Michael Singh: Implications of the JCPOA for US Policy in the Middle East

Michael Singh, “Implications of the JCPOA for US Policy in the Middle East,” Testimony submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, August 5, 2015.


Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the nuclear agreement with Iran and its implications for the United States and the Middle East.

America’s Objectives and Iran’s
When we analyze foreign policy, the first question should be what interest or objective is served by a particular policy. A good policy should clearly advance U.S. interests and should complement rather than clash with our larger strategy, unless the policy in question heralds an entirely new strategy that can be clearly articulated and implemented. A prudent, conservative foreign policy should clearly deliver benefits that outweigh its costs or, by incurring certain costs, forestall an even greater projected cost.

The objective in this case is not—and has never been—simply to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran. A deal is a means toward an end, not an end in itself. The intended end in this case is to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon, in order to safeguard our interests in the Middle East and beyond, which would be clearly threatened by such a development. While this objective has long enjoyed consensus bipartisan support, the question that has divided policymakers—acutely in recent years—is how to accomplish it when faced with an Iranian leadership apparently willing to entertain great cost and risk to expand Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.
At the outset of the recently concluded diplomacy—the P5+1 process devised in 2005—the U.S. strategy was to persuade Iranian leaders to embark on a broad “strategic shift,” recognizing that the costs of their regional strategy outweighed the benefits. The logic of this approach was that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions were not separate from but an integral part of a larger security strategy, and only a strategic shift would sustainably end those ambitions.

Absent such a strategic shift, the sensible stance was to insist on the suspension of Iran’s nuclear efforts and dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure. Even if Iran retained the desire for nuclear weapons, it would be denied the means to develop them, and a ban on nuclear fuel cycle and related activities would be less challenging to police than limitations on the same activities would be. Such an approach would also offer an appealing symmetry—the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure and related activities in exchange for the dismantling of sanctions.

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