The Iran Agreement
As a member of the United States Senate since 2007, I have been at the forefront of advancing legislative strategies to prevent the Iranian regime from developing a nuclear weapon. For four and a half years, I was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern, South and Central Asian Affairs. Iran was one of the 32 countries that the Subcommittee covered. I have traveled across the Middle East and had the opportunity to engage with leaders of countries in the region. I have devoted countless hours to studying the region and authoring, sponsoring, and voting on legislation on these issues. Attached as Exhibit #1 is a summary of my record relating to Iran.
The vote I will cast with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a vote of great consequence and complexity. In order to make this important decision, I have done the following: reviewed the JCPOA thoroughly; consulted with experts on Iran’s program, the nuclear fuel cycle, diplomacy, national security, non-proliferation and other subject areas; read numerous analyses and critiques of the JCPOA; received classified and non-classified briefings; listened to my constituents; and spoken to current and former Senators, staff, Ambassadors and U.S. government officials, past and present. In all, since April, I have had more than 40 such engagements, briefings and discussions. To make an informed, reasoned decision on this matter, it is my obligation to consider and assess more than the four corners of the JCPOA. I have considered the impact of the JCPOA on our national security, the security of Israel and the Middle East and the grave question of war and the related issue of deterrence.
After the more than six weeks of intensive review, I have concluded that I will support the JCPOA, vote no on the motion to disapprove and no on a veto override vote if necessary. I firmly believe that effective implementation of the JCPOA, bolstered by other U.S. policies, including a strong deterrence policy of the U.S. and our partners, will be in our national security interest.
This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time.
Over the past ten years, in the face of tough sanctions, the Iranian regime has continued to develop its nuclear program. Today, Iran is a threshold nuclear weapons state with a breakout time of between two and three months.
- First day of President George W. Bush’s Administration– Iran was operating an estimated 164 centrifuges.
- First day of President Obama’s Administration — Iran had installed 4,000–5,000 centrifuges and had enough fissile material to make a bomb.
- November 2013 — Before the interim Joint Plan of Action was agreed to, the estimated time Iran needed to break out to a nuclear weapon was 1–2 months.
- July 2015 — Iran has more than 19,000 centrifuges installed; 10,000 operating pursuant to the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action. Breakout time is estimated at 2–3 months.
Foundations of My Analysis
- I am skeptical that the Iranian regime will uphold its end of the deal — we have to prepare for the possibility that the Iranian regime may violate the agreement and may even engage in activity constituting significant non-compliance with the JCPOA.
- The regime will continue, over the next decade, to engage in nefarious activity in the Middle East, including support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist entities. The regime will continue its efforts to become a regional power.
- In the later years of the JCPOA’s duration, as some restrictions on uranium enrichment are lifted, the Iranian regime may take steps to develop an industrial-sized uranium enrichment program.
- By themselves, the economic sanctions that forced Iran to the negotiating table will not, under any circumstances, compel the regime to forego its intention to develop nuclear weapons.
- The only effective deterrent to ultimately prevent or destroy an Iranian nuclear threat today, or 15 years from now, is the credible threat of a U.S. military strike to destroy any Iranian nuclear weapons infrastructure completely.
Key Elements in JCPOA
The deal requires Iran to take steps that will significantly constrain its nuclear activities for a number of years. Among them:
- Installed uranium enrichment capacity will be reduced to 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz (down from approximately 19,000 IR-1 and advanced IR-2M centrifuges installed (page 6, #2).
- At Fordow: Iran will refrain from any uranium enrichment and uranium enrichment research and development and refrain from keeping any nuclear material (page 7, #5) (2,700 IR-1s installed now, 700 enriching uranium).
- For 15 years, Iran will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg. of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexa-fluoride (UF6) (Iran has stockpile now of approximately 10,000 kg of low-enriched UF6) (page 7, #7).
- At Arak: Iran will redesign and rebuild the reactor and “will not produce weapons grade plutonium” and all spent fuel will be shipped out of Iran for lifetime of the reactor” (page 7–8, #8). No additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water in Iran for 15 years (page 8, #10) and for 15 years, Iran will not, and doesn’t intend to thereafter, engage in any spent fuel reprocessing, or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing or reprocessing R &D activities leading to capability (page 8, #12).
