Iran Deal: “At best, an unsatisfying and risky compromise”

July 8, 2015

Another deadline has come and gone in the negotiations with Iran over its illicit nuclear program. If President Obama does not submit any final agreement and related documents before July 10, his authority to provide sanctions relief to Iran is suspended for 60 days — instead of 30 days if the deal is submitted before Friday.

Secretary Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif — March 16, 2015

This latest missed deadline had been predictable since April, when President Obama announced a framework for a final agreement that glossed over the most difficult issues, leaving them unresolved. The parties did not have a meeting of the minds on issues like verification then, and they still do not now. The primary concern is that President Obama, now in legacy-seeking mode, will continue to make extensive concessions to Iran in the hopes of completing a final agreement.

Iran’s last-minute arms embargo demand

Iran’s last-minute demand that the U.N. arms embargo be lifted as part of these negotiations shows the Iranians know how desperate President Obama is for a deal. From the perspective of Iran, why not make a request to revisit an issue that has already been decided? It just might be granted.

Secretary Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Vienna

In April, a White House fact sheet describing the framework said that a U.N. Security Council resolution will be used to endorse any final agreement. It went on to say that “important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles” will be a part of this resolution. It added that “U.S. sanctions on … ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Of course, Iran has never complied with these restrictions in the first place. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1747 prohibits Iran from transferring “any arms or related materiel” from its territory. Iran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria, for the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and its burgeoning support to Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrate Iran’s transgressions. This Iranian demand should be easy for President Obama to reject.

Verification is still a hurdle

Almost every media report describing why another deadline has been missed blames, in part, negotiations over verification issues. President Obama in April told the nation that Iran had already “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime.” His deputy national security adviser proudly proclaimed to the media a few days later that “under this deal” we “will have anywhere, anytime 24/7 access” to Iran’s nuclear facilities. When asked about military facilities, he doubled down, saying “if we see a site that we need to inspect on a military facility, we can get access to that site and inspect it.” Given Iran’s reported rejection of these terms, it is obvious that the Obama administration was concealing that there actually has been no agreement on a verification regime.

Possible military dimensions

In March 2014, 83 Senators signed a letter to the president describing the “core principles” any final agreement with Iran must include. One of them was that Iran “must fully explain the questionable activities in which it engaged at Parchin” (Iran’s military complex where weapons research allegedly took place and that has reportedly been sanitized). The letter said that Iran “must fully resolve concerns addressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions, including any military dimensions of its nuclear program.” Resolution of these issues prior to sanctions relief is crucial.

Heavy water reactor, Iran

Iran has a longstanding international legal obligation to resolve these issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2006, the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 1737 required Iran to “provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests … to resolve all outstanding issues, as identified in IAEA reports.” The IAEA continues to reaffirm, as recently as last month, that it is “not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” If a final agreement does not require Iran to resolve these issues and comply with its international legal obligations, it sets a terrible precedent, doing long-term damage to the international nonproliferation regime.

Just as importantly, this information is critical to knowing Iran’s true breakout timeline for obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is critical to obtaining the baseline needed to verify Iranian compliance with any final agreement. If the extent of Iran’s past nuclear research is not known, along with information on where that research was done and who was involved in it, then there is no way inspectors can credibly conclude they are monitoring the entire expanse of Iran’s program, which is a prerequisite to verifying Iran’s compliance with the final agreement.

Any final agreement must require significant progress on Iran’s declaration of the military dimensions of its nuclear program, along with verification of that declaration, before sanctions relief is granted.

It is actually in Iran’s interest to declare all past military nuclear work. If it does not do so, then undisclosed military nuclear work found during implementation of the agreement would be assumed to be evidence of ongoing and current, rather than past, military work. At a minimum, this would cause severe friction, and more likely represent a breach of the final agreement.

Verifying the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program is a central issue to these negotiations. Yet, Iran has stymied IAEA investigation of this issue. Any final agreement must require significant progress on Iran’s declaration of the military dimensions of its nuclear program, along with verification of that declaration, before sanctions relief is granted. Timing sanctions relief in this way is the only leverage that remains to secure Iranian compliance on an issue so central to this entire enterprise.

Post-July 9 timeline for review

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act provides a process for Congress to review any final agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear program. The law requires the president to submit the agreement and other documents to Congress within five days of completing it. If the agreement and related documents are submitted after this Thursday, July 9, the president’s authority to provide sanctions relief to Iran is suspended for 60 days. Congress can then do three things in the course of reviewing the agreement: 1) approve it; 2) disapprove it; or 3) do nothing.

Congress approves the agreement

If Congress approves the deal with a joint resolution, the president’s sanctions waiver authority is reinstated upon approval.

Congress disapproves the agreement

If Congress disapproves the deal, the suspension of the president’s sanctions waiver authority is extended for 12 days following passage of a resolution of disapproval. It is extended for 10 days following any veto of a resolution of disapproval. These extensions can run concurrently.

Congress does nothing

If Congress does nothing, the president’s sanctions waiver authority is reinstated after 60 days.

This past Sunday Secretary of State Kerry said, “this negotiation could go either way.” As the negotiations continue, President Obama must maintain the position he has repeated many times, that no deal is better than a bad deal.

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