Senate Hearing: Key Elements of Nuke Deal

June 25, 2015

On June 25, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing to evaluate the major components of a potential comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. Three security experts provided testimony on criteria for evaluating a final deal, minimum requirements for an agreement, and future challenges. The following are excerpts from the witnesses’ remarks.

David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security
“The U.S. administration and its partners in the P5+1 are poised to conclude a momentous agreement with Iran designed to limit its nuclear programs in exchange for significant sanctions relief. Congress has a special responsibility to evaluate this agreement and judge its adequacy to protect U.S. national security interests in the short and long term. As part of this process, it should create legislation to codify the agreement, its implementation processes, critical interpretations of the agreement, reporting requirements, clarifications about violations and consequences of non-compliance, and steps needed to mitigate weaknesses in the agreement.
 The legislative branch must determine if the agreement is adequate to achieve the goal it originally set out to achieve – namely instituting international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programs, not just for the duration of the accord, but for the foreseeable future. Special attention should be given to an agreement whose nuclear limits sunset after 10-15 years, potentially leaving the world with an even more insecure and heightened situation in Iran in terms of a greatly reduced Iranian breakout timeline, and more advanced centrifuges spinning and capable of creating weapon-grade uranium (WGU) within shorter periods of time.
The United States and its allies cannot be certain about their ability to rely mainly on intelligence after the extraordinary arrangements in an agreement end, long after sanctions are removed, and Iran has more freedom to augment its nuclear program. Iran’s regional neighbors would likely not wait to develop their own threshold nuclear capability in the face of an Iran that only a decade or two from now would be on the cusp of rapid breakout, capable of producing many nuclear weapons and within a shorter time period than it is today. Thus, Congress needs to proactively consider the implications of this deal for an “enrichment race” in the Middle East that could lead several countries to nuclear weapons capabilities in the next 10-15 years.
Congress should evaluate the technical limits and verification measures set out in the deal to ensure they adequately constrain Iran’s nuclear activities and capabilities and its ability to violate the agreement. In particular, the verification arrangements should ensure the reaching of an understanding about past and possibly on-going Iranian work on nuclear weapons and ensure prompt access to any Iranian sites, whether military or civilian. Enforcement will require maintaining leverage against Iran if it cheats, yet reliance on a snapback of sanctions as the only leverage in the case of an Iranian breakout appears deeply ineffective to pressure Iran to reverse course. In addition, the deal needs to be carefully scrutinized in how it guards against 2 incremental and more ambiguous violations and set out procedures to address this type of cheating.”
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Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
“In the near future, the Obama Administration is likely to transact a deficient nuclear agreement with Iran. The parameters of the accord that have already been publicized should give all cause for concern. The agreement is permissive in terms of the technologies that it allows. The sunset clause ensures that after a passage of time Iran can build an industrial-sized nuclear infrastructure. Its much touted inspection regime relies on the leaky confines of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT). During the process of negotiations, Iran has cleverly sustained its essential redlines while the United States has systematically abandoned the sensible prohibitions that have long guided its policy toward this important security challenge.”
“The success of any arms control agreement hinges on whether it can permanently arrest the momentum toward proliferation of dangerous technologies. It may also be hoped that such an accord will inject a measure of responsibility in impetuous leaders and perhaps empower those prone to accede to international mandates. There is no indication that the contemplated deal with Iran will achieve any of these objectives. The impending agreement, whose duration is timelimited and sets the stage for the industrialization of Iran's enrichment capacity, places Tehran inches away from the bomb. Paradoxically such a state may yet be governed by hardline actors nursing their own hegemonic regional designs.”
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Jim Walsh, Research Associate, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“My summary judgment is inspections, PMDs, and breakout are all issues that policymakers will want to carefully consider. For the reasons described below, I judge that the risks posed by these challenges are real but manageable, and not in excess of what similar agreements with similar kinds of countries have been able to successfully navigate. I also judge that an agreement is likely to bolster the cause of nonproliferation, both in the region and globally.”
“A nuclear agreement with Iran, should it be concluded, could represent a pivotal moment for American nonproliferation policy, if not for the nuclear age. There are risks, as there are risks with inaction and with other policy alternatives. I cannot render a final judgment until seeing the provisions of the final agreement, but if an agreement is concluded along the lines of the framework described in April, this may well constitute one of the strongest multi-lateral nonproliferation agreements ever negotiated.”
“Even if that is true, however, it will mark the beginning, not the end. The real task ahead is locking Iran into a non-nuclear future such that it never again makes the decision to pursue nuclear weapons. That task will require the energetic efforts of both the Executive branch and the US Congress, and not least the Foreign Relations Committee.”
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