- Iran will provisionally apply the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (page 8, #13) and fully implement the “Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues” agreed with the IAEA (page 8, #14).
- Iran will allow IAEA to monitor implementation of voluntary measures and implement transparency measures, including: long-term IAEA presence in Iran; Monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for 25 years; Containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years; Use of IAEA approved and certified modern technologies, including on-line enrichment measurement and electronic seals;
- A mechanism is established to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns for 15 years as defined in Annex I (page 9, #15).
- Iran will not engage in activities, including R&D, that could contribute to development of a nuclear explosive device as specified in Annex I (page 9, #16).
- A mechanism is established to regulate Iran’s procurement of nuclear and dual-use items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology (page 9, #17 and Annex IV, Section 6).
- The implementation plan detailed in Annex V, paragraph 15–15.11 there are 36 nuclear-related measures, set forth on pages 2–25 of Annex I, that must be implemented by Iran and verified by the IAEA before UN Security Council sanctions can be lifted. The nuclear-related measures are attached hereto as Exhibit #2.
The substantial reductions in the number of installed centrifuges (from 19,000 IR-1 centrifuges in multiple facilities to 5,060 IR-1s housed at Natanz), the limitations on uranium enrichment and enrichment-related activities, no uranium enriched above 3.67% for 15 years and uranium stockpile kept under 300 kg of low-enriched uranium combine to extend breakout time to at least one year for a decade or more. This is a substantial extension — today, the estimated breakout time hovers around two to three months.
One note about enrichment and percentages is important here. According to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School:
Enriching is a progressively easier process — for example, if the aim is to produce 90 percent enriched uranium, reaching the 5-percent level requires some 75 percent of the work. And by the time 20 percent enrichment is reached — a level Iran currently achieves — 90 percent of the work is completed.
In fact, the Belfer Center asserts that before the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreed to in April 2015, Iran, with 20% enriched uranium, was “10 yards from a nuclear ‘touchdown’ ” (weapons-grade 90% enriched uranium).
Breakout time refers to how long it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons grade enriched uranium for a single nuclear device (defined as 25 kg of 90% enriched uranium) at its declared enrichment facilities…Breakout time only refers to the time required to produce the necessary fissile material for a nuclear device, not the time required to manufacture the device itself, much less a warhead suitable for missile delivery.
Uranium enrichment is one of the main pathways to a nuclear weapon. I believe these requirements substantially constrain Iran’s uranium enrichment capability and form an essential element of the agreement.
The plutonium pathway to a bomb is essentially shut down by way of the redesigning and rebuilding of the heavy water research reactor at Arak along with the requirements to ship out of Iran all spent fuel.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist with a PhD in theoretical physics, writes as follows regarding the plutonium reprocessing and Arak:
The Arak reactor in Iran, now capable of becoming a “weapons-grade plutonium factory” that could produce material for 1–2 weapons per year, will be replaced by a research reactor that does not produce weapons-grade plutonium in normal use. Iran will not build any more heavy water reactors for at least 15 years.
Misuse of the reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium can be detected quickly, allowing ample time for response.
The irradiated fuel, which contains plutonium, will be sent out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.
Iran will not reprocess any irradiated fuel, which could lead to the extraction of plutonium for a weapon, for at least 15 years.
On the other hand, without the JCPOA in place, Moniz indicates that “the current Iranian Arak reactor design will be implemented, producing significant amounts of plutonium” and “plutonium-bearing irradiated fuel will remain in Iran and could be reprocessed to extract plutonium for weapons.”
I see the Arak reactor modifications and related limitations as significant steps that virtually block Iran from taking the plutonium path to a nuclear weapon.
There are two methods of verifying Iran’s compliance with this agreement. The first is the exceptionally thorough and robust monitoring and verification program the IAEA will implement pursuant to the agreement. Under the JCPOA, the number of IAEA inspectors in Iran will increase to the range of 130–150 individuals in the months following implementation of the agreement. The IAEA will have eyes on elements of Iran’s nuclear program that have never been subject to inspection. For example, the JCPOA also requires that Iran permit IAEA inspectors to monitor the uranium supply chain, so that we would know if any of this nuclear material was diverted from its intended purpose, perhaps to support a covert weapons program.
