5 Reasons AIPAC Is Dead Wrong about the Iran Deal

AIPAC's assessment of the Iran deal is deeply flawed. Its recommendations to Congress are even worse.

Congress now has less than 60 days to review the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the P5+1 and Iran. Over the next few weeks, the members and their staff will need to sift through the 159 page agreement, hear testimony from administration officials, intelligence and nonproliferation experts – as well as a barrage of talking points and misrepresentations from skeptics and opponents—before casting a momentous vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval of the agreement.

The fundamental choice is whether to support this agreement—which will verifiably block all of Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons for the next generation, or more—or follow the advice of pressure groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which argues that the agreement falls short of expectations and should therefore be rejected in the hope of a better deal down the line.

On July 15, the President of AIPAC, Robert A. Cohen, announced that his organization is opposing the agreement “because it does not achieve the minimum requirements necessary for an acceptable deal.”

Not only is AIPAC’s post-July 14 assessment of the Iran deal selective and flawed, but its demand that “Congress should reject this agreement, and urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal ....” is reckless and irresponsible.

A comparison of AIPAC’s June 2015 paper “5 Requirements for a Good Deal,” which outlines about 22 distinct goals in 5 areas, shows that the final agreement clearly meets AIPAC’s criteria in at least 19 of these 22 requirements. AIPAC now says the final agreement does not meet its requirements in these three areas, but its critique in these areas is based on technically dubious assumptions about what is necessary for an effective deal.

The following is a summary assessment of how the JCPOA stacks up against AIPAC’s list of “5 Requirements.”

1. The Agreement Allows for Robust Inspections and an Effective Verification System

In a July 15 press release opposing the final agreement, AIPAC claims that it fails to provide “anytime, anywhere” IAEA access. That is true only if AIPAC expected Iran to submit to random inspection of any site without reason or notice—something that is not necessary to effectively verify Iranian compliance with the agreement. If the United States had demanded such terms, it would have been rejected by Iran as an attempt to use the nuclear deal as a pretext for unconstrained spying, killing the prospects for an agreement.

The agreement will put in place a stringent and intrusive verification regime that gives the IAEA the tools necessary to monitor compliance with the final agreement and detect covert nuclear activity.

The deal sets up a layered monitoring regime, with continuous or very frequent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to, and monitoring of, Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, including its centrifuge sites at Natanz and Fordow.

Iran will also be required to implement and ratify even more robust IAEA inspections under the terms of its additional protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement, giving international inspectors timely access to any Iranian facility of proliferation concern, including military sites.

To guard against attempts by Iran to delay access for more than 24 days to a site of concern, the agreement stipulates that any one of the P5+1 has the option of immediately re-imposing earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. Furthermore, the IAEA’s sophisticated environmental sampling technologies would detect any nuclear material after 24 days even if Iran attempted to cleanse the site or remove equipment and material, and any effort to do so would be easily detected by satellite intelligence.

The agreement will also require Iran to adopt the modified code 3.1 safeguards that require early notification to the IAEA of design changes or new nuclear projects in Iran. These provisions will last indefinitely to help detect and deter future nuclear weapons related efforts.

The agreement will go beyond the additional protocol by allowing continuous IAEA monitoring of Iran’s uranium mines and mills for 25 years, and centrifuge production, assembly, as well as storage facilities, for 20 years. This continuous surveillance on the entire nuclear supply chain will make it extremely unlikely that Iran could divert materials or components for a secret nuclear weapons program without detection.

2. Iran Deal Requires Cooperation with IAEA on PMD Investigation Before UNSC Sanctions Relief

UN sanctions will only be suspended if and when Iran fully explains and answers questions regarding its past activities with possible military dimensions (PMD), and the IAEA verifies that it has completed other major nuclear nonproliferation and transparency steps. Under the final nuclear deal, Iran has agreed to provide the information and access the IAEA needs to complete its investigation by October 15th. If Iran meets that deadline, the IAEA aims to deliver its assessment of that information by December 15. Until Iran cooperates with the IAEA on this matter, the UN Security Council sanctions and other sanctions will remain in place.

