Secretary of State John Kerry defended the nuclear deal in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 23 and a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on July 28. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Kerry of being “fleeced." But Kerry insisted in both hearings that it was “fantasy, pure and simple” that negotiators could have reached a better agreement. He called the deal “the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also testified at the hearings in support of the agreement.
Congress is in the midst of a 60-day period to review the deal, which will end on September 18. If lawmakers disapprove, they can pass a resolution to block the deal from being implemented. President Obama, however, has said he will veto any efforts to block the deal. Congress would then need a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
The following are excerpted testimonies and opening remarks from the two hearings.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN)
“Nine months after this agreement goes into effect, we realize that after Monday's U.N. adoption, unless Congress intervenes, in 90 days, this will be implemented, and then six months after that, in a total of nine months from now, all the sanctions that exist against Iran will be lifted. Incredible.
“Now, there'll be a few remaining sanctions, but the big ones that matter will be lifted. So they'll have access to billions and billions of dollars. Their economy will be growing. They'll be shipping all around the world. It's an amazing thing.
“And so what happens -- I think all of us figured this out as we went through the deal -- right now, we have some leverage, but nine months from now, the leverage shifts to them, because we have a sanction snap-back. What they have, if we ever tried to apply that, is what's called a nuclear snap-back.
“The way the deal is structured, they can immediately just begin. They can say, "Well, if you add sanctions, we're out of the deal." They can immediately snap back. So the leverage shifts to them.”
“What I think you've actually done in these negotiations is codify a perfectly aligned pathway for Iran to get a nuclear weapon just by abiding by this agreement. I look at the things that they need to do, the way it's laid out, and I don't think you could more perfectly lay it out.
“From my perspective, Mr. Secretary, I'm sorry. Not unlike a hotel guest that leaves only with a hotel bathrobe on his back, I believe you've been fleeced.
“In the process of being fleeced, what you've really done here is you have turned Iran from being a pariah to now Congress, Congress being a pariah.
“A few weeks ago, you were saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. And I know that there's no way that you could have possibly been thinking about war a few weeks ago, no way.
“And yet, what you say to us now and said it over and over yesterday and I've seen you say it over and over in television that if somehow Congress were to turn this down, if Congress were to turn this down, the only option is war; whereas a few weeks ago, for you, for you to turn it down, the only option is war. I don't think you can have it both ways.
“Let me just say this. If Congress were to say these sanctions cannot be lifted, it wouldn't be any different than the snapback that we now have where, in essence, the United States, on its own, the United States, on its own, can implement snapback. But my guess is, the other countries, as you've stated before, wouldn't come along. So, we've got to decide which way that it is.
“So I'd have to say that, based on my reading -- and I believe that you have crossed a new threshold in U.S. foreign policy -- where now it is a policy of the United States to enable a state sponsor of terror to obtain sophisticated, industrial nuclear development program that has, as we know, only one real practical need.”
—July 23, 2015, in his opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD)
“The Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act…passed earlier this year, was an effort by the members of Congress to set up the appropriate review for a potential deal with Iran.”
“First, of course, we set up the appropriate review for Congress. It allows us to take action -- or we don't have to take action. It recognizes the fact that the sanction regime was passed by Congress and that we have a role to play in regards to implementing any agreement, as we now see in the JCPOA, that Congress has a role to play.”
“We need to know the breakout times, we need to know what happens after the time periods. Do we have sufficient opportunity to prevent Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapon state? The commitment they make under this agreement. Are the inspections robust enough to deter Iran from cheating? And if they do, will we discover and be able to take action?”
“I think all of us recognized there was going to be a protocol for inspection, that doesn't get up by surprise. But we need to know whether the 24-hour delay knowing what Iran is likely to do, does that compromise our ability to have effective inspections? And I hope our witnesses will deal with that today because that is a matter of major concern. We need to know the answer to that.
“Have we cut off all pathways for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon? particularly the covert military operations? We know that's a major concern. That's why the PMD is particularly important, the chairman mentioned the PMD, and the work that the IAEA are inspectors, international inspectors. They have great credibility in this area, but we will want to know whether they have the capacity to do what we're asking them to do.