The second and crucial form of verification will be information derived from our own intelligence. Iran’s nuclear program has been a top priority for the U.S. intelligence community and the intelligence agencies of our closest allies. That will not change.
I have spoken with various experts, including Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, who has written extensively about the verification and transparency provisions in the JCPOA. His background on nonproliferation and sanctions is substantial. Before joining Brookings in 2013, Einhorn served as the U.S. Department of State special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control. In that capacity, he played a leading role in the development and execution of U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. Einhorn states the following in support of the JCPOA:
The agreement ensures high confidence in the ability to detect non-compliance at declared facilities because of the use of advanced verification technologies and the scope and intensity of monitoring arrangements, including continuous surveillance and inventory accounting of activities not usually subject to such rigorous monitoring. (e.g. production of uranium ore concentrate and centrifuge rotors and bellows).
Under the agreement, Iran will provisionally apply the Additional Protocol (AP) to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. The AP is “one of the verification agreements that the IAEA will use to investigate allegations of the clandestine nuclear activities in Iran” and is a common agreement between the IAEA and any country with a civilian nuclear program. Under the AP, Iran must “detail all of its nuclear activities, including mining and milling and research and development activities.” I view Iran’s application of the Additional Protocol plus additional verification measures as significant steps to improve the international community’s insight into Iranian nuclear activities.
Many have expressed concern about the 24 day period for resolving disputes over IAEA’s requests for access to locations “that have not been declared under the comprehensive safeguards agreement or Additional Protocol” for the “sole reason to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA…” To be sure, any amount of time in which Iran could try to conceal illicit nuclear or related activities is concerning. However, there is broad agreement among experts that activities involving nuclear material would be detectable even after 24 days. Further, the intelligence communities of the United States and our closest partners will focus their efforts on detection of illicit activities, especially small-scale, illicit non-nuclear activities.
Gary Samore, who is the Executive Director for Research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, has evaluated this issue. Samore served for four years as President Obama’s White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and as Vice President for Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His analysis has indicated that the 24 day procedure would be sufficient to detect activity involving construction of a facility to process nuclear materials. He also states:
Even small-scale activities that involve nuclear material may be difficult to hide. For example, Iran had more than six months to sanitize the Kalaye Electric Company (a centrifuge research facility) in 2003 after it was publicly identified before allowing the IAEA access to take samples. Nevertheless, the samples revealed the presence of enriched uranium particles.
Samore’s analysis continues, stating that, “Any suspect facility designated by the IAEA for access will be closely monitored by U.S. and other intelligence agencies for evidence of concealment…” and that even if the 24 day procedure fails because Iran is able to hide its activities, “the U.S. (and other governments) could still conclude that Iran was cheating and adjust their policies toward the agreement and toward Iran itself.”
I pressed the Administration on this issue, and in a recent letter to me, the State Department confirmed:
If Iran were to attempt to clean out a location before granting access, evidence of nuclear materials is not easily removed. IAEA sampling almost certainly could detect the presence of nuclear material in an unauthorized location. Because of this fact, our scientists assess that a limited delay in gaining access would not prevent the ability to detect illicit nuclear activities involving nuclear materials.
Iran is the only country for which there is a time limit on disputes over access to undeclared facilities.
After discussions with Administration and outside experts, I believe that between the IAEA’s inspections and our intelligence community’s oversight, the necessary verification measures are in place to ensure we can detect any illicit nuclear activity that Iran might attempt to undertake.
Contrary to what some have argued, Iran will not receive immediate relief from nuclear-related sanctions on Adoption Day of this agreement. As set forth above, Iran must implement 36 nuclear-related measures, verified by the IAEA, before multilateral, U.S. or EU sanctions are lifted on Implementation Day. In addition, U.S. statutory sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, abuses of human rights and missile activities remain in full force and effect. The Administration asserts the following regarding non-nuclear sanctions and designations that remain in place under the JCPOA:
Terrorism, Regional Destabilization and Human Rights: Iran’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and the sanctions consequences that flow from such a designation will remain in place. The United States will also retain all of is authorities, both statutory and under various Executive orders, to target Iran’s support for terrorism, as well as its other destabilizing activity in the region such as support for Yemen’s Houthis and abuses of human rights. All Iranian persons designated for sanctions in connection with terrorism or human rights abuses will remain on our List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN list).
