By Charles Bernsen
Iran is complying with the historic agreement struck last year to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, former U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering said during a briefing last month for board members and major donors of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle.
And while he said the deal has so far not produced the diplomatic cooperation in other areas that its proponents had hoped, neither has the lifting of economic sanctions resulted in an increase in Iranian financing of terrorism or other “nefarious activity” as opponents of the agreement had feared.
Pickering, who spent more than five decades as a U.S. diplomat, including stints as ambassador to Israel and Russia, was in Nashville Sept. 19 and 20 to take part in a town hall discussion about the Iran deal sponsored by the Tennessee World Affairs Council. While here he also spoke to the Rotary Club of Nashville, taught a class at Belmont University and gave a private briefing at the Gordon Jewish Community Center to about 35 people, including members of the Federation board, its Community Relations Committee and the Joshua Society.
Pickering, who retired from the State Department in 2001, supported the deal in which Iran agreed to end its nuclear arms program for at least 15 years in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. (The board of the Nashville Federation voted to oppose the agreement.)
During the briefing at the GJCC, Pickering said the unprecedented international inspections regime put in place to ensure that Iran complies with the deal has detected no violations. And while opposition to the agreement within Iran has been growing, he said Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei appears to be willing to honor it – for now.
However, Pickering said his greatest concern is that disillusionment will grow within Iran as a result of unmet economic expectations from the lifting of sanctions. That might, in turn, strengthen the hardline Iranian opponents of the nuclear deal and embolden them to abandon it.
On the other hand, Pickering said his greatest hope is that the nuclear agreement will eventually lead to positive movement from Iran on other issues important to the United States – a reduction in Iranian support for terrorism and Iranian cooperation in a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. He noted that Iran and the U.S., if not officially cooperating, at least have a key political objective in common: the defeat of Sunni Muslim extremists in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Pickering also said Israel seems to be adjusting to the reality of the Iranian peace deal, noting that it has won at least grudging support from hundreds of Israeli military and security experts and that even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, its chief Israeli opponent, has been largely silent on the issue while his government worked out a record 10-year, $38 billion military aid deal with the United States.
During a question and answer session, Pickering was asked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s pledge to revoke the existing deal with Iran if he is elected, re-impose economic sanctions and negotiate a newer, tougher deal.
Pickering said Trump would probably not be able to get support for a sanctions regime under such circumstances, which would leave military action as the only alternative to preventing Iran from resuming its nuclear arms program. •