On August 27, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobbying organization, hosted a conference call focused on the pending Iran Nuclear Deal, which Congress will likely vote in favor or against once senators and representatives return from recess in September. The call included the Department of State’s Marie Harf, who provided the Obama administration’s defense for the deal, along with a panel representing Christian organizations, including FCNL’s Diane Randall, the National Council of Churches’ (NCC) Jim Winkler, and Pax Christi International’s Marie Dennis. At least 600 other people, many of whom are leaders from different Christian denominations, listened to the conference call.
In addition to giving a basic overview of the deal, Harf addressed some criticisms which opponents of the deal have made. For instance, some critics have raised questions over a possible secret agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran. Harf insisted that the State Department already knows about technical agreements that would allow the IAEA to conduct tests at one Iranian site, and the State Department has briefed members of Congress about this agreement. Normally, the IAEA would not release any details about the technical agreements they have with various countries, including the United States, but they have made an exception on Iran.
Harf also addressed a second criticism over how long Iran could delay IAEA inspectors from visiting a suspected nuclear program site. The IAEA inspectors would have access to any site which is already known by the IAEA, but if they suspected that the Iranians are using another site to develop a nuclear program, then the Iranians would have to grant access to that site within 24 days. Harf reassured listeners that if the Iranians had a secret nuclear program and the IAEA visited the suspected site, inspectors would still detect lingering radiation, even after 24 days. Even though Harf provided this defense, she did not address what the global community would do if the inspectors did discover a secret nuclear program at a suspected site. Presumably, the global community would reapply pressure to Iran. However, if the global community is exhausted with sanctions so much that America’s allies would not continue to apply pressure to Iran if Congress rejects the deal, which Harf insisted was the case, then the United States should doubt its allies’ commitment to reapply pressure to Iran if Iran cheated on the current deal. According to Harf and the Obama administration, the deal is not built upon trust with Iran. Yet if America cannot trust its allies to implement the deal thoroughly, then doubts over whether the deal would actually prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon are reasonable.
After Harf left the conference call, the panelists gave their justifications for supporting the deal. Randall argued that the deal provided a non-war, diplomatic solution to an international problem, and both Winkler and Dennis argued that the deal could help lead to a nuclear-free and WMD-free Middle East. They did not mention Israel specifically, but one could easily infer they meant that a possible next step would be dismantling Israel’s nuclear weapons since Israel is the only country in the Middle East suspected to have nuclear weapons. Though the panelists were confident that the deal would encourage future diplomatic solutions, they did not address what would happen if the United States approved the deal but Iran still acquired a nuclear weapon. If the deal proves to be a failure or difficult to implement, there is a risk that governments would be less likely to use diplomatic solutions to solve international problems in the future.
Jim Winkler also used Deuteronomy 20:10-11 to help justify why Christians should support the deal. These verses say, “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you” (NIV). According to Winkler’s interpretation, America’s sanctions are the equivalent to marching up to attack a city. Even if one assumes this verse is not taken out of context and does apply to the proposed deal with Iran, there is still a question of whether or not the Iranian government has truly “opened their gates”. Even Harf admitted that problems remain with Iran, such as terrorism and human rights violations, and the United States will not remove the sanctions pertaining to these problems. If Iran truly “opened their gates” to the United States, then Iran would be doing much more than simply following the terms of the proposed deal. Moreover, if one follows the verses’ guidance in today’s context, then the Iranians would become forced labor. Verses 12-14 would also order very harsh treatment if Iran refused to make peace, and cheating on the deal could reasonably mean refusing to make peace. At this point, the verses order that all the men in the city should be “put to the sword”. The panelists did not seem the type to support killing all Iranian men if Iran cheated on the nuclear deal. Christians should be skeptical of this interpretation which cherry-picks verses from Deuteronomy 20 and takes those verses out of context to support a flawed deal.
Nevertheless, the panelists strongly encouraged listeners to call their congresspersons to express their support for the Iran Nuclear Deal and to promote peace. However, the United States could still implement the deal whether or not Congress approves it. In order to kill the deal completely, Congress must override President Obama’s veto, which would be difficult and unlikely. The panelists never made a clear argument for why passing the deal through Congress is necessary to promote peace. This support from Congress could indicate that the United States is willing to negotiate, but the panelists offered no clear evidence that this gesture would promote peace in future negotiations.
Because the United States is very likely to implement the deal whether or not Congress approves the deal, Christians who have serious doubts about this deal’s ability to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should pray that peace will prevail despite man’s shortcomings and that God would prevent a nuclear arms race in the region that could end in either an accidental or intentional nuclear war.