WMD, Missile and Conventional Weapons: U.S. sanctions will continue to apply to transfers of WMD and missile technologies and conventional weapons. These sanctions cover items going to Iran’s missile program as well as any items that would contribute to an Iranian effort to develop nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. In addition, U.S. law will continue to provide for sanctions against the transfer of lethal military equipment, dual use goods or advanced conventional weapons to Iran.
Secondary Sanctions: We will also retain secondary sanctions authorities targeting third parties for dealings with Iranian persons on our SDN List including those designated under our terrorism, WMD, ballistic missile and human rights authorities. Anyone worldwide who transacts with or supports Iranian individuals or entities who remain on our SDN List puts themselves at risk of being cut off from the U.S. financial system. This includes foreign financial institutions, which would risk losing their correspondent accounts with U.S. banks.
U.S. Primary Sanctions: And of course, the U.S. primary embargo on Iran will remain in place with the exception of a few narrow categories of transactions that we will license. The Government of Iran and Iranian financial institutions — including any property in which they have an interest — will remain blocked by the United States. U.S. persons, including U.S. companies, will continue to be broadly prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings with the Government of Iran, as well as Iranian individuals and entities. General prohibitions include: investment in Iran; importing Iranian-origin goods or services; and exporting goods or services to Iran, including clearing U.S. dollars. U.S. export controls will also continue to apply to controlled U.S.-origin goods and technology anywhere in the world.
The U.S. Treasury Department is one of the lead agencies that has the responsibility to implement sanctions. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has stated the following regarding the imposition of sanctions against Iran:
Some critics nevertheless argue that we can force the hands of these countries by imposing powerful secondary sanctions against those that refuse to follow our lead. But that would be a disaster. The countries whose cooperation we need — including those in the European Union, China, Japan, India and South Korea, as well as the companies and banks that handle their oil purchases and hold foreign reserves — are among the largest economies in the world. If we were to cut them off from the American dollar and our financial system, we would set off extensive financial hemorrhaging, not just in our partner countries but in the United States as well.
The European partners that participated in the negotiations — the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — have all indicated, publicly and directly to me, that the tough multilateral sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place would not survive an American refusal to support the JCPOA.
The Use of Sanctions Relief to Fund Iran’s Support for Terror
There is a serious concern that the regime in Iran will funnel billions to various terrorist entities in the Middle East as a result of sanctions relief, which amounts to approximately $50 billion. Given my extensive record on these issues, this was one of the most troubling questions in my evaluation of this agreement. I have concluded that U.S. must work with allies to develop a more aggressive response to Iran’s actions in the region by cutting off financial support to terrorist organizations, enhancing counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence-sharing, interdicting arms shipments, and bolstering the capabilities of our regional allies and partners.
For example, beginning with hearings I chaired in 2010, I have pressed the Administration to more aggressively counter Hezbollah. I was at the forefront of urging the European Union designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which they did in July 2013. I have also led legislation designed to help counter the financial networks that support these terrorist groups and pressed the Administration to do more to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities. I have also pressed the Administration to do more to bring about a negotiated solution to the crisis in Syria, where dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime enjoys support from Iran and Hezbollah, remains in power. More efforts along these lines will be required to cut the lifeline between Iran and its terrorist proxies. As Robert Einhorn argues:
The most effective U.S. response to the risks posed by the released assets is not to scuttle the deal or try to re-negotiate a phased or substantially delayed release which, given the priority the Iranians attached to early recovery of the funds, would have little chance of success. Instead, Washington should work with its partners to counter Iranian provocations. That means stepping up interdictions of illicit arms shipments, strengthening counter-terrorism efforts (including impeding and sanctioning terrorism financing), building up the capacities of America’s friends, and in general demonstrating U.S. resolve to play a strong leadership role in the region, including opposing Tehran’s aggressive regional designs.
