VP Joe Biden meets with Jewish leaders in Davie on Iran deal
BY AMY SHERMAN
Vice President Joe Biden gave his longest public defense of the Iran deal in a 45-minute meeting with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Jewish leaders in South Florida on Thursday morning.
Biden told the group he had been “very skeptical” about the ability to constrain the activities of Iran related to its nuclear ambitions. But ultimately he said he concluded that it is a good deal.
“This is a good deal first and foremost for the United States, a good deal for the world, the region and Israel,” Biden told three dozen Jewish leaders at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie. “It will make us and Israel safer, not weaker.”
In July, six major powers including the United States reached an agreement with the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining or developing a nuclear bomb. The agreement has several components that include allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iranian assets and lifting sanctions. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in favor of it, while the deal is expected to receive a vote in Congress later this month.
Biden walked the group through the process of the superpowers that already have the bomb coming together to prevent another country from obtaining a nuclear device.
While Biden said he respects those who have decided to oppose the deal, he said “the only thing I don’t have a lot of time for” is “the idea that we can’t do business with the bad guys.”
Biden laid out his rationale for supporting the Iran deal, covering some of the particulars of the agreement, including the inspections of Iran’s facilities and the sanctions.
The deal puts in place the most transparent inspections ever negotiated, Biden said.
“It includes 24-7 surveillance of all their nuclear sites,” he said, as well as “potential clandestine sites.”
Any suggestion that the agreement means that the U.S. can’t inspect military facilities is not true, Biden said.
“I want to get this straight,” he said. “Look at me. As one person once said, ‘Read my lips.’ It’s not true. We can inspect any place in Iran if we believe there is illegal activity taking place.”
About $150 billion in Iran’s foreign assets could be unfrozen when sanctions are lifted — a concern among critics who fear that Iran will use that money for terrorist activities or weapons.
But Biden predicted that Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will make decisions based on what it means for his own power.
“He is not going to fix the roads, and rebuild the schools and power plants because he is a good guy, he is going to do it because that is the basis of his legitimacy,” Biden said.
Biden said that the majority of non-proliferation arms control experts as well as “more than 100 countries” support the deal.
What he left out: a July Quinnipiac poll showed that, nationwide, Americans are against the deal 2-1 while an August Quinnipiac poll showed that Florida voters oppose the nuclear pact with Iran by a 61-25 margin.
Reporters were only allowed to hear opening remarks by Biden and Wasserman Schultz and were then removed from the room so the politicians could meet privately and answer questions from Jewish leaders. Wasserman Schultz instructed the guests to turn off their cellphones and keep the meeting private.
Wasserman Schultz, who is also Democratic National Committee chair, gave no indication of which way she is leaning on the Iran deal. She said that she had met one-on-one with President Barack Obama and Biden as well as with non-proliferation experts about the deal. If she opposes the deal — a major priority for Obama — that will create an awkward position for her as chair of the DNC. Although Obama has now secured the necessary votes in the Senate, the decision still creates pressure for Wasserman Schultz — a leading Jewish and national figure who is part of a shrinking group of undecided members about the deal.
Wasserman Schultz said she will make her decision based on what is most likely to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon.
“That’s the only way I’m going to reach this decision: based on substance, not on politics. I am not afraid to make this decision,” she said. “I am never afraid to stand alone when necessary to stand on principle and based on a thorough review of facts.”
Wasserman Schultz also said that this is a personal decision for her and the most consequential decision that she has had to make in her 23-year public career.
“This is a decision not only to be made based on your head but one that will be made with my Jewish heart, and that is equally important.”
Barry Wilen, a board member of the JCC who sat in on the closed-press portion of the meeting, said said Biden was forceful.
“I think the majority was against the deal but he was very persuasive,” Wilen said.
In a press conference with reporters after Biden left, Wasserman Schultz gave no indication as to which way she is leaning or when she will announce her decision. But she talked about what questions or concerns she is still wrestling with as she reaches a decision.
“One would be that you would have sure there is vigilance in terms of enforcement throughout the life of the deal,” she said. “Iran is an evil regime — there isn’t anything about this deal that changes that.”
Wasserman Schultz said that the majority of the Jewish leaders in the meeting Thursday as well as other invitation-only meetings she has held have opposed the deal.
She said that that she would speak with the German ambassador to the U.S. later Thursday as well as two nuclear experts from Harvard, one of whom she said opposes the deal, while the other one favors it.
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.
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