Last week President Obama finally stated openly what everyone, including the Iranians, has known all along – that he is simply not willing to use military force to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

Those of us with common sense and reason also know that his negotiations with Iran might delay, but will not stop, that country from attaining a nuclear weapon. We know this both because Obama himself told us so in an interview with NPR, and because once a military option is clearly off the table, Iran has no incentive to make concessions in a negotiation and no reason to comply with a negotiated agreement.

With no US-sponsored military solution, at least for the remainder of Obama’s term, and no diplomatic solution, there are still two things left that the US can do.

First, we can refrain from criminalizing the actions of other states for whom military action against Iran would be considered both reasonable and necessary. Second, we can, at the very, very, least, refrain from funding Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb ourselves.

Arak Nuclear reactor

For the US and the European nations involved in the current negotiations, it’s not unreasonable to take the position that, while a nuclear strike is technically possible, the casualties that we would suffer if we attacked Iranian nuclear facilities are too high a price for us to pay. Of course, it is contrary to the President’s promise, repeated twenty-eight times, over a period of years. It’s not, however, unreasonable.

As Lee Smith argued persuasively in the Weekly Standard in March, however, the assertion that there is no viable military option with Iran is not necessarily correct. It’s not certain, he argued, that they would be able to rebuilt quickly, or even at all, after a military strike.

As recently as April 2, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz asserted that for Israel, at least, the military option is still available. A recent poll shows that Americans favor an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by two to one.

For the P5+1 to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran will, however, put an international stamp of approval on the facilities that Iran can then use to build its nuclear weapon. By implication, therefore, it also criminalizes actions of any other state that may feel that the benefits of a military strike on Iranian facilities, for them, outweigh the costs.

Not only Israel, but US ally Saudi Arabia may feel that it is necessary to take the risk involved in striking Iran militarily. We must not tie their hands with a deal that legitimizes Iranian nukes.

Even if it were true, however, that no military strike by any nation could stop Iran from its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the United States still has, at a bare minimum, an obligation not to fund Iran’s nuclear program ourselves.

Iran Deal Announcement 4-2-2015 Iranian Foreign Minister

Writing in Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf estimates that Iran currently has over $120 billion in frozen assets, and that ending sanctions would provide Iran with another $20 billion a year in oil sales. A 15-year deal, he estimates, would result in a relative gain of $420 billion for Iran.

It’s not clear what share of those frozen assets are being held in the US, or what percentage of potential future oil sales would me made to us. It’s a fair guess, though, that it would be a material amount. (For a frame of reference, in 2014 alone, we purchased approximately $40 billion of oil from Saudi Arabia.)

Presumably, Iran must pay for its nuclear program somehow. Lee Smith wrote of David Samuels’s assertion that Iran does not have the capacity to produce its nuclear infrastructure on its own, but must purchase it. It also must pay its scientists and staff, and purchase raw materials.

The release of any frozen assets held in the US, and future oil sales from Iran to the US, would undoubtedly at least partially pay for Iran’s nuclear program.

Even if you suppose that assets currently frozen in the US, or US oil purchases, will not fund Iran’s nuclear program directly, it hardly matters. Money is fungible, and US funds would certainly fund Iran’s nuclear program at least indirectly.

The very, very, least that the US can do is to keep any Iranian assets in the US frozen, and to continue to refuse to do business with Iran. This means rejecting the proposed deal, even if that means that the international sanctions regime falls apart. It also means extending the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, which targets Iran’s support for terrorism and ballistic missile program, but not its nuclear program.

If we are not willing to do the dirty work to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, let’s not hamstring those that would. And if it’s really true that there is no military option at all, and no diplomatic option — that is, if we really must face the grim reality that we either can’t or won’t stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb — let’s at least make sure they don’t do it with our money or money that we at one time had control over.

Featured Image: Arak nuclear facility, Source: Wikipedia


Mirabelle is a non-practicing lawyer, skier, chef and blogger. She mainly writes about Israel, the US-Israel relationship, and media bias at On twitter: @MiraWard375


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