“Will they have the access that we need? Because we do need to know about their prior military dimension in order to be able to go forward to make sure that we can contain any opportunity they may use for covert activities, will we discover it and be able to take action? these are questions that we -- we're going to ask. We've read the agreement and still have questions, and we still have questions, and we hope we'll get answers as to whether we have effectively prevented Iran from using covert activities to develop a nuclear weapon.
“Will this agreement provide us, IAEA with sufficient access to the people, places and documents, so that we know their prior military dimension? Are the snapback provisions for reimposing sanctions adequate if Iran violates this agreement? That's an issue that I hope we will have a chance to talk about.”
“These are questions we need to have answers to before we can make our judgments. Now, there are other areas. I wanted to be reassured that the United States still has the flexibility to impose non-nuclear sanctions on Iran for the support of terrorism, human rights abuses, and against a ballistic missile program. No one expects Iran's bad behavior to change on implementation date -- we know who we're dealing with.”
—July 23, 2015, in his opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA)
“The global threat from Iran has been a focus of this Committee for as long as I can remember. Last Congress, we passed comprehensive sanctions legislation by a vote of 400-20. It would have given Iran’s Supreme Leader a choice between its nuclear program or economic collapse. But the Administration was successful in blocking that legislation.
“So instead of us considering a verifiable, enforceable, and accountable agreement, we are being asked to consider an agreement that gives Iran permanent sanctions relief for temporary nuclear restrictions. Should Iran be given this special deal?
“In September, Committee Members will face the important decision of approving or disapproving this agreement. We will have that vote only because of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed in May, which the Administration didn’t want. To be frank, the Administration’s preference has been to sideline America’s representatives. So I was not entirely surprised when the Administration went against bipartisan calls and gave Russia and China and others at the U.N. Security Council a vote on this agreement before the American public. That’s backwards – and wrong.”
“If this agreement goes through, Iran gets a cash bonanza, a boost to its international standing, and a lighted path toward nuclear weapons. With sweeping sanctions relief, we have lessened our ability to challenge Iran’s conduct across the board. As Iran grows stronger, we will be weaker to respond.
“Yes, the U.S. would roil the diplomatic waters if Congress rejects this deal. But the U.S. still wields the most powerful economic sanctions in the world – sanctions Iran desperately needs relief from – sanctions that would continue to deter countries and companies from investing in Iran. I understand the effort the Administration has put into this agreement. But these are about as high stakes as it gets. So the Committee must ask if we made the most of our pretty strong hand. Or, are we willing to bet, as the Administration has, that this is the beginning of a changed Iran?”
—July 28, 2015, in his opening remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing
Secretary of State John Kerry
“Now, the Chairman mentioned in his opening comments some phrase about unless we give Iran what they want. Folks, they already have what they want. They got it 10 years ago or more. They already have conquered the fuel cycle. When we began our negotiations, Iran had enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs. They had 19,000 centrifuges up from the 163 that they had back in 2003 when the prior administration was engaged with them on this very topic.
“So this isn't a question of giving them what they want. I mean it's a question of how do you hold their program back, how do you dismantle their weapons program, not their whole program. Let's understand what was really on the table here. We set out to dismantle their ability to be able to build a nuclear weapon, and we've achieved that.”
“Now, if Iran fails to comply, we will know it, and we will know it quickly, and we will be able to respond accordingly by reinstituting sanctions all the way up to the most draconian options that we have today. None of them are off the table at any point in time. So, many of the measures that are in this agreement are there for – not just for 10 years, not just for 15 years, not just for 20 years, not just for 25 years, of which there are measures for each of those periods of time, but they are for life, forever, as long as Iran is within the NPT. By the way, North Korea pulled out of the NPT; Iran has not pulled of the NPT.”
“Let me underscore. The alternative to the deal that we have reached is not what I have seen some ads on TV suggesting, disingenuously. It isn't a "better deal," some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran's complete capitulation. That is a fantasy, plain and simple. And our own intelligence community will tell you that. Every single department of our intelligence community will reinforce that to you. The choice we face is between an agreement that will ensure Iran's nuclear program is limited, rigorously scrutinized, and wholly peaceful, or no deal at all. That's the choice.”
