by Jim Lobe
Donors and some directors of United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) may once again have reason to be displeased with the president of their anti-Iran group, the Obama administration first-term non-proliferation czar, Gary Samore.
I earlier reported on a conversation at an April function hosted by the hard-line neo-conservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). At the affair, a senior official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) complained to a UANI staff member about Samore’s public praise for the Lausanne agreement between Iran and the P5+1, which is supposed to provide the framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting tough economic and financial sanctions against Tehran. Samore, who also serves as the executive director of Harvard’s Belfer Center, had also signed a letter issued by The Iran Project in support of the agreement and authored a column in Foreign Affairs entitled “Deal With It” that urged Congress to stop threatening sanctions legislation that UANI has long promoted. As I reported at the time, the UANI staffer—quizzed by at the JINSA event by AIPAC’s assistant director for policy and government affairs, Charles Perkins—noted that Samore had taken these positions in his personal capacity. He added that Mark Wallace—a mining executive and former George W. Bush ambassador at the UN—was UANI’s CEO and that he, not Samore, controlled the group’s agenda. Perkins did not appear particularly happy.
It appears, however, that Samore has not yet gotten the memo. At a Wilson Center event on Wednesday that featured a very persuasive new report by the strongly pro-diplomacy Iran Project (covered earlier today by Henry Johnson for LobeLog), UANI’s president stood by his support for the deal. He was also optimistic that the remaining gaps between the parties will indeed be bridged. “Both sides are too close to the finish line to turn back now,” he said.
Samore appeared alongside Amb. Thomas Pickering (ret.), former Carnegie Endowment for International Peace president Jessica Tuchman Mathews, and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright, all of whom strongly (and predictably) endorsed the deal. (The panel presentation, which was based on the arguments and conclusions of the 38-page report, was exceptionally substantive and meaty. The video can be seen here, and we intend to link to the transcript when it becomes available. Due to both his previous position in the Obama administration as well as his relationship with UANI, Samore’s remarks were particularly interesting, and I’ll summarize them here and paraphrase them when confident that I got them right.)
In his opening remarks, Samore praised the report as a “very fair job in describing the concerns and assurances of the (pending) nuclear deal” and noted that both the U.S. and Iran had made “significant concessions.” Although some critics, he said, had argued that harsher sanctions would have forced Iran to make more concessions, “I don’t know how to prove or disprove the counter-factual.” Moreover, he said, he saw no evidence that Iran was “backing away from the parameters,” an apparent reference to the “fact sheet” published by the White House at the time that the Lausanne accord was announced.
He said several important issues remain to be resolved, including the timing of sanctions relief, specifically what would be required in terms of curbs on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions relief in the 10-15 year timetables that have been cited as part of the parameters. Of the remaining issues, the most important, he said, was the issue of what procedures would be used for challenge inspections and sanctions that could be “snapped back” in the event of Iranian non-compliance. He expressed confidence that all of these issues will be resolved if not by the June 30 deadline than shortly thereafter. Resolution of these issues, he said, will likely determine whether Congress disapproves the deal. He assumed that a majority will indeed disapprove it—or approve it only after adding “killer amendments” such as requiring Iran to recognize Israel—and that Obama will then veto the measure. “I think it’s going to be a very close vote,” he said.
The reason the inspection, verification, and enforcement provisions were so important, he said, was because Iran’s most likely path to building a nuclear weapon after a deal is signed is through a “sneak-out” in which it builds a secret facility for producing fissile material. But, he stressed, even without an agreement, the U.S. and its allies have demonstrated a “very strong capability to detect” such a move. If the deal includes strong verification and enforcement measures as indicated by the parameters, that capability will be significantly enhanced. Critical will be the UN Security Council’s agreement to a non-vetoable procedure to “snap back” sanctions in the event of Iranian non-compliance. “I’d always been concerned that the Russians would not accept [such a procedure], but apparently that is not the case so far,” he said.
As to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “red lines,” such as no inspections of military bases or interviews of Iranian scientists, Samore indicated they could be designed to improve Iran’s bargaining position or weaken President Rouhani’s political position going into parliamentary elections next year. But he again expressed confidence that these objections will be overcome. On military base inspections, he said, the U.S. “has had a lot of experience” in negotiating agreements that permit such inspections without infringing on other nations’ sovereignty or national security. “I suspect some kind of managed access will be worked out with Iran,” he predicted.
Regarding the argument that a nuclear deal will lead to efforts by Iran’s regional rivals, notably Saudi Arabia, to build or buy a similar capability, Samore said he agreed with a point made by Mathews earlier in the discussion: that the failure to reach an agreement at this point is much more likely to provoke such an effort by Riyadh than if the one under negotiation is actually consummated. Mathews had said that she found arguments that an Iranian deal would incite Saudi Arabia to launch a major nuclear program were “probably the weakest” raised against an agreement. Why would Riyadh act now when it has known that Iran was building a nuclear program for such a long time, she asked.
It’s worth noting that Mathews also said that one of her greatest concerns about the impending agreement is that, after it is reached, each side will spin narratives claiming that it got the better deal. She said there was a “danger” that the opposition on each side will listen too much to the other’s claims. Cartwright echoed that concern. Of course, if he remains president of UANI, Samore could help with that problem, at least here in the U.S.