As indicated above, the United States will also retain all of its authorities to sanction Iranian entities for support for terrorism. President Obama addressed this important strategic issue in his recent letter to U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, stating:
As I have underscored repeatedly, it is imperative that, even as we effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapon through implementation of the JCPOA, we take steps to ensure we and our allies and partners are more capable than ever to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities and support for terrorism. This involves deepened cooperation and information sharing with Israel and our Gulf Cooperation Council partners: it also involves continued enforcement of international and U.S. law, including sanctions related to Iran’s non-nuclear activities. With very limited exceptions, Iran will continue to be denied access to our market — the world’s largest — and we will maintain powerful sanctions targeting Iran’s support for groups such as Hizballah, its destabilizing role in Yemen, its backing of the Assad regime, its missile program, and its human rights abuses at home. Critically, I made sure that the United States reserved its right to maintain and enforce existing sanctions and even to deploy new sanctions to address those continuing concerns, which we fully intend to do when circumstances warrant. To be clear, while we fully intend to uphold our commitment to provide phased nuclear-related sanctions relief under the JCPOA once Iran has verifiably completed its key nuclear steps, no entities or individuals engaged in terrorism-related activity or the violation of human rights are immune from existing terrorism or human rights sanctions. This is a point we have made clear to our partners, and to Iran.
I believe the President is correct in his assertions, but it is imperative that the Administration, and subsequent Administrations, demonstrate their commitment to the policy outlined above by using every tool necessary to check Iranian aggression in the region.
These actions will be a critical element of our deterrence policy towards Iran and an important signal of our intentions to regional partner countries, who are rightfully concerned about Iranian interference.
Deterrence and the Use of Military Force
The JCPOA can help prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but it must be bolstered by strong U.S. deterrence policy. We must be prepared to take military action — today, tomorrow, 15 years from now — should Iran violate its specific commitment in the JCPOA that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” In personal conversations and letters, I have repeatedly pressed the President and his Administration on this issue.
I believe the best, most effective strategy to fortify the JCPOA over time is to have in place a strong deterrent. For years, the U.S. policy has been to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and therefore, “all options are on the table.” I believe that the U.S. should restate this policy and convey to the Iranian regime that there are certain activities that are inconsistent with a strictly civilian nuclear program that would trigger the use of U.S. military force. The Iranian regime should not doubt our capability and willingness to respond swiftly should they attempt to break out and develop a nuclear weapon.
Several experts who have expressed varying opinions on the JCPOA have been consistent in their calls for a more robust deterrence policy. Former Ambassador Dennis Ross is counselor and the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He previously served two years as special assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and a year as special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He expressed his views in an article published in Time on July 15, stating that “deterrence is what will matter.” He continues by further stating:
Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving toward a weapon that would trigger the use of force. Declaring that is a must even now. Proving that every transgression will produce a price will demonstrate that we mean what we say.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote the following regarding how to bolster the JCPOA:
Congress should pass a resolution authorizing this and future presidents to use force to prevent Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapons state. Iran must know that the U.S. president is now authorized to destroy — without warning or negotiation — any attempt by Tehran to build a bomb.
Ambassador Ross and retired General David Petraeus stated in an August 25 piece in the Washington Post:
Now is the time to make it clear that there will be a firewall between Iran’s threshold status and its having a nuclear weapon. Now is the time for the Iranians and the world to know that if Iran dashes toward a weapon, especially after year 15, that it will trigger the use of force. At that point, it would be too late for sanctions to pre-empt an Iranian nuclear fait accompli…
Indeed, were [President] Obama to be unequivocal about the use of force should Iran violate its commitment not to seek nuclear weapons, the international community would accept the legitimacy of military strikes in response.
In his recent letter to Congressman Nadler, President Obama clearly outlined U.S. policy in this arena stating:
The JCPOA, moreover, does not remove any of our options when it comes to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. As I have repeatedly emphasized, my Administration will take whatever means are necessary to achieve that goal, including military means. Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond.
The President’s language in this letter is strong, but the Administration should consider using more direct, specific language. The language of deterrence must be emphasized repeatedly in the months and years ahead, especially by the next Administration, which will have the responsibility for overseeing the majority of the implementation of this agreement.