“Now, if the U.S. Congress moves to unilaterally reject what was agreed to in Vienna, the result will be the United States of America walking away from every one of the restrictions that we have achieved, and a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment, proceed full speed ahead with a heavy water reactor, install new and more efficient centrifuges, and do it all without the unprecedented inspection and transparency measures that we have secured. Everything that we have prevented will then start taking place, and all the voluntary rollbacks of their program will be undone.
“Moreover, if the U.S., after laboriously negotiating this multilateral agreement with five other partners, were to walk away from those partners, we're on our own. Our partners will not walk away with us. Instead, they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions regime that they have helped to put in place. And we will have squandered the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means.”
“Remember, sanctions did not stop Iran's nuclear program from growing steadily to the point that it had accumulated enough fissile material to produce those 10 nuclear weapons...The truth is that the Vienna Plan will provide a stronger, more comprehensive, more lasting means of limiting Iran's nuclear program than any alternative that has been spoken of. And to those who are thinking about opposing the deal because of what might happen in year 15 or 16 or 20, remember: If we walk away, year 15 or 16 or 20 starts tomorrow, and without any of the long-term verification or transparency safeguards that we have put in place.”
“Now, over the past week, I have spoken at length about what exactly this deal is. I also want to make clear what this deal was never intended to be.
“First of all, as the chief negotiator, I can tell you I never uttered the words 'Anywhere, anytime,' nor was it ever part of the discussion that we had with the Iranians. This plan was designed to address the nuclear issue, the nuclear issue alone, because we knew that if we got caught up with all the other issues, we'd never get where we needed to stop the nuclear program. It would be rope-a-dope, staying there forever, negotiating one aspect or another.”
“And the highest priority of President Obama was to make sure that Iran couldn't get a nuclear weapon, so we were disciplined in that. We didn't set out…about how we're going to push back against Iran's other activities, against terrorism, its support, its contributions to sectarian violence in the Middle East and other things. All of those are unacceptable. They are as unacceptable to us as they are to you. But I got news for you. Pushing back against an Iran with a nuclear weapon is very different from pushing back against an Iran without one. And we are guaranteeing they won't have one.”
“I would suggest respectfully that we are going to continue to press Iran for information about the missing American, about the immediate release of Americans who have been unjustly held. And there isn't a challenge in the entire region that we won't push back against if Iran is involved in it. But I will tell you, it wouldn't – none of those challenges will be enhanced if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.
“So, the outcome cannot be guaranteed by sanctions alone...it also can't be guaranteed by military action alone. Our own military tells us that. The only viable option here is a comprehensive, diplomatic resolution of the type that was reached in Vienna. And that deal we believe – and we believe we will show it to you today and in the days ahead – will make our country and our allies safer...We believe this is a good deal for the world, a good deal for America, a good deal for our allies and friends in the region, and we think it does deserve your support.”
for the full testimony, delivered at both hearings
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
“This deal clearly meets the President’s objectives: verification of an Iranian nuclear program that is exclusively peaceful and sufficient lead time to respond if it proves otherwise. The JCPOA will extend for at least ten years the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a first nuclear explosive device to at least one year from the current breakout time of just two to three months.”
“Iran will reduce its stockpile of up-to-5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride, which is equivalent now to almost 12,000 kg, by nearly 98 percent to only 300 kilograms of low (3.67 percent) enriched uranium hexafluoride, and will not exceed this level for fifteen years. In particular, Iran will be required to get rid of its 20 percent enriched uranium that is not fabricated into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This is important because excess 20 percent enriched uranium could be converted into feed for centrifuges, which would be about 90 percent of the way to bomb material.
“Iran’s installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds, leaving it with just over 5,000 operating centrifuges at Natanz – its only enrichment facility – under continuous IAEA monitoring. For the next 10 years, only the oldest and least capable centrifuges, the IR-1, will be allowed to operate.
“Iran has an established R&D program for a number of advanced centrifuges (IR-2, IR-5, IR-6, IR-8). This pace of the program will be slowed substantially and will be carried out only at Natanz for 15 years, under close International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. Iran will not pursue other approaches to uranium enrichment.
