Trail Mix: 1st Presidential Debate

A good deal of the foreign policy discussion in last night’s presidential debate was centered on the Iran nuclear agreement. While Donald Trump reiterated a series of his standard ill informed attacks on the agreement, Secretary Hillary Clinton offered one of the most concise, thorough and powerful defenses of the Iran deal that we’ve heard from any candidate throughout this cycle. Watch the video.

Secretary Clinton’s comments, delivered during the most heavily watched political event so far this election season, showcased how support for strong and effective diplomacy is now widely seen as a winning political message.

Following up on the Secretary’s strong argument, we wanted to explore Trump’s many misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the agreement last night.

Here are the top five things Trump proved he doesn’t understand about the Iran nuclear agreement:

1. The agreement has been a huge success

Trump said: “The worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal.”

In fact, experts agree that the deal is working. Thanks to the JCPOA agreement, Iran has had its entire nuclear program defanged and every potential pathway to a nuclear weapon blocked. Iran has gotten rid of 97 percent of its enriched uranium; it has dismantled and removed over ⅔ of its centrifuges; its plutonium reactor has been filled with concrete. Its nuclear facilities are now subjected to the most stringent and transparent inspections and monitoring regime ever agreed.

2. The agreement prohibits Iran from ever pursuing nuclear weapons — and ensures permanent inspections to make sure they don’t

Trump said: “The deal with Iran will lead to nuclear problems. All they have to do is sit back 10 years, and they don’t have to do much.”

The truth is that without the agreement, Iran could be just months away from developing a nuclear weapon. With it, their nuclear program is locked down for over a decade — and well beyond. Some specific aspects of the agreement last 10 years, 15 years or 25 years. IAEA safeguards and access to Iranian nuclear sites are permanent. Even after 25 years, any Iranian nuclear activity not intended for peaceful use will be detected with time for the international community to intervene.

3. Secretary Clinton and President Obama put in place the tough sanctions that forced Iran to make major concessions at the negotiating table

Trump said: “You started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going.”

What he doesn’t know or has conveniently forgotten is that when the Bush administration left office, Iran was just weeks away from having enough nuclear material to build a bomb. It was President Obama and Secretary Clinton who helped put in place the harsh sanctions that brought Iran to the table and forced major concessions.

4. Many Israeli security experts have praised the agreement

Trump said: “I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day. Believe me, he’s not a happy camper.”

It’s true that the Israeli Prime Minister is frequently not a “happy camper” — and that he strongly opposed the Iran agreement while it was being negotiated and before it was implemented. But since the agreement’s implementation, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said little about it publicly. Meanwhile, many of Israel’s top security leaders have praised it. Current IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has called the agreement a “strategic turning point.” Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission has endorsed the deal. Its former director, Uzi Eilam, has said the deal “was and remains a good agreement. It’s made Israel and the world safer.”

5. The deal was about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons — and allows the US to continue to strongly oppose Iran’s other dangerous activities

Trump said: “When they made that horrible deal with Iran, they should have included the fact that they do something with respect to North Korea. And they should have done something with respect to Yemen and all these other places. And when asked to Secretary Kerry, why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you add other things into the deal?”

Of course, Iran is in many different ways a bad actor and a threat to the United States and Israel. That’s why it’s so important to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons — which is what the agreement successfully focused on. It doesn’t prevent the US from staunchly opposing Iran’s other nefarious activities — and tough sanctions remain in place on Iranian support for terror, human rights violations and ballistic missile development.

As Secretary Clinton said last night: “There’s no doubt that we have other problems with Iran. But personally, I’d rather deal with the other problems having put that lid on their nuclear program than still to be facing that.”

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