Iran Deal Blocks Pathway to Nuclear Weapons, Makes World Safer

Paul Tonko
Aug 19, 2015 · 5 min read

After careful consideration and many meetings with local and national stakeholders including President Obama, members of the Cabinet, national security officials who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations, scientists and local faith and civic groups, I agree with the majority of Americans — that the Iran deal is an important step forward in dealing with a regime that is otherwise on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon. This agreement has the potential not only to avoid military action in Iran, but also to make our world safer and help protect our allies in the Middle East.

During my time in Congress, I have voted for every bill that imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, which brought the regime to the negotiating table and united the world to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Sanctions were meant to be a tool to ensure negotiations. That is exactly what they have done. But as we have seen from the past decade, sanctions alone are not enough to stop Iran from expanding its nuclear program.

Before negotiations began, Iran greatly increased its enrichment stockpile and centrifuge capacity despite sanctions. That is why a verifiable agreement that will cut off Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon is necessary — and necessary now.

This issue is far too important to be subjected to the same politics-as-usual, partisan conversation that dominates the day-to-day political debate in this country. We have to look at the facts and specifics of the deal in front of us. In so doing, we come to understand that supporting this agreement is the responsible choice. The alternatives are simply too risky and too costly.

After this 159-page agreement was announced and shared last month, my staff and I meticulously studied every sentence, knowing that this is the most important foreign policy decision I would make to date as a Member of Congress. I thank my friends and neighbors who were patient as we worked to understand, analyze, and question the substance of this deal.

Ultimately, after long deliberation and meaningful assessment, I have decided to support this agreement.

The objective in these negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This deal achieves that. Under this agreement, Iran is never permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon, and it imposes serious and variable constraints that will ensure this for many years.

Under this agreement, Iran will dismantle two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, remove over 97% of its uranium stockpile, and make changes to its Arak plutonium reactor before it receives sanctions relief.

The agreement has international support, regardless of the actions in Congress. If our international partners no longer impose sanctions on Iran as is suggested under the terms of this agreement, the U.S. will be unable to singlehandedly impose crippling sanctions at the level many critics of this deal suggest is possible. On top of that, we have preserved our ability to snap back into place sanctions if Iran fails to live up to its obligations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have nearly continuous access to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities and can gain unprecedented access to other suspicious, undeclared sites in as little as 24 hours. The deal’s opponents state that the maximum of 24 days to access these undeclared sites is too long, but the reality is that Iran cannot cover up any cheating that utilizes nuclear materials in that time. Meanwhile, the IAEA and our intelligence community will be monitoring the site until access is granted. This will prevent Iran from developing covert sites throughout the nuclear supply chain, including mines and mills to obtain and process uranium as well as centrifuge manufacturing and production facilities to enrich that uranium.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz has confirmed that the agreement increases Iran’s breakout time, the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, significantly for well over a decade from two to three months today to at least twelve months moving forward. This additional time will give us ample opportunity to catch and stop Iran should it choose to pursue a nuclear weapon.

The United States will also have the ability to re-impose sanctions unilaterally. If Iran is found to be in breach of the agreement, a resolution will be brought before the UN Security Council. If the resolution is not adopted within 30 days or if a veto is issued, sanctions will be re-imposed. This eliminates the ability of Russia or China to use its veto to block the reapplication of sanctions. If this deal falls apart because Iran does not fulfill its obligations, we will be in a stronger position to rally the international community or use force with international support should that be necessary.

Some have suggested that we need to reject this deal in order to get a better one. But I have found no evidence to believe that a better deal is possible. It is clear that some of our negotiating partners and other allies do not want more sanctions. The robust international sanctions regime would certainly erode, if not unravel entirely. In the meantime, Iran could move forward with its enrichment program without inspections, limitations on manufacturing, installation, research and development of new centrifuges, and constraints on its enriched uranium stockpile. Simply put, no deal would mean no inspections and no constraints on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Some have suggested that we cannot make an agreement with a country that we do not trust. But we must remember that this deal is not based on trust but rather the most intrusive inspections regime upon which we have ever agreed. We did not trust the Soviet Union, especially when we negotiated an arms reduction treaty with them as we fought in devastating proxy wars around the world. Today, we are not debating whether to trust Iran. We are debating whether and how we should enhance monitoring of its nuclear program.

There is no doubt that Iran is a dangerous regime, and this deal will not fundamentally change that. Its leadership will continue to express abhorrent, anti-Semitic and anti-American views, sponsor terrorism, and commit human rights abuses. I will continue to support U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran for terrorism and human rights issues. I remain committed to working with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to contain Iran’s conventional capabilities that threaten stability in the region and throughout the world and to strengthen our commitment to military and intelligence cooperation with our allies in the region, especially Israel.

The years-long effort by President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz and their teams to secure this deal deserves our gratitude and thanks. It comes after years of negotiations and steady diplomacy. That is the American way. This deal is far from perfect. However, it is far better than any available alternative and the concessions Iran has agreed to are unprecedented.

When Congress returns to Washington next month to engage in debate on this matter, I hope that it is thoughtful and respectful while focusing on the merits and specifics included in this deal, not on personal attacks or misleading and unfounded claims. This issue, the American people, and the international community deserve nothing less.

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