disagreement on the Iran agreement: Dayton Dragons co-owner/National Jewish Democratic Council Chair Greg Rosenbaum & U.S. Rep. Mike Turner weigh in
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Among the 14 Jewish Democratic leaders and fund-raisers President Barack Obama met with at the White House on the afternoon of April 13 to ratchet up American Jewish support for a nuclear agreement with Iran was Dayton Dragons principal co-owner Greg Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum is chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
“He didn’t say anything that changed my view, because my view all along has been supportive, and I’ve studied the framework in great detail, as well as have regular channels of communication with the national security apparatus within the White House,” Rosenbaum told The Observer.
Earlier that day, the president met with leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations. As JTA reported, one participant from that meeting said, “people who came in with an anger and a dislike still walked out with an anger and a dislike.”
On April 2, the P5+1 (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, facilitated by the European Union) reached a framework for a deal to curtail Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
“The president has been very clear that if the final deal does not hold to our interpretation of the framework, he’s not going to sign it,” Rosenbaum said. “What’s relevant is that the framework, as set out, if codified into the final agreement, will dramatically reduce Iran’s breakout time from where it was prior to the joint plan of action and from where it is today.”
If the agreement holds, Rosenbaum said, it will keep Iran’s breakout time at a level “substantially higher” than it is now, for at least a decade.
“And in the course of that period, we’re going to learn an awful lot about Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions, such that if some of the direst predictions about it come to pass, we’ll be in a much better position to deal with that than we are today.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who has represented the Dayton area for 12 years, describes the framework as unenforceable.
“I think we’re already in a situation where there’s major conflict over what the deal means and what is said,” he said.
Turner sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. He is also president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Over Congress’ recess March 30-April 10, Turner led a bipartisan congressional trip to Israel.
“They’re very concerned,” Turner said of Israel’s defense ministry. “They believe the deal is not advisable and will result in an Iran that has a nuclear weapon. They’re also very concerned that the entire neighborhood around Israel and Iran will view the deal as unenforceable, and therefore might cause an arms race throughout the Middle East.”
The deal, Turner added, would signal an “almost complicit acceptance” of Iran’s path toward nuclear capability.
Rosenbaum believes the world would be far more dangerous if the United States and Israel are “viewed as the villains who torpedoed a deal to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program for at least a decade.” In that scenario, he said, the U.S. and Israel would have to go it alone.
The American public appears equally divided across party lines on its support for the framework.
A Bloomberg News poll conducted April 6-8 reports that regarding the framework agreement with Iran, Democrats were 70 percent optimistic and 24 percent pessimistic; Republicans were 62 percent pessimistic and 31 percent optimistic.
Gallup reported that Obama’s approval rating among American Jews dropped from 61 percent in January to 50 percent in March.
Obama and Netanyahu have publicly jabbed at each other for months, leading up to the prime minister’s address to Congress in March to halt the deal with Iran. The public spat continued through the prime minister’s reelection, when Netanyahu appeared to back away from support for a two-state solution on the final day of his campaign, and spoke of Arab Israelis voting “in droves,” a scare tactic to bring more Likud supporters to the polls.
Rosenbaum said that from political, diplomatic, and geopolitical perspectives, he views the framework as enforceable.
“With the secretary of energy at the table, with some of the specialists from the National Security apparatus in the executive branch who understand nuclear weapons, I’m willing to defer to them in making the choices about what ought to be in this framework and what ought not to be in the framework.”
The framework, Rosenbaum added, scrutinizes several steps in the process that Iran would need to go through to build a nuclear weapon.
“And Iran would have to evade inspection and cheat at each of six or seven steps in order for us not to catch them,” Rosenbaum said. “Whereas all we have to do is catch them once and the snapback provisions on sanctions — as well as the general disapproval of Iran internationally — will happen instantly.”
If the deal fails in the United States, Rosenbaum believes the P5+1 sanctions won’t hold.
“It’s important to note that sanctions actually never worked until Russia and China joined,” Rosenbaum said. “Their trade level — both for oil and for military support — was so high even under the Western sanctions regime, that Iran was still able to get breakout time down to two to six months, depending on whom you listen to. And that even happened after the Russians and Chinese joined.
“But my sense is that the Russians and Chinese are going to give this one chance. And if it’s going to blow up, let’s make it clear that it blew up because Iran is not trustworthy. And then, I think, any other option that someone may be recommending — even a military strike — has the formal basis it needs for the American people to get behind another war or attack in the Middle East.”
As evidence of Rosenbaum’s concern about the U.S. scuttling the framework deal and how it would weaken sanctions, he points to Russia’s April 13 announcement to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Iran.
“This is not a violation by Russia of the sanctions regime, but if Russia is willing to undertake sales like this to Iran now, what is Russia going to do if the U.S. somehow blows up the P5+1 discussions?”
Turner is troubled that the administration hasn’t asked Iran to include abandoning its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program as part of the deal.
“Iran has been actively seeking and has been testing ICBM technology that would place the United States at risk,” Turner said. “With this 10-year, 15-year deal — as this president has characterized it — Iran will make major strides in the ICBM technology, and people do not seek ICBMs for conventional military capabilities. It’s only for weapons of mass destruction. And it should have absolutely been on the table.”
Rosenbaum countered that Iran isn’t close to developing an ICBM at this time.
“It took France nearly 40 years to develop an ICBM with the kind of range Iran would need to reach the United States,” Rosenbaum said. “Iran’s ability to develop an ICBM has been significantly slowed because Iran cannot procure the materials, like engine parts, that they need — a direct result of interdiction efforts and sanctions. Both U.S. and U.N. sanctions on ballistic missile activities will remain, even with the nuclear weapons deal. A lot of people lose sight of the fact that sanctions against Iran exist on several levels.”
Rosenbaum added that along with the argument that Iran will have 10-15 years to perfect its ICBM technology, the United States will have the same period of time to perfect its air defense technology.
One of the few areas of agreement Rosenbaum and Turner share is that the recent tensions between Obama and Netanyahu have not caused palpable damage to U.S.-Israel relations.
Rosenbaum said, “I think the level of military cooperation, the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge, the cooperation on intelligence has remained at a high level, and many people involved in both military and intelligence cooperation will tell you that the cooperation between the two countries has never been better.”
The comments about the difficult relationship between the president and the prime minister, he said, go back a couple of years. “And yet the president rushed to provide additional Iron Dome funding during the Gaza situation last summer without batting an eye.”
A key part of Turner’s recent trip to Israel was his firsthand look at how Iron Dome has been successfully deployed.
“I’ve been a lead Republican on the issue of missile defense and had increased funding to Israel while the Iron Dome was in the development phase, and had been to Israel during the deployment,” Turner said.
The success of Iron Dome, Turner added, has advanced the debate on missile defense in the United States.
“There was a time when people argued we shouldn’t undertake missile defense because it doesn’t work, because there was no need, and because it was too expensive,” Turner explained. “Israel has addressed each of those by showing it absolutely works. And in the proliferation of missiles, there is a need. And certainly the missile defense technology that Israel has deployed de-escalates a conflict. It actually costs less than allowing the missiles to hit their targets and for a full military conflict to ensue.”
The Israel-U.S. relationship, Turner said, goes well beyond two people.
“I’ve certainly been very disappointed in the manner in which the president has handled the issue of Israel’s security,” Turner added. “But I’ve been equally disappointed in the manner the president has handled United States security. It certainly is going to be a significant issue in the upcoming presidential race.”