Panelists discussed the geopolitical impact of and potential next steps to the Iran nuclear deal at the bi-weekly Students Talk Back hosted by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Wednesday in the Rosen Room of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
The panel featured former State Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, former State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, Political Director of the USC College Democrats Samantha Archie and Vice President of the USC College Republicans Leesa Danzek.
The discussion was co-moderated by Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute, and Darian Nourian, sports editor of the Daily Trojan.
The panel opened with a discussion of the benefits of the Iran nuclear agreement.
“Nuclear scientists and nonproliferation experts in large part support the deal,” Archie said. “We also have the support of the global community, including Russia and China.”
Archie also cited the far-reaching nature of the agreement, the lack of a viable alternative and the stringent safeguards set up by the deal as reasons to support the agreement. Though Danzek agreed with Archie on the importance of nonproliferation, she raised concerns about the deal’s possible consequences for the Middle East.
“Iran is an enemy of many countries in the region, whether it’s Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia [or] Egypt,” Danzek said. “Countries like this have now said that they’re concerned about their own safety, so the ramifications of the deal in terms of nonproliferation would essentially lead to an arms race.”
Montañez echoed Danzek’s apprehension and expressed doubts about the agreement’s effectiveness in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. She listed several provisions that are missing from the agreement that she and other critics see as crucial to dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.
“What the deal does is that it leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place. It defers for 10 to 15 years, but does not stop them from ever being able to acquire nuclear weapons,” Montanez said. “There is no process … to have what they call ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections. That means that anytime, anywhere, international inspectors could go in and inspect places where there could be potential nuclear activity.”
Portantino agreed that there are flaws in the nuclear deal but said there were no credible alternatives to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“I was reading some of the statements of the Congress members who voted, even those who supported the deal expressed reservations and said, ‘I wish it had done this,’ but nobody was bringing forward this,” Portantino said. “They had to choose the common interest, which was 15 years of snapback sanctions, 15 years of inspections, 15 years of delay to try to put in place a better alternative.”
Danzek returned to discussing the potential geopolitical effects of the Iran nuclear agreement. She suggested that Russia and China have ulterior motives in supporting the deal, as China has already pledged billions of dollars to purchase surplus Iranian oil and Russia could potentially purchase intercontinental missiles and uranium supply from Iran.
The panel then transitioned to a discussion of steps to take now that the nuclear agreement has been enacted.
“Number one, we have to look at our allies in the region. How do we enhance and protect the qualitative military edge for Israel, to ensure that Israel, who is our strongest ally and the only democracy in the region, is strongly protected,” Montañez said. “Number two … we have to be able to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to re-authorize the snapback sanctions that are set to expire next year.”
Montañez warned about the inevitability of Iran violating the terms of the agreement and highlighted the importance of enforcing severe international penalties for those transgressions.
“It’s going to be critical, for the country, for us as the United States and our allies around the world, to remain vigilant and mitigate the negative externalities that come from the deal that was passed,” Montañez said.
Portantino echoed earlier sentiments about the need to protect Israel. He stressed that though the nuclear deal is imperfect, it is important to maintain hope in preventing discord and terrorism in the Middle East.
“We can be cynical about the past, but we have to focus on being optimistic about the future,” Portantino said. “What’s presented in this agreement is the challenge to make it work, and the challenge to make sure that Israel’s safe, and the challenge to make sure that America’s intelligence is second to none, to make sure that Iran doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons.”