“The underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow will be converted to a nuclear, physics, and technology center where specific projects such as stable isotope production are undertaken. There will be no uranium enrichment, no uranium enrichment research and development, and no nuclear material at the site at all for 15 years. In cooperation with Russia, Iran will pursue a limited program for production of stable isotopes, such as those used for medical applications. And the IAEA will have a right to daily access at Fordow as well.
“All of these reasons taken together establish the one year breakout timeline for accumulating high enriched uranium.
“In addition, Iran will have no source of weapons-grade plutonium. The Arak reactor, which according to its original design could have been a source of plutonium for a nuclear weapon, will be transformed to produce far less plutonium overall and no weapons-grade plutonium when operated normally. All spent fuel from the reactor that could be reprocessed to recover plutonium will be sent out of the country, and all of this will be under a rigorous IAEA inspection regime.
“This deal goes beyond the parameters established in Lausanne in a very important area. Under this deal, Iran will not engage in several activities that could 3 contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device, including multiple point explosive systems. These commitments are indefinite. In addition, Iran will not pursue plutonium or uranium (or its alloys) metallurgy for fifteen years. Because Iran will not engage in activities needed to use weapons grade material for an explosive device, an additional period can be added to the breakout timeline.
“To be clear, this deal is not built on trust. It is built on hard-nosed requirements that will limit Iran’s activities and ensure inspections, transparency, and verification. To preclude cheating, international inspectors will be given unprecedented access to all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities and any other sites of concern, as well as the entire nuclear supply chain, from uranium supply to centrifuge manufacturing and operation. And this access to the uranium supply chain comes with a 25 year commitment.
“The IAEA will be permitted to use advanced technologies, such as enrichment monitoring devices and electronic seals. DOE national laboratories have developed many such technologies.
“If the international community suspects that Iran is trying to cheat, the IAEA can request access to any suspicious location. Much has been made about a 24 day process for ensuring that IAEA inspectors can get access to undeclared nuclear sites.
“In fact, the IAEA can request access to any suspicious location with 24 hours’ notice under the Additional Protocol, which Iran will implement under this deal. This deal does not change that baseline. The JCPOA goes beyond that baseline, recognizing that disputes could arise regarding IAEA access to sensitive facilities, and provides a crucial new tool for resolving such disputes within a short period of time so that the IAEA gets the access it needs in a timely fashion — within 24 days. Most important, environmental sampling can detect microscopic traces of nuclear materials even after attempts are made to remove the nuclear material. In fact, Iran’s history provides a good example. In February 2003, the IAEA requested access to a suspicious facility in Tehran suspected of undeclared nuclear activities. Negotiations over access to the site dragged on for six months, but even after that long delay, environmental samples taken by the IAEA revealed nuclear activity even though Iran had made a substantial effort to remove and cover up the evidence. This deal dramatically shortens the period over which Iran could drag out an access dispute.”
“This deal is based on science and analysis. Because of its deep grounding in exhaustive technical analysis, carried out largely by highly capable DOE scientists and engineers, I am confident that this is a good deal for America, for our allies, and for our global security.
for the full testimony, delivered at both hearings
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew
“Iran would not have come to the negotiating table were it not for the powerful array of U.S. and international sanctions. These sanctions made tangible for Iran’s leaders the costs of flouting international law, cutting them off from world markets and crippling their economy.”
“To see the impact of these sanctions, consider that Iran’s economy today is around 20 percent smaller than it would have been had Iran remained on its pre-2012 growth trajectory. This means that even if Iran returns to that pre-2012 growth rate, it would take until 2020 for Iran’s GDP to reach the level it would have been last year absent sanctions.
“Our sanctions have cost Iran more than $160 billion since 2012 in oil revenue alone. Iran’s oil exports were cut by 60 percent, and have been held at those reduced levels for the past two years. And Iran’s designated banks, as well as its Central Bank, were cut off from the world. Since 2012, Iran’s currency, the rial, has declined by more than 50 percent. Its inflation rate reached as high as 40 percent, and remains one of the highest in the world.
“We have maintained this pressure throughout the last eighteen months of negotiations. During the negotiation period alone, our oil sanctions deprived Iran of $70 billion in oil revenue. And Iran’s total trade with the rest of the world remained virtually flat.
