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  1. Florida Politics

Experts speak on merits of Iran nuclear deal at USF conference

Mohsen Milani, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at USF, supports the nuclear pact.

TAMPA — Two different voices came together in unison Thursday to support the Iran nuclear agreement.

One voice belonged to University of South Florida professor Mohsen Milani, the Tehran-born expert on Iran and the executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at USF.

The other was retired Israeli Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a Middle East expert and senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv.

In separate speeches at a USF conference dedicated to parsing the Iran agreement and its effects on extremism in the Middle East, both Milani and Brom offered their unequivocal support for the deal.

"It increases the possibility of putting an end to 37 years of animosity between Iran and the United States," Milani said. "Thirty years ago, if an Iranian foreign minister had talked to an American foreign minister, he would have assassinated him.

"Now the Iranian foreign minister has the cellphone number of the American secretary of state."

Brom said the two benchmarks against which an international agreement should be measured are whether a better deal was possible and whether no deal would be better than the one that was reached. The answer to both questions, Brom said, was a resounding no.

"To be honest with you, I was a little bit surprised," he said. "The agreement is a little bit better than I expected."

The panel was held on a day that President Barack Obama and backers of the deal scored a big win in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats blocked a Republican-led resolution of disapproval from reaching the floor for a vote. That battle may continue next week, however.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans were contemplating a lawsuit against the president, arguing Congress' 60-day review period — which the administration believes ends Sept. 17 — shouldn't have even started yet.

The agreement struck between the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany and Iran is intended to extend Iran's "breakout time" — the time it would need to build a nuclear weapon. The deal restricts Iran's enriched uranium stockpile, shuts down many of its enrichment centrifuges and allows international inspectors access to its enrichment sites.

In exchange for Iran's cooperation, international bodies and Western countries agreed to reduce crippling economic sanctions against Iran.

Another speaker, Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and South Korea, questioned the effectiveness of continued sanctions against Iran. They often impoverish the citizenry while enriching those in power, he said, and don't always achieve the desired goal.

"North Korea, the most heavily sanctioned country in the world, has been able to continue their nuclear program despite the sanctions," Hill said. He served as a top negotiator in the failed nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.

Critics of the deal say that it will simply delay Iran from acquiring nuclear capability, that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by the agreement, and that freeing billions of frozen Iranian assets will allow it to fund terrorist operations across the Middle East.

One such critic spoke Thursday: USF business professor and former American diplomat Walter Andrusyszyn. He said the deal is being pushed through against the will of the American people. He also raised concerns about the feasibility of enforcing the agreement.

"What happens when we decide they are not abiding by the deal?" he said.

The success of the accord really depends on Iran's actual intentions, Andrusyszyn said, "because they will make a bomb if they want to make a bomb."

He acknowledged the significance of the U.S. and Iran making any kind of deal at all, but added: "I don't think Iran wants to be our friend."

He was followed by Milani, who then countered Andrusyszyn's arguments one by one and addressed what he called "myths" about the agreement.

"Eighty percent of people were in favor of the war in Iraq," he said, "and right now, no serious national security thinker would say it was a good decision."

Another myth, Milani said, was that Iran would give up nothing in the deal.

"Read the hard-liners in Iran," Milani said. "One hardliner said: 'This deal has essentially turned our centrifuges into carrot producing centrifuges.' "

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @josh_solomon15.