Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday threw his support behind President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, calling it "a good deal" that will move Iran off its current "superhighway" toward acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that critics of the agreement were ignoring the rapid development of Iran's nuclear program dating back to the Bush years.
"They have been on a superhighway for the last 10 years to create a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program, with no speed limit. And in the last 10 years they have gone from 136 centrifuges up to something like 19,000 centrifuges. This agreement will bring them down to 5,000 centrifuges, all of them under [International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision. And I think this is a good outcome."
The Obama administration doesn't need Powell's support to help secure the political survival of the nonproliferation pact, as Senate Democrats already have enough votes to prevent Republican critics from overriding it. But Powell's endorsement carries deep symbolic significance.
Powell served as secretary of state for former President George W. Bush during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other neoconservatives have blasted Obama's Iran deal and blamed the Obama administration for the current violence in the Middle East. Powell, by contrast, argues that the current president is making good progress after being dealt a rough hand by his predecessors.
“The fact of the matter is, we did it right in the first Gulf War. We had to listen to arguments for years afterwards about, 'Why didn't you go to Baghdad?' And the 2003 war came along, and you saw why you didn't want to go to Baghdad,” Powell said. "Once you pull out the top of a government, unless there's a structure under it to give security and structure to the society, you can expect a mess."
"Meet The Press" host Chuck Todd also played a clip of Dick Cheney in 1994 arguing that toppling Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War would have been irresponsible.
"If you take down the central government in Iraq, you can see pieces of Iraq flying off," Cheney said at the time, describing a situation that would destabilize Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Cheney now blames Obama for problems in the region, saying the current administration abandoned a successful military project.
Critics of the Iran deal say it will allow a regime that is hostile to the United States to acquire a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years. They also say that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by its terms. Powell acknowledged that the pact would require stringent oversight and robust "verification" to work as agreed.