The use of military force was an issue that I considered carefully in my analysis of the JCPOA. Since the U.S. is currently the only nation with the capability to “take out” Iran’s nuclear infrastructure by use of the mountain-busting bomb called the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a review of relevant military issues was an essential part of my assessment of the JCPOA. I recently received a classified briefing from Department of Defense officials on U.S. and partner military capabilities to strike against Iran if necessary — essentially the “war plans” we would use if a strike was warranted. In July, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary Kerry said the following:
[We have] developed something called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the MOP, which has been written about publicly. And not only has [the President] asked it to be designed, he’s deployed it.
If the U.S. must, at some future date, use the MOP, air strikes or other military force, we must do so from a positon of strength, with the same kind of unanimity among the international community that made the economic sanctions so effective in forcing Iran to the negotiation table. Jane Harman, a former 18- year member of the U.S. House of Representatives who served on all the major national security committees, including Armed Services, Intelligence and Homeland Security, wrote the following:
This agreement doesn’t just preserve our ability to halt Iran’s “breakout” capacity with a bunker buster bomb; it strengthens our case for action if Tehran sneaks and cheats. This deal doesn’t assume that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Instead, it keeps one eye fixed on the doomsday scenario. And in that case, effective diplomacy will have laid the groundwork for effective use of force.
…Iran has every reason to feel threatened on its home turf because of our decisive military advantage. But beyond that, the nuclear agreement sets up an international case for action if Tehran rushes for a bomb. Critics have questioned whether the deal’s “snapback” mechanism has enough oomph. I believe it does, but it’s also — in a worst-case scenario — mostly beside the point. What matters is that we gave diplomacy every chance in full view of the international community; we offered Iran a way to avoid conflict. Now, if restored sanctions fail to block an Iranian breakout attempt, the world would understand — and some would even applaud — a mega military response.
I believe that what must undergird the use of military force is not only technical capability and precise execution but also unquestioned legitimacy that can only be achieved when all non-military options have been pursued and exhausted.
What is the alternative?
A central question we must ask and answer in this debate about the JCPOA is: If Congress rejects the JCPOA, what is the alternative? This agreement is the product of tough and long negotiations. Any business person will attest that negotiated solutions are often imperfect — they reflect positions that each side can live with, not their ideal outcomes.
Some have recommended walking away from this deal and ratcheting up sanctions. They have suggested that the Iranian regime would eventually return to the negotiating table, with diminished leverage, and that a military confrontation is unlikely. In his op-ed in the Washington Post, Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, writes as follows as to this question of alternatives:
Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends. We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve. And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful.
Robert Einhorn, whose fifteen and a half page analysis is cited above, agrees that Congressional rejection of the JCPOA would end the limited sanctions relief allowed by the November 2013 interim agreement (JPOA, not JCPOA) and thus force the Administration to sanction several countries (China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey) for importing Iranian crude oil if they did not make cuts in their imports over the next six months, as they were doing every six months since 2012 until they were allowed to freeze reductions under to the JPOA in 2014. Einhorn makes the following argument:
The key would be China, the largest purchaser of Iranian crude, which reluctantly made major cuts in imports to provide leverage for diplomacy. Convinced that the United States walked away from an effective solution to the nuclear problem, Beijing might simply ignore the re-imposition of U.S. oil sanctions and refuse to make further cuts, forcing the United States to choose between not imposing sanctions (and exposing them as a paper tiger) or imposing them and risking a major confrontation with China. And even if the U.S. chose the more confrontational course, China could possibly find workarounds, creating new banks and companies to bear the brunt of sanctions for facilitating oil purchases, while insulating major Chinese entities from the reach of U.S. sanctions and proceeding to increase purchases…
…To avoid commercial disadvantage, India, Japan, and South Korea have been willing since 2012 to reduce crude oil purchases only as long as China was doing so. Following the rejection of the nuclear deal, they could be expected to follow Beijing’s lead, either making token reductions of their own or ignoring the re-imposition of sanctions in the expectation that Washington would not pick a major fight with a united front of regional powers and trading partners.
