Debunking Myths Around the Nuclear Agreement With Iran
Yesterday in Philadelphia, I laid out the facts about the agreement that the United States and its partners reached with Iran to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful. I want to explain to as broad an audience as possible why the agreed plan will make the United States, Israel, the Gulf States, and the world safer. And I want to explain how it gives us the access we need to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful, while preserving our every option to respond if Iran fails to meet its commitments.
As often happens on hotly debated issues, there has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the agreement. I want to dispel the false information by talking about five of the myths that have sprung up around the agreement.
Myth No. 1
That the deal is based on trust or on a naïve
expectation that Iran will behave as we ask.
The first of these myths is that the deal is somehow based on trust or on a naïve expectation that Iran is going to reverse course on many of the policies it has been pursuing internationally. Critics tell us over and over again that “You can’t trust Iran.”
Well, guess what? There is a not a single sentence or paragraph in this whole agreement that depends on promises or trust. The arrangements we worked out with Tehran are based exclusively on verification and proof. That’s why the agreement is structured the way it is; why sanctions relief is tied strictly to performance; and why we have formulated the most far-reaching monitoring and transparency regime ever negotiated.
Myth No. 2
That we are weakening the security of
Israel and other Mideast allies.
On the contrary, because of the challenge posed by Iran, we have engaged in an unprecedented level of military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel and others in the region. We are determined to help our ally address new and complex security threats and to ensure its qualitative military edge.
We work with Israel every day to enforce sanctions and prevent terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah from obtaining the financing and weapons they seek — whether from Iran or from any other source. We will stand with Israel to stop its adversaries from once again launching deadly and unprovoked attacks against the Israeli people.
We are also taking specific and far-reaching steps to coordinate with our friends from the Gulf States.
Myth No. 3
That this deal would somehow legitimize
Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
For years, Iran has had a civilian nuclear program and it was never a realistic option to change that. But recognizing this reality is not the same as legitimizing pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In fact, this agreement does the exact opposite. Under IAEA safeguards; Iran is prohibited from ever pursuing a nuclear weapon.
This is an important point, so I want to be sure everyone understands. The international community is not telling Iran that it can’t have a nuclear weapon for 15 years; we are telling Iran that it can’t have a nuclear weapon period. There is no magic moment — fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years from now — when Iran will suddenly get a pass from the mandates of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In fact, Iran is required by this agreement to sign up to and abide by the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which requires inspections of all nuclear facilities.
Now it’s true that some of the special restrictions we successfully negotiated on Iran’s civilian nuclear program will begin to ease after a period of time — in some cases ten or fifteen years and, in others, twenty or twenty-five. But it would defy logic to vote to kill the whole agreement — with all the permanent NPT restrictions by which Iran must live — for that reason. After all, if your house were in flames, would you refuse to extinguish the fire because of the chance that there might be another fire in 15 years? No, you would put out the fire and take advantage of the extra time to prepare for the future.
Myth No. 4
That Iran could in fact get away with building a covert
nuclear facility because the deal allows a maximum
of 24 days to obtain access to a suspicious site.
In truth, there is no way, in 24 days — or 24 months, for that matter — to destroy all evidence that an illegal activity has been taking place. Because of the nature of fissile materials and their relevant precursors, you can’t eliminate the evidence by shoving it under a mattress, flushing it down the toilet, or carting it off in the middle of the night. The materials may go, but the telltale traces remain year after year after year.
Under the agreement, if there is a dispute over access to any location, the United States and our European allies have the votes to decide the issue. And once we have identified a site that raises questions, we will be watching it continuously until the inspectors are allowed in.
Let me underscore that. The United States and the international community will be monitoring Iran nonstop — and you can bet that if we see something; we will do something.
Myth No. 5
That the sanctions relief Iran will receive under the
plan is both too generous and too dangerous.
Obviously, the discussions that concluded in Vienna between the United States, Germany, Britain, China, Russia, France and Iran, like any serious negotiation, involved a quid pro quo. Iran wanted sanctions relief; the world wanted to ensure the wholly peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Without that trade-off, there could have been no deal and no agreement by Iran to the constraints it has accepted.
But there are some who point to sanctions relief as grounds to oppose the agreement. That logic is faulty for several reasons. The most important is that — absent new violations by Iran — the sanctions will erode regardless of what we do. It is an illusion for Members of Congress to think that they can vote this plan down and still persuade countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and India — Iran’s major oil customers — to continue supporting sanctions that are costing them billions of dollars each year. It won’t happen. And don’t forget that the money that has been locked up as the result of sanctions is not sitting in some American bank, under U.S. control. The money is frozen and is being held in escrow by countries with which Iran has had commercial dealings.
Make no mistake, the important thing about this agreement is not what it will enable to Iran to do, but what it will stop Iran from doing — and that is building a nuclear weapon.
In closing, let me point out that the Iran agreement is not a panacea for the sectarian and extremist violence that has been ripping that region apart. But history may judge it a turning point — a moment when the builders of stability seized the initiative from the destroyers of hope — and when we were able to show, as have generations before us, that when we demand the best from ourselves and insist that others adhere to a similar high standard, we have immense power to shape a safer and more humane world.