Congressman Sam Farr’s initial reaction to the proposed multilateral agreement designed to restrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program was to look homeward to his district, which happens to include the Middlebury Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) and its many high-profile nuclear nonproliferation experts. Monday evening, Farr offered his rationale for supporting the proposed deal and outlined the next steps of the approval process, before introducing a trio of CNS experts to an overflow crowd in the Institute’s Irvine Auditorium.
After describing the complex series of votes that Congress will take next month to signal its approval or disapproval of the deal, as well as the intense pressure members of Congress are feeling from constituents on both sides of this divisive issue, Farr commented on the personal significance that the vote holds for him: “It’s the first time in my 22 years in Congress that I’ve had the opportunity to vote for peace instead of against war.”
CNS Director Bill Potter introduced the subsequent discussion by asking a series of questions about the agreement and its implications to two panelists from the Institute: Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and Dr. Avner Cohen. Audience members were also invited to submit questions for the panelists.
Describing himself as “a verification geek,” Lewis, director of CNS’s East Asia Nonproliferation Program and founder of the nonproliferation blog ArmsControlWonk.com, explained in some detail the extensive verification measures contained in the agreement, pointing out specific elements that exceed international norms. He also complimented the U.S. negotiating team: “As someone who was skeptical of this Administration’s ability to negotiate a good deal, I have to say—they negotiated a pretty good deal.” Asked what he thought the consequences might be if the agreement was not approved, Lewis was unequivocal: “Right now Iran does not have a bomb. If the U.S. doesn’t approve this deal, Iran will have no incentive to continue negotiating. They will walk away. And they will build a bomb.”
Cohen, a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Institute and perhaps the world’s leading academic authority on Israeli nuclear policy, stressed that the agreement is also better for Israel than the alternative. “Today Israel is the only state in the region that has nuclear weapons. And this deal would preserve that.” A follower of and frequent commentator on Israeli politics, Cohen was critical of the current Israeli government’s efforts to influence U.S. domestic politics on the Iran agreement, describing these efforts as “counterproductive, and frankly rude.”