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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As Iran Deal Approaches Approval, What Comes Next Remains Vital

Winning the fight to protect the deal in Congress was a huge victory for diplomacy over war. But there's still much work to be done.

Phyllis Bennis

To protect the Iran deal from being undermined by the US Congress, getting to 34 supporters in the Senate was crucial. Once that was achieved (and indeed surpassed – now at 37) this past week, the goal shifted to reaching 41. With that number, a filibuster would prevent the “disapprove the deal” resolution from passing, there would be no need for an Obama veto, no need for a Senate vote to uphold the veto, and Congress would be unable to stop the trajectory of diplomacy instead of war.

In the next two weeks, we must focus first on continuing the powerful mobilizations that insured the initial victory over AIPAC, war manufacturers, neo-conservatives and those who led the US to war in Iraq and now want to repeat their crimes in Iran – with the goal of reaching 41 Senators supporting the deal. Once that has been achieved, we then must turn to insuring real implementation of U.S. obligations in the deal, including lifting sanctions, and crucially, looking ahead to what this nuclear deal may make possible in the future: remaking diplomatic relations across the region, new negotiations to end the wars in Syria and Iraq, moving from non- proliferation to real nuclear disarmament by creating a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, and more.

Importance of the existing deal

This is a huge victory for diplomacy over the threat of war, preventing the very real danger of war with Iran – now the U.S. must implement what it committed to in June.

The deal strengthens recognition that diplomacy is more successful than threats or war. Because it prevents the threat of war, the deal makes everyone safer – Americans, Iranians, Arabs across the Middle East, Israelis, and everybody else.

The deal would prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon if it ever decided to (a decision which all U.S. intelligence agencies agree it has not made).

The deal begins the lifting of economic sanctions that have had a devastating impact on ordinary civilian Iranians, strengthens those in Iran who support openness including all major human rights organizations and activists, and weakens the hardliners.

Importance of the Senate’s commitment to insuring the deal goes through

Passage of the deal means the U.S. will not be isolated by allies and others for abandoning its commitment to the deal made months ago.

Furthermore, the approval of the agreement strengthens the U.S. as a diplomatic, rather than solely military leader.

Political gains

In the domestic political arena, the ultimate approval of the deal would:

  • Undermine U.S. backers of the Iraq war and others calling openly for war with Iran.
  • Show that massive popular engagement with Congress can defeat even huge investments of cash by wealthy and powerful individuals and organizations who choose war over diplomacy, including AIPAC, the arms lobby and others.
  • Prove what the public already knows, but Congress doesn’t know or won’t admit, that breaking with Israeli intransigence and militarism does not mean political suicide.

Potential future gains resulting from the Iran deal

Looking beyond the immediate impacts of its passage, the historic agreement also:

  • Lays the groundwork for the kind of ‘grand bargain’ that Tehran offered back in 2001, that could lead to broader negotiations over all the outstanding issues, including regional crises, Iran’s role in the region, human rights, U.S. acceptance of Iran as regional power, etc.;
  • Has the potential to build on shared U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq and elsewhere;
  • Increases the possibility for new all-party negotiations on ending the Syrian war;
  • Could strengthen Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations by the U.S. and other ‘official’ nuclear weapons states to move towards nuclear disarmament;
  • And has the potential to expand from non-proliferation to disarmament, through creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East with no exceptions. (Iran already supports, and US is officially on record supporting such a Zone in UN Security Council resolution 687 that ended the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. But U.S. rejects the idea to protect Israel’s uninspected nuclear weapons arsenal that continues to destabilize the region.)

Winning the fight to protect the Iran deal in Congress was a huge victory for diplomacy over war. Now we have to look to the future and figure out strategies to win new victories over the existing wars, occupations, and real—not imagined—nuclear weapons, all enabled and furthered by U.S. policies, that continue to create millions of new refugees, escalating violence, and instability across the Middle East and beyond.


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Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is the 7th updated edition of "Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer" (2018). Her other books include: "Ending the Iraq War: A Primer" (2008),  "Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer" (2008) and "Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power" (2005). 

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