With the cooperation from Iran on the PMD issues that is required by the JCPOA, the IAEA will have more information with which to inform its monitoring and verification strategies in the future.

Nevertheless, in its July 15 press statement, AIPAC erroneously claims the JCPOA “does not clearly condition sanctions relief on full Iranian cooperation in satisfying IAEA concerns over the possible military dimensions of Tehran’s program.”

If AIPAC was expecting the P5+1 to hold out until Iran “come[s] clean” and admitted that it sought nuclear weapons in the past, there would be no deal. And even if such an admission could be extracted from Iran leaders, it would not erase the knowledge Iran may have gained from weapons related experiments.

What is more critical is putting in place the limits and monitoring measures necessary to guard against an Iranian nuclear weapons effort in the future—which the JCPOA accomplishes.

3. Iran Must Meet Nonproliferation Commitments Before UNSC Sanctions Relief

The JCPOA meets all of AIPAC’s June 2015 “requirements” concerning sanctions relief, including conditional relief from sanctions, no “signing” bonus (i.e. early release of frozen Iranian financial assets), established consequences for noncompliance, and a clear and tough dispute resolution mechanism, which favors the United States and its European partners).

Contrary to AIPAC’s June 15 press statement, sanctions will not be lifted as soon as the agreement is adopted. Rather, sanctions relief from the European Union, the United States, and the UN Security Council will not occur until the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken all of the key nonproliferation and transparency steps, which will be at least several months after the “adoption” day for the agreement.

A key highlight of the agreement is that it allows for U.S. and European economic and financial sanctions and earlier UN Security Council sanctions to be re-imposed quickly if Iran fails to live up to its end of the deal.  The dispute resolution mechanism in the JCPOA stipulates that if a disagreement over implementation arises and cannot be resolved in 35 days and any one of the P5+1 believes Iran in in noncompliance, previous UN Security Council resolutions can be snapped back. The JCPOA will maintain the snapback provision for 10 years, and the P5+1 have agreed to re-impose sanctions in the event of a major Iranian violation for at least an additional five years.

The agreement also sets up a mechanism to ensure that Iran can only obtain nuclear-related materials and technologies through an approved procurement channel that will be carefully monitored and enforced to prevent Iran from secretly obtaining these items for a clandestine weapons program.

In his letter outlining the reasons for AIPAC’s opposition to the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal, AIPAC’s Robert Cohen also complains that the JCPOA releases Iran from restrictions on ballistic missile development in eight years, and a heavy arms embargo (put in place by the UN Security Council to provide leverage on the nuclear issue) in five years. Given the fact that these restrictions were put in place to push Iran to negotiate a verifiable, long-term nuclear deal, it is a significant accomplishment that the United States succeeded in extending these restrictions for so long.

It is also important to consider that the United States has other tools available to curtain Iran’s access to heavy weapons and components for ballistic missiles, and that Iran’s ballistic missiles are far less of a strategic threat without a nuclear payload. Only through the implementation of the JCPOA can the P5+1 block Iran’s pathway to arming ballistic missile with nuclear warheads.

4. Iran’s Pathways to Nuclear Weapons Are Blocked for More Than A Generation

The JCPOA requires very substantial reconfiguration of Iran’s nuclear program so that it cannot amass enough bomb-grade uranium in any less than 12 months for a period of 13 years.

The JCPOA accomplishes this vital objective by reducing the number of installed centrifuges from nearly 20,000 to 6,000 IR-1 machines, of which only 5,060 would be allowed to enrich uranium and to no more than 3.67 percent fissile U-235.

The JCPOA also repurposes the underground Fordow site to a medical isotope production facility where no uranium can be present for a period of 15 years.

During the same time period, Iran must also limit its low-enriched uranium stockpile to no more than 300 kg, and accept tough limits on its advanced centrifuge research and development. Given other reporting requirements and monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge program, Tehran will not have the ability to ramp up its enrichment capacity quickly especially if it exceeds its requirements for fueling its electricity-producing reactors. These measures would not, as AIPAC cautioned in its June paper, “grant Iran virtually instant breakout time after 12 or 13 years.”