So, in the worst case, Congressional rejection could thrust the United States into a damaging standoff, threatening and possibly imposing sanctions against the world’s leading economies in the uncertain hope of forestalling a rapid hemorrhaging of oil sanctions. In the best case, the U.S. could win grudging support for token additional reductions. But the likelihood of persuading Iran’s principal customers to accept dramatic new cuts in purchases — on a scale that could pressure Iran to make major concessions it has been unwilling to make under the devastating sanctions it has faced for years — is extremely small, especially when all those customers view the negotiated deal as reasonable and would resent Washington’s decision to walk away from it…
In an effort to hold the line on existing sanctions, the U.S. would need to pursue a vigorous worldwide campaign to penalize sanctions busters, threatening and imposing sanctions even on close allies and trading partners…Existing sanctions would not collapse suddenly. But over time — perhaps a period of several months to a year — they would certainly erode. And if keeping the current sanctions regime intact would be very difficult, persuading the international community to ratchet up sanctions dramatically — what critics of the JCPOA are counting on to pressure Iran to accept a “better deal” — would be nearly impossible, especially in the absence of a major new provocation by Iran, such as a rapid increase in its enrichment capacity.
Further, our closest allies have repeatedly indicated that they believe that this is the best deal available to us and that Iran would not return to the negotiating table as some have suggested. I have spoken with representatives of the governments of some of our closest allies and negotiating partners — the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — to hear their views firsthand. As the Deputy Head of Mission of the United Kingdom’s Embassy to the United States, Patrick Davies, wrote in an August 14 op-ed:
It is unrealistic to think that Iran would come back to the table. Unprecedented international sanctions helped bring Iran to the table. But they did not stop Iran’s nuclear programme. In 10 years, Iran has increased its numbers of centrifuges from just over 100 to 19,000. Iran is dangerously close to developing a nuclear weapon. We cannot afford to give Iran more time.
If Congress walks away, the international sanctions regime would unravel, international unity and pressure on Iran would reduce, and we could be left with no ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme.
After a review of the above arguments, and those of other experts, as well as the briefings I have received, I am convinced that a “better deal” is, as Einhorn concludes, “an illusion.”
Israel’s security is of paramount concern when I am analyzing any policy impacting the Middle East. I am very proud of my strong support for Israel’s security in my eight and a half years in the U.S. Senate. In my four visits to Israel (2005, 2009, 2010, 2013), I have learned much about Israel’s daily security challenges as well as its military superiority. President Obama wrote in his recent letter, cited above, that U.S. support for Israel is “an important element in deterring Iran from ever seeking a nuclear weapon,” and that he viewed Israel’s security as “sacrosanct.” I agree.
After reviewing the extensive and unprecedented U.S. support for Israel over the last seven years, the President outlined four new areas of support. These areas include his intention to work with Israel on a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding and enhancing our already strong security relationship including increasing missile defense funding so that the U.S. and Israel can “accelerate the co-development of the Arrow-3 and David’s Sling.” President Obama also explicitly states that our governments should “identify ways to accelerate the ongoing collaborative research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies to provide Israel new capabilities to detect and destroy tunnels before they could be used to threaten Israeli civilians.” Finally, the President states that he has “proposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we begin a process aimed at further strengthening our efforts to confront conventional and asymmetric threats.”
It is crucial that our unwavering support for Israel and our commitment to further enhance Israel’s military capabilities only continue to strengthen. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright highlights this commitment in her support for the JCPOA, stating that “next year, the United States will significantly augment Israel’s capabilities by delivering to it the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, making it the only military in the region to possess this advanced stealth fighter aircraft.” This top of the line aircraft is only one component of ensuring that Israel maintains and strengthens its military edge in the region.
In my years in the Senate, I have been resolute in supporting measures to bolster Israel’s security and its qualitative military edge in the region. I have pressed for full funding of security assistance to Israel, especially on cooperative missile defense programs. I was an early supporter of the U.S. — Israel Strategic Partnership Act, legislation that was signed into law last year and will continue to expand our bilateral cooperation on security and other issues. I will continue to lead on these legislative efforts, because I believe the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel is unbreakable and that the U.S. must stand with Israel against threats to its national security.
Support for the JCPOA
U.S. Military and Defense Officials
A letter from 36 Retired General and Admirals says, in part, that they “support the [JCPOA] as the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” The letter indicates that the JCPOA is not based on trust and that it requires “intrusive verification.” As to Iranian cheating, “our advanced technology, intelligence and the inspections will reveal it.”
Former Defense Secretary Gates criticized the JCPOA on August 5 but said that voting it down would leave the U.S. diplomatically isolated. He stated that “there are serious consequences to voting down the [JCPOA] or pulling out of it.”