“The international consensus and cooperation to achieve this sanctions pressure was vital. While views on Iran’s sponsorship of groups like Hizballah and its interventions in places like Yemen and Syria differ markedly around the world, the world’s major powers have been — and remain — united that Iran cannot be allowed to pursue a nuclear weapons capability.”
“To be clear, about 90 days from now when the JCPOA goes into effect, there will be no immediate changes to UN, EU or U.S. sanctions. Iran will not receive any new relief until it fulfills all of the key nuclear-related commitments specified in the deal, thereby pushing back its breakout time to at least one year. Until Iran does so, we will simply extend the limited JPOA relief that has been in place for the last year and a half.
“Should Iran fulfill all of the necessary conditions, we will have reached what it is known as “Implementation Day,” and phased relief will begin. At that time, the United States will suspend nuclear-related secondary sanctions. These are the sanctions that primarily target third-country parties conducting business with Iran — including in the oil, banking, and shipping sectors. Relief from these restrictions will be significant, to be sure. But a number of key sanctions will remain in place. Our primary trade embargo will continue to prohibit U.S. persons from investing in Iran, importing or exporting most goods and services, or otherwise dealing with most Iranian persons and companies. For example, Iranian banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold correspondent account relationships with U.S. financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with U.S. banks. Iran, in other words, will continue to be denied access to the world’s largest financial and commercial market.
“The JCPOA makes only minor allowances to this broad prohibition. These include allowing for the import of foodstuffs and carpets from Iran; the export on a case-by-case basis of commercial passenger aircraft and parts to Iran — which has one of the world’s worst aviation safety records — for civilian uses only; and the licensing of U.S.-owned or controlled foreign entities to engage in activities with Iran consistent with the JCPOA and U.S. laws.
“The United States will also maintain powerful sanctions targeting Iran’s support for terrorist groups such as Hizballah and its sponsors in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force; its destabilizing support to the Houthis in Yemen; its backing of Assad’s brutal regime; its missile program; and its human rights abuses at home."
“I also want to emphasize that secondary sanctions imposed by Congress will continue to attach to these designations, providing additional deterrence internationally. For example, a foreign bank that conducts or facilitates a significant financial transaction with Iran’s Mahan Air or Bank Saderat will risk losing its access to the U.S. financial system. These sanctions will continue to be in place and enforced; they are not covered by the JCPOA.”
“Should Iran violate its commitments once we have suspended sanctions, we have the mechanisms ready to snap them back into place. For U.S. sanctions, this can be done in a matter of days. Multilateral sanctions at the UN also can be re-imposed quickly, through a mechanism that does not allow any one country or any group of countries to prevent the reinstitution of the current UN Security Council sanctions if Iran violates the deal. So, even as Iran attempts to reintegrate into the global economy, it will remain subject to sanctions leverage.”
“No one wants to see the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism receive any respite from sanctions. But it is Iran’s relationships with terrorist groups that make it so essential for us to deprive it of any possibility of obtaining a nuclear weapon. The combination of those two threats would raise the specter of what national security experts have termed the ultimate nightmare. If we cannot solve both concerns at once, we need to address them in turn...walking away from this deal and seeking to extend sanctions would leave the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism with a short and decreasing nuclear breakout time.”
“In any event, we will aggressively target any attempts by Iran to use funds gained from sanctions relief to support militant proxies, including by continuing to enhance our cooperation with Israel and our partners in the Gulf.”
“The JCPOA is a strong deal — with phased relief in exchange for Iranian compliance and a powerful snap-back built in. Backing away from this deal, on the notion that it would be feasible and preferable to escalate the economic pressure and somehow obtain a capitulation — whether on the nuclear, regional, terrorism, or human rights fronts — would be a mistake. Even if one believed that continuing sanctions pressure was a better course than resolving the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, that choice is not available...The terms of this deal achieve the purpose they were meant to achieve: blocking Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb. That is an overriding national security priority, and its achievement should not be put at risk — not when the prospect of an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program presents such a threat to America and the world.”
for the full testimony, delivered at both hearings
Photo credit: Kerry/Lew/Moniz and Kerry testifying by US Department of State, via Flickr Commons [US Government work]