Nearly 50 years after Pope Paul VI pleaded “No more war, war never again,” at the United Nations, his call remains as urgent as ever as members of the so-called P5-plus-1 group work to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The members, led by the United States, hope that the details of a framework deal reached in early April will be hammered out by the end of June and that the terms will help to forestall a potentially disastrous arms race. The tentative agreement includes positive steps, like cutting the number of Iran’s centrifuges by two-thirds, reducing their fuel stockpile and banning new enrichment facilities for 15 years. In return the United States and other nations would lift some economic sanctions.
Despite the hope this framework deal offers, tensions remain. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has since insisted on the immediate lifting of all sanctions if an agreement is signed and has stated that he will limit the reach of U.N. inspectors. If an agreement is to be reached, definitive terms for action must be clarified and agreed upon in good faith. Iran must demonstrate a willingness to allow inspections, but the P5-plus-1 members and the United Nations must also recognize the challenges that come with inspecting a country more than twice the size of Texas. There will be significant ground to cover, and inspection plans must recognize this reality.
Unfortunately, the tensions inherent in this international dialogue have been exacerbated by Congress, which has sought to interpose itself in the details, oversight and implementation of the nuclear agreement. In addition, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker has publicly pledged to revoke the nuclear agreement should he be elected president, and Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio initially fought to make the agreement contingent upon the recognition of Israel by Iran. Both men are seeking the Republican presidental nomination, yet statements like these directly contravene the current president’s constitutional authority to promulgate agreements, as well as his influence and credibility in a volatile situation, and seem aimed at political gains at home rather than a resolution abroad.
If we hope to reach agreements on critical issues abroad, there must be concerted efforts to foster political solidarity here at home. After much debate, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has managed to pass a version of the bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that allows Congress some oversight and control while softening some of the terrorism provisions originally proposed. President Obama is expected to sign the act. Although the process remains contentious, the move shows some willingness among U.S. politicians to work together and is a positive step, in line with pleas from Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. In a letter to Congress, Bishop Cantú wrote that “it is vital to continue to foster an environment in which all parties can build mutual confidence and trust” and that the committee “continues to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multi-party agreement more difficult to achieve.”
Failure to negotiate an agreement could produce potentially disastrous results, including a diplomatic stalemate, a rapid nuclear arms race and possible regional war. However, a successful agreement could result in many positive steps toward peace. In the region it could mean quelling fears in Saudi Arabia that could provoke its own race to the bomb. In Iran it could mean meaningful inspections and monitoring of nuclear facilities, as well as the long-term possibility of improving relations between Iran and the international community. This, in turn, could mean greater regional security and stability—a clear benefit to Israel, a U.S. ally.
Although many Israeli government officials have spoken out against the possible agreement, former President Shimon Peres has voiced his cautious support. However, he emphasized the importance of backing diplomatic agreements with concrete action and called on the Iranian people, saying: “Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles.”
In his Easter message, Pope Francis also expressed hope for a diplomatic solution, saying that the agreement among Iran and the P5-plus-1 nations “may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.” This broader vision is all the more reason for these nations and Iran to work deliberately toward a successful agreement.
Preventing a nuclear Iran is too crucial a move to be stalled by narrow political agendas. Nor should the framework deal be expected to solve every issue at once. For now, a signed agreement would be a positive and hopeful next step toward longer-term solutions, greater solidarity and what Pope Paul VI described as the kind of peace “which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”