To my surprise, Schiff seemed pleased with the so-called snapback provisions of the Iran deal, which will allow the United States to reimpose sanctions in case of Iranian cheating. Snapback has never been a particularly impressive idea to me, for the simple reason that the reimposition of sanctions after Iran has been allowed to become a far richer country than it is today would have only a limited and delayed impact on Iranian behavior. The release of Iranian funds held in other countries, combined with an inevitable, and possibly imminent, wave of foreign investments, will create for the Iranian regime a substantial financial cushion against future sanctions. But Schiff argued that the growth of the Iranian economy will raise expectations among ordinary Iranians, who will expect their leaders to protect their newfound economic gains. “Will the regime be in a better position to withstand sanctions? Yes. But the regime’s overriding interest is in self-preservation. If they were to cheat on this deal, they would bring down a world of economic hurt again that would send businesses running for the exits.”
Schiff, in our conversation this weekend, did not seem wildly enthusiastic about many aspects of the deal. He said he was disappointed that Iran will not be making a full accounting of its past nuclear-weaponization work—the so-called PMD, or possible military dimensions, issue. “This is an area in which we didn’t achieve as much as we should have.” But Schiff argued that the administration could mitigate the uncertainty surrounding this issue by redoubling intelligence-collections efforts. He is also disappointed, he said, that the deal leaves a substantial number of centrifuges in place. “What concerns me most is the size of the enrichment program that Iran will have in 15 years.”
“We have to make it very clear that we will never tolerate Iran developing highly enriched uranium,” he said.
Perhaps Schiff’s biggest concern, apart from the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate in 15 years, has to do with the Israeli reaction to the deal. He seemed to be taken aback by the near wall-to-wall opposition of the Israeli political elite to the agreement. “One of the things that has given me the most pause throughout the process is the Israeli opposition across the spectrum. I’ve tried to step back and understand why the perspective is different, and I’ve struggled with this. I’m not sure I can give you the answer.”
But, I asked him, Israeli concerns are not enough to keep you from voting in favor of the deal?
“I don’t think I can substitute anyone else’s judgment for my own. My Israeli friends, and my pro-Israel friends here, are making their points. I have to use my best judgment, and my judgment tells me that we’re better off strengthening the deal than rejecting it. The painful heart of this deal is the trade-off, where Iran has an internationally legitimized and fast enrichment capability, and what we gain in return is at least 15 years in which we’ve cut off any practical path for Iran to a bomb.”
He went on, “The U.S. and Israel share the same imperative: to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. There is not division of interest here. I am comfortable saying that this deal is in the best interest of Israel, as well as the best interest of the United States.”