Brent Scowcroft’s op-ed in the Washington Post, cited above, strongly supports the JCPOA. He states that “[t]he JCPOA meets the key objective, shared by recent administrations of both parties, that Iran limit itself to a strictly civilian nuclear program with unprecedented verification and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Security Council.”
Israeli Military and Intelligence Officials
Ami Ayalon, who served Israel as director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and commander of Israel’s Navy, said that “when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.”
Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, former chief of arms technology and two-time winner of the Israel Prize for contribution to Israel’s weapons technology, said the JCPOA is “not bad at all, perhaps even good for Israel.”
Efraim Halevy, former director of Israel’s intelligence and special operations agency Mossad, expressed his support for the JCPOA in an interview with PBS. Halevy states, “I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade. And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.”
U.S. Nuclear Scientists and Engineers
Twenty-nine leading nuclear scientists, including seven Nobel laureates, wrote an open letter on August 8 to the President that supports the JCPOA. The agreement has “much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.” The scientists highlight the limitations on enriched uranium and centrifuges and states as follows:
A key result of these restrictions in that it would take Iran many months to enrich uranium for a weapon. … [B]efore the interim agreement…Iran had accumulated enough 20 percent enriched uranium that the required additional enrichment time for weapons use was only a few weeks.
Former Members of Congress
Numerous former members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have publically announced their support for the JCPOA. A letter from seventy-five former members of Congress on August 31 states, “The Joint Plan of Action is a verifiable and enforceable agreement that closes Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon while providing unprecedented international inspections of all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.” Former Senators Lugar and Nunn recently echoed this support while also emphasizing the importance strong oversight and implementation of the JCPOA:
As with other agreements, Congress must recognize that there is no such thing as “perfect” verification. What is crucial, however, is whether “effective” verification can be achieved. Can cheating be detected in time to take action before Iran could achieve a militarily significant advance? We believe the answer to that question is yes. The monitoring and verification provisions of this agreement are unprecedented in the history of arms control in their comprehensiveness and intrusiveness, and together with our intelligence capabilities should give us powerful tools to achieve effective verification.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a detailed, technical agreement that is the product of serious, tough multiparty negotiations. I respect the views of each constituent, expert, and official who has reviewed this agreement and reached their own conclusion. Thoughtful concerns have been raised, and I have asked tough questions of the Administration over the course of my review.
I have been among the strongest supporters of the tough sanctions against Iran, which brought the regime to the negotiating table. I will continue to advance legislative efforts that prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, exporting terrorism in the region, and committing human rights atrocities at home.
I will vote to support the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action because I believe it is the best option available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It places strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, requires robust monitoring and verification measures, and grants relief only from nuclear sanctions in exchange for verified actions on Iran’s part.
We need not, and indeed should not, trust the Iranian regime. Implementation of this agreement may be challenging and we need to be prepared for the possibility that Iran will violate the agreement.
As a result, I believe this agreement must be undergirded by a clear and unequivocal statement from both the Administration and the Congress: we are prepared to take military action if Iran attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. We should also aggressively counter Iran’s nefarious activities in the region.
This was one of the most difficult decisions of my public career. I know that the controversy and public debate over the past few months has been painful for many people on both sides of the issue. It has caused all of us involved to contemplate the futures of our children and grandchildren. It has also re-opened old wounds stemming from the horrors experienced by parents, grandparents and loved ones of previous generations. I have discussed the proposed agreement with many friends and constituents, as well as numerous experts. The intense feelings felt by sincere people, whatever their views, have not been lost on me.
I began my consideration of the proposed agreement knowing that any decision I reached would be perceived as perplexing and hurtful by some of the people I consider to be friends and confidants. No one on either side of this debate is omniscient and no one can predict the future. As with most decisions of this magnitude, time and history will be the ultimate judges of what we do.
I respect the views of those who have chosen to oppose this agreement and encourage them to continue the dialogue about the areas of consensus: ensuring Israel’s security, countering Iran’s support for terrorism and interference in regional affairs and working with our allies and partners to address the many conflicts that are causing instability in the Middle East.
Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon has been, and will continue to be, one of my top national security priorities. At this time, I believe supporting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best way to do that.