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Letter: Iran deal serves US interests

In my last two years representing North Dakota in the U.S. Senate, I served on the Intelligence Committee. I had frequent briefings on the threat posed by the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.

It was the unanimous view of the U.S. defense and intelligence communities that preventing the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons was a top priority.

In order to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, we placed tough sanctions on it. We prohibited their exports, restricted their ability to invest and transfer funds and denied them sensitive material required to further develop their nuclear capabilities. We took other tough steps that have only recently become known.

We were joined by our traditional allies in Great Britain, France and Germany and somewhat surprisingly by China and Russia in the sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions proved to be effective. They cratered the Iranian economy. The currency collapsed. Their exports plunged. Prices of necessities soared.

The Iranians were forced to the negotiating table. After several years of tough talks the 5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, China and Russia plus Germany) and Iran reached an agreement. Now the question is do we keep it or walk away.

No agreement is perfect or foolproof, but this pact has the best chance of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons short of an all out military attack.

Some will say, “You cannot trust the Iranians to live up to their agreement.” This proposal is not built on trust. It is built on the most intrusive and transparent inspections regime ever negotiated.

Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, former head of Operations and Planning of the Israel Defense Forces, wrote this about the inspections:

“It will impose the strictest inspections program in history, providing 24/7 monitoring of Iranian facilities, and giving inspectors access to literally every inch of he country.

“Iran, Russia and China will have no way of stopping inspectors from examining suspected nuclear sites. And due to uranium’s near-eternal half-life, Iran will not be able to conceal the damning evidence if it decides to move toward a weapon.”

Here are other key facts: Under this agreement, Iran must destroy 98 percent of its enriched uranium. It must give up all of its most highly enriched nuclear material. It must deactivate two-thirds of its centrifuges. It must halt all enrichment at its Fodrow facility. That is the facility that would be hard to take out in a military strike because it is buried deep underground. It must also deactivate its Atrak plutonium reactor. Taken together, these measures will significantly delay the time required for Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

Some have said this agreement removes the sanctions against Iran now in place and will therefore free up $100 billion for other nefarious activities. We should remember that much of that money will be needed to pay Iranian creditors and to rebuild the Iranian economy that has been so devastated by our sanctions. Remember, as well, that some of those resources will be used to fight ISIS, our common enemy. Right now Iran is engaged in aggressive attacks against ISIS forces in Iraq.

But it is also true that Iran could use some of that $100 billion to support Hamas and Hezbollah as they have in the past. But nothing in the accord prevents us and our allies from countering any of those actions as we have done for decades. Let’s not forget we negotiated arms control treaties with the Soviet Union when they were engaged in hostile acts against us all around the world.

So what happens if we turn down this agreement? We will then be left with the options of a military strike or to rely on Iran not to build nuclear weapons. Those are not good options.

Our best choice now is to support the agreement. I believe it is in America’s best interest.

Conrad is former U.S. senator from North Dakota.