Former Congressman Jim Slattery urges passage of Iran nuclear arms deal

? Former Kansas Congressman Jim Slattery returned to his alma mater Washburn University on Monday to urge passage of a proposed deal aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, saying it is not only the best deal possible, but probably the only deal possible.

“My personal view is, given the fact that this is an agreement between all the world powers, led by the United States, and they’ve concluded after 18 months of negotiation this is the best we can do,” Slattery said.

“I have heard of no other plan that achieves as much as this plan does,” he said. “And that’s why I think the Congress should support it, and that’s why I hope many of you will contact Congresswoman (Lynn) Jenkins and urge her to support it.”

Slattery, who now works in private law practice in Washington, D.C., said he became interested in trying to improve relations with Iran about 10 years ago when, at the request of a cardinal at the Catholic University of America, he took part in a faith-based cultural exchange program that engaged in what he called “Abrahamic outreach with Iran.”

“The thought was, we would engage the Iranians sort of where they were, and that was in a context of faith,” he said. “So we would meet and talk about topics like the Just War Theory under the Abrahamic umbrella where we would have, from the United States and all of our delegations, prominent Muslims, Jews and Christians, all followers of the Abrahamic tradition.”

He said it was through those discussions that he met Iranian political activists, some of whom have since become leaders in the government under President Hassan Rouhani.

Congress will be asked to vote on the proposed deal shortly after it returns from its summer recess Sept. 8. But Jenkins and other members of the Kansas congressional delegation, all Republicans, have already spoken out against the deal.

Jenkins issued a statement last in July saying her initial review suggested that, “President Obama has gone legacy shopping, using the safety of the American people as his currency.”

And over the weekend, Wichita-area Congressman Mike Pompeo scalded Slattery for comments he made in an earlier speech in Lawrence suggesting that Republicans are only opposing the deal so they can cater to the pro-Israeli Jewish vote in 2016.

“This suggestion is disgusting, borderline anti-Semitic and deeply repugnant,” Pompeo said.

But speaking to more than 200 people at Washburn University’s Mabee Library, Slattery brushed off those criticisms.

“I have always been and always will be a defender of Israel,” he said. But that does not mean I have to follow (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu around.”

Slattery then laid out his reasons for supporting the deal.

First, he said, Iran’s nuclear program poses a near-term threat because it has developed the capacity to enrich uranium.

And while, as yet, it has only produced low-enrichment uranium, he said it has the know-how and the equipment needed to produce highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium, and it has started building a facility to make plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

The deal, he said, calls on Iran to dispose of an estimated 10,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium it has already produced, to decommission its plutonium facility, and to allow inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency access to inspect its nuclear and military facilities to ensure compliance.

In return, once Iran has met those conditions, Slattery said, western governments would release an estimated $150 billion in Iranian assets that have been held frozen since the Islamic Revolution toppled the former Shah’s government in 1979.

Finally, Slattery said, the deal has also been endorsed by Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. So even if the U.S. Congress rejects it, the rest of the international community will move forward anyway, negating any chance that Iran would return to the bargaining table to renegotiate.

Still, the deal is vehemently opposed by Netanyahu. And because of that, many in Congress on both sides of the aisle have expressed opposition as well.

Slattery conceded that Israel has legitimate concerns. He said Iran is predominantly a Shia Muslim state and that it openly supports the pro-Palestinian groups Hezbollah, which operates in southern Lebanon, and Hamas, which operates in the Palestinian territories.

But he said terrorism from the region that has been directed at the United States has come almost exclusively from Sunni extremists, and that Iran has been deeply engaged in trying to put down those movements in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

“I respect Netanyahu,” Slattery said. “His job is to protect Israel. Our job is to honor our commitments to Israel and to protect the interests of the United States.”

Slattery said after the event that he feels confident that Israel would be safer with the nuclear deal than without it.

“Without hesitation, I say that if this deal is implemented, and if it is verified, and if the Iranians do what they have committed to do, Israel is safer, the United States is safer, and the region is safer,” Slattery said.