The JCPOA also requires the destruction of the core of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor and modifications to ensure it cannot produce enough plutonium for a weapons program. The agreement commits Iran not to reprocess spent fuel to extract plutonium.

Robust IAEA safeguards and inspections under the terms of the additional protocol will last indefinitely to detect and deter noncompliance at known or undisclosed sites in the decades ahead.

Iran, as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, will continue to be legally-bound not to pursue nuclear weapons. Any future Iranian move toward developing a nuclear weapon beyond the life of the JPOA will prompt a swift response.

Considering these overlapping, long-term, verifiable restrictions, the JCPOA creates long-term limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities that will effectively allow the international community to block its path to nuclear weapons for more than a generation.

5. Agreement Would Remove, Render Inoperable Some 13,000 Centrifuges; Dismantle Arak Reactor

AIPAC argues that Iran must not be “allowed” to become a nuclear threshold state. The fact is that since 2007, the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Iran has developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame “if it so chooses.”

The JCPOA walks Iran back from the threshold of nuclear weapons by dismantling, reconfiguring and handcuffing Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, “so that it has no path to a nuclear weapon,” and cannot “breakout” and amass enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in less than 12 months, which is another of AIPAC’s June 2015 “Requirements for a Good Deal.”

In June, AIPAC made the common sense suggestion that “a good deal must not accept easily reversible steps” for actions including the disposition of Iran’s excess centrifuges.

However, contrary to AIPAC’s July 15 claim about the final agreement, it does not allow Iran to “disconnect” excess centrifuges in “an easily reversible manner.” In fact, all of the pipework that connects the excess centrifuges and allows them to actually enrich uranium will be dismantled and removed and stored in at a separate facility under IAEA seal. These machines may only be used to replace operating centrifuges that break during normal operations. As a result, it would probably take Iran more than two years to restore the 13,000 centrifuges that will have been removed—and any such effort would be detected within days.

In its July 15 statement opposing the deal, AIPAC is wrong again in claiming that the JCPOA “requires no dismantlement” of any Iranian facility. In fact, the JCPOA requires the destruction of the core of its Arak heavy water reactor and modifications to ensure it cannot produce enough plutonium for a weapons program.

Other Issues

There is another objection to the nuclear deal that AIPAC is now raising that was not in its “Five Requirements for a Good Deal” document from June.

AIPAC’s July 15 statement also claims that the JCPOA “threatens the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime” and will set off a nuclear arms race in the region.

In reality, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal will strengthen the nonproliferation regime, and head off a regional nuclear arms race. The JCPOA demonstrates the strength of the nonproliferation regime. It shows that attempts to violate the treaty will be detected and that there are consequences for noncompliance.

In addition to the severe economic constraints Iran has faced from the sanctions regime, Iran's limited nuclear program will be subject to restrictions and monitoring beyond the requirements of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. A limited, highly monitored Iranian nuclear program poses far less of a threat to the region than an unconstrained program. Without the JPOA, Saudi Arabia would be more likely to hedge its nuclear bets.

The United States, and other nuclear supplier states, can and will continue to employ other measures to discourage the proliferation of uranium enrichment technology to the volatile Middle East.

Alternative to This Strong Iran Nuclear Deal Is No Deal and a World of Trouble

What is most irresponsible of AIPAC is its recommendation that Congress reject the JCPOA and “urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal.”

That is a dangerous fantasy. The alternative to the effective P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran that has been negotiated is no deal. AIPAC’s course of action would condemn the United States, our friends in Israel, and the entire region to a dangerous future.

If the United States Congress rejects this deal, and blocks its implementation:

·      The United States would undercut its European allies and other UNSC members,

·      The necessary international support for Iran-related sanctions would melt away,

·      Iran would be able to rapidly and significantly expand its capacity to produce weapons-grade material,

·      The United States would lose out on securing enhanced inspections needed to detect a clandestine weapons effort, and

·      The risk of a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of a war over Iran’s program would increase.

On balance, P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal is a strong, effectively verifiable, long-term agreement and AIPAC’s critique of it and its alternative recommendations, are deeply flawed.

Daryl G. Kimball is the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.

Image: Flickr/SenatorMarkUdall