A crowd packed into the ASEAN Auditorium for the “Inside the Iran Nuclear Deal: Pros, Cons, and Possible Outcomes” discussion last Thursday evening. The event featured three speakers: former National Security Advisor to Israel’s Prime Minister Jacob Amidror, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Consul General of Israel to New England Yehuda Yaakov.
According to moderator Richard Shultz, professor of international politics and director of the International Security Studies program, the discussion was sponsored by a cross-university coalition, including Tisch College, the Fletcher School, Tufts Hillel, the International Relations program and the Institute for Global Leadership.
The discussion centered on the recently negotiated agreement between Iran and the P5+1, a group consisting of the United Nations Security Council permanent members and Germany, that would reduce economic sanctions levied against Iran in exchange for the end of a pursuit of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.
Burns began the talk arguing in support of the Iran deal.
“I think this agreement is in the national interest of the United States, which is the only thing that really matters to me — will our country be better off, will we be able to stop Iran and do so by diplomacy?” he said. “I think that there’s a possibility that this deal can do that.”
Burns argued that the deal was the best possible option for stability in the region and the better alternative to the United States going to war with Iran.
“This is one of the most important issues that has come before all of us as Americans in a long time,” Burns said. “It’s a potential war and peace issue. The [United States] should always try to resort to diplomacy first and only choose military force when we absolutely have to.”
On the other side of the issue stood Yaakov, who explained why he opposes the Iran deal from the perspective of Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East.
“It’s not every day that any country defines itself really at loggerheads with the position of its only strategic ally on the face of the earth,” Yaakov said in reference to Israel’s relationship with the United States.
He explained that the region is very volatile and that Iran has had a history of vitriolic rhetoric backed by actions.
“I’ve been in the [Israeli] foreign ministry for more than a quarter century [and] I’ve never felt more uncomfortable [than I have in the] last 6 months,” Yaakov said.
According to Yaakov, around 73% of the Israeli people oppose the deal, in large part because after 15 years, the restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program will diminish.
“The deal, by the admission of its architects, will essentially allow Iran zero breakout time for a nuclear capability, when it expires and perhaps before then,” Yaakov said.
Amidror echoed Yaakov‘s sentiment, explaining why Israel cannot support the Iran deal.
“I don’t expect anyone in America to take the same approach to the agreement when for us … it’s a question of our existence,” he said.
No one, even on the U.S. side, can say with certainty that the negotiated deal is a good deal, Amidror added.
“No one said it was a good agreement,” he said. “They say that it was the best that we could achieve, [that] the alternative is worse, but no one… is ready to say its a good agreement.”
Amidror said that a bad agreement is not necessarily better than not having an agreement. He explained that the agreement merely postpones Iranian nuclear capabilities and in fact legitimizes Iran’s nuclear project.
Burns also emphasized that the United States has been focusing on trying to stop the Iranians from having a nuclear program for the past 10 years without having to resort to military coercion.
“Both President [George W.] Bush and President [Barack] Obama decided that diplomacy rather than the use of force was the preferred vehicle to stop the Iranians,” Burns said.
Burns explained that Bush and Obama have tried to use global economic sanctions to leverage Iranians for a long time, with the United States offering to negotiate with Iran twice in 2006.
“They only came to the table this autumn in 2013 in large part because they were isolated,” he said.
The isolation Iran felt included the large depreciation of their currency, the inhibition of their oil and gas exports by sanctions and their restrictions to the international banking system, according to Burns.
“So we used coercive diplomacy and sanctions,” Burns said. “And the threat of course by both President Obama and President Bush to convince the Iranians that negotiations were in Iran’s national interests.”
Despite the opposition that Yaakov and Amidror expressed towards the deal, Yaakov said that the relationship between the United States and Israel continues to be intimate.
“We have more reasons for optimism than pessimism in that relationship,” he said.
Correction: The original version of this article stated incorrectly that Dean of the Fletcher School James Stavridis, not Richard Shultz, was the event’s moderator.