Can the Nuclear Deal With Iran Be Fixed?

President Obama’s main arguments in defense of the controversial nuclear agreement with Iran have been that the only alternative to the agreement is war and that the idea of a better deal is a fantasy.  We believe both of these arguments are false.

First, we dismiss the president’s stark dichotomy of this deal versus war as a false choice.  No deal would be far better than this dangerous pact which will bolster Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, provide billions of dollars in sanctions relief that Iran will likely use to fund terrorism, and will allow Iran to collect its own samples for the IAEA to disprove allegations of past nuclear weapons work.

A better alternative would be a bona fide good deal that fully addresses the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and addresses its history of cheating on nuclear treaty obligations with an airtight inspections process to ensure compliance.  Such a deal would need to meet all of the below requirements.

1. Actually close off all pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon.  This is the fatal flaw of the Iran deal.  Contrary to the Obama administration’s claims, the nuclear deal does not come close to addressing this requirement since Iran will continue to enrich uranium during the deal and will be allowed to test and develop advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.  Iran also will be allowed to complete construction of a heavy-water reactor that still will produce plutonium even after it is redesigned.  These provisions will allow Iran to continue to make advances in its efforts to produce nuclear fuel.  As a result, Iran will develop an industrial-scale nuclear program while this deal is in effect and the timeline to an Iranian nuclear weapon will fall throughout the agreement.

A credible nuclear agreement with Iran is impossible unless all uranium enrichment ceases and centrifuge equipment is dismantled.  Construction of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor must be halted permanently.  We agree with Senator Robert Menendez who believes that to close off all Iranian pathways to a nuclear bomb, there must also be a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of any nuclear agreement with Tehran.

2. Sanctions must be lifted gradually in response to Iranian compliance with a nuclear agreement and be tied to an improvement in its behavior.  The current deal lifts almost all sanctions late this year or early next year if Iran complies with several easy to meet requirements.  This is the wrong approach: once EU and UN sanctions are lifted, they will never “snap back” in the event of Iranian noncompliance.  Gradual sanctions relief must be conditioned on Iranian compliance with the nuclear pact and a pledge by Tehran that it will not spend sanctions relief funds on terrorism and or destabilizing the Middle East.  Sanctions relief would be suspended if Iran does not fully comply with these requirements.

3. No lifting of sanctions against Iranian terrorist organizations and individuals.  We find it incomprehensible that the nuclear agreement lifts UN sanctions against notorious Iranian terrorists and terrorist organizations such as the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) Air Force, the IRGC Air Force Al-Ghadir Missile Command, and the IRGC Qods Force,  IRGC commander Qassm Suleimani who provided weapons responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. troops during the war in Iraq, and Ahmad Vahidi, a former defense minister and IRGC commander, participated in the 1994 bombing attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.  These sanctions have nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program.  The United States should not be a party to an agreement that lifts sanctions on Iranian terrorists.

4. A truly robust and intrusive verification regime that does not allow Iran to inspect itself.  Under the nuclear agreement, 24/7 monitoring will only be conducted of declared nuclear sites, locations where Iran will not be engaged in covert nuclear weapons activities.  For undeclared sites, there is a convoluted 24-day appeals process to arrange IAEA inspections.  This is far short of the anyplace, anytime inspections promised by the Obama White House during the nuclear talks.  Former IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen has said 24 days would be more than enough time to remove evidence of many nuclear weapons-related activities.  We believe Iran will refuse to allow the IAEA access to sites where it cannot conceal evidence of nuclear weapons work or will conduct such work in another country, probably North Korea.

Making this inspection scheme worse, under secret side deals between the IAEA and Iran, Iranians will collect evidence of possible past nuclear weapons related work at the Parchin military base and other locations.  This is an unacceptable arrangement that raises serious questions about whether the agreement will establish a baseline of Iran’s nuclear weapons related activities for verification purposes and a terrible precedent for future nonproliferation and arms control accords.

5. Drop offer of advanced nuclear technology and assistance from the West to protect its nuclear program.  The nuclear agreement commits Western states to provide advanced nuclear technology to Iran, including light-water reactor and fusion technology.  Western states also have pledged to help Iran protect its nuclear program from sabotage.  The United States and its allies should not provide technology that Iran could use to shorten the timeline to a nuclear weapon or help it defend its nuclear program from future efforts by the U.S. intelligence to or milt disable this program if the United States determines it is being used to develop or produce nuclear weapons.

6. Add restrictions on Iran’s growing ballistic missile program.  Although experts believe Iran is developing its ballistic missile program as a delivery system to carry nuclear warheads against the United States, Europe and Israel, there are no provisions in the agreement calling on Iran to curtail its missile program or join international agreements to limit missile proliferation.  A credible nuclear agreement with Iran must require Tehran significantly to curtail its missile program and become a member in good standing of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.

The rest of our requirements for a good nuclear agreement with Iran are drawn from proposals recently made by Senator Robert Menendez.

7. Immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure we have a permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites.  Although an Additional Protocol agreement between Iran and the IAEA is crucial to providing the IAEA with greater access to suspect nuclear sites, Iran has only agreed to provisionally implement this agreement and will seek ratification of it by the Iranian Parliament in eight years or when the IAEA has declared all nuclear activities in Iran are peaceful.  This makes no sense since Iran will not make a binding commitment to the protocol until it will no longer matter.

8. The full resolution of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s program.  A credible nuclear agreement must require Iran to answer the IAEA’s outstanding questions about possible past and ongoing nuclear weapons work to establish a baseline for verification.  We categorically reject assertions by President Obama and Secretary Kerry that it is not necessary for the IAEA to resolve these issues because “we have perfect knowledge” of Iran’s nuclear program and that “we know what they did.”  We instead call for Iran to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons-related work because of the poor track record of U.S. intelligence in monitoring and detecting WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, North Korea and other states.

9. Extend the duration of the agreement.  We agree with Senator Menendez that one of the single most concerning elements of the deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran’s program, with off-ramps starting after year eight.  The Obama administration promised an agreement of significant duration but failed to deliver.  Iran should have to comply with a nuclear agreement for as long as they deceived the world, at least 20 years.

10. A clear agreement on penalties for Iranian non-compliance.  Language on implementing sanctions for Iranian violations under paragraph 37 of the agreement is vague and provides an exemption for contracts with Iranian entities entered into before the implementation of new sanctions.  A better formulation is needed to spell out how new sanctions against Iran will be implemented that does not include this exemption.

The Obama administration and its defenders contend the nuclear agreement with Iran is the best that could be negotiated.  We disagree.  This agreement does not reflect hardnosed American diplomacy, but rather the determination of a president so desperate to reach a deal that he agreed to almost any compromise to get one.  We believe a future American negotiating team acting under the directions of a new president determined to strike a strong agreement that halts the threat from the Iranian nuclear program can achieve a more sound accord with Tehran that satisfies our security requirements.