FPI Bulletin: Suggested Questions for Hill Hearings on Iran Nuclear Talks

July 28, 2014

Senior U.S. government officials will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on the status of P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran.  Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen are set to testify.  The hearings come days after the United States and other world powers decided to extend the six-month interim agreement with Iran and delay the July deadline for a comprehensive agreement back to November 24th.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) encourages congressional lawmakers and the interested public to consider the following questions.


On Sanctions Relief under the Extension of Iran Nuclear Talks

(1) Under the terms of the July 18th extension, the United States and its negotiating partners will further relieve sanctions and give Iran access to an additional $2.8 billion in blocked assets.  In return, Iran’s main obligations will be to keep observing the interim agreement and to convert 25 kilograms of 20-percent high enriched uranium from an oxidized form into fuel directly usable in a research nuclear reactor by November 24th.

  • Did U.S. officials get any assurances from the Iranian government that it will not use any of the $2.8 billion in new sanctions relief either (a) to support international terrorism or other state sponsors of terrorism like the Assad regime, (b) to advance the nuclear, ballistic missile, or advanced conventional weapons programs of Iran or any other state, or (c) to violate the Iranian people’s human rights? 
  • If so, then please detail the nature and scope of Iran’s assurances, and how the United States will verify compliance?  If not, then why not?
  • Is it accurate to say that, while the extended interim agreement requires the United States to continue dismantling American-led international sanctions, the extended agreement still does not require Iran to dismantle a single centrifuge, to ship abroad to foreign control one single kilogram of enriched uranium, or to begin dismantling a heavy water reactor that Robert Einhorn, a former senior official in the Obama administration, dubbed a “plutonium bomb factory”?

(2) In December 2013, Under Secretary Sherman told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs that the interim agreement’s sanctions relief “will provide approximately $6-7 billion in revenue.”  A July 2014 report by Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), however, estimates that Iran gained as much as $11 billion in sanctions relief:  “From a narrow accounting perspective, we estimate that the external earnings and assets associated with sanctions relief amount to about $11 billion in the six months of the JPOA period.  This amount includes additional petroleum and non-oil export earnings of around $7 billion and access to $4.2 billion in foreign exchange (FX) reserves.”

  • Did Iran’s “external earnings and assets associated with sanctions relief” exceed $7 billion during the interim agreement’s first six months?
  • Do you agree with the estimate by Roubini Global Economics and FDD that Iran’s “external earnings and assets associated with sanctions relief” actually equaled roughly $11 billion over six months?

(3) A July 2014 report by Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies assesses that, in addition to the interim agreement’s direct benefit $11 billion in sanctions relief, Iran has also enjoyed significant “indirect sanctions relief.”  They write:  “This domestic benefit can be summarized as a stronger currency, more moderate inflation, and an economy that we forecast to grow 2% in FY 2014/15 rather than contract as it has in previous years when sanctions were escalating.” 

Roubini Global Economics and FDD add that sanction relief has let Iran become more resilient to future sanctions or other economic shocks, writing:  “Iranian authorities so far have preferred to use the breathing room created by sanctions relief to build economic resilience than to maximize economic growth by, for example, accumulating reserves and savings and maintaining their fiscal consolidation approach.”

  • Do you agree with the assessment by Roubini Global Economics and FDD that the interim agreement’s sanctions relief has yielded not only direct benefits, but also significant indirect benefits, to Iran?  Are the regime in Tehran and the Iranian economy today more resilient to future sanctions and other economic shocks than they were before the interim agreement?
  • Are the direct and indirect benefits of the interim agreement’s sanctions relief eroding, in any way, America’s economic leverage on Iran to make significant concessions on its nuclear program?  How is the Obama administration working with allies and partners to compensate for the loss of economic leverage on Iran?  Is the Executive Branch also willing to work with Congress now to compensate for the loss of economic leverage on Iran? 

On Iran’s Uranium and Plutonium Paths to Nuclear Weapons

(4) On July 27th, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN that “you cannot have a deal” unless there is “little enrichment or no enrichment, at least for a long period of time,” in Iran.  In specific, she said:  “… if you cannot be persuaded that the Iranians cannot break out and race towards a nuclear weapon, then you cannot have a deal.  I believe strongly that it's really important for there to be so little enrichment or no enrichment, at least for a long period of time, because I think that any enrichment will trigger an arms race in the Middle East.

  • Do you agree with Secretary Clinton that “you cannot have a deal” with Iran unless there is “little enrichment or no enrichment, at least for a long period of time,” in Iran?

(5) In April 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that Iran, under the interim agreement, still retains the technical capability to produce explosive nuclear material for a nuclear weapon in as little as “two months.”

  • Is Secretary Kerry’s April 2014 statement—that Iran could potentially produce explosive nuclear material for a nuclear weapon in as few as “two months”—still technically true today under the interim agreement’s extension?
  • If Iran possesses undeclared nuclear materials, technologies and facilities, then how much more quickly than “two months” could Iran be able to produce explosive nuclear material for a nuclear weapon?

(6) The extended interim agreement contemplates a final deal in which Iran could possibly possess “a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical-needs.”  On that point, Robert Einhorn, a former Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control to the Secretary of State, recently wrote“Iran's declared plan to produce Bushehr fuel independently by 2021 is not only unnecessary and uneconomical, it is also technically unfeasible, legally questionable, and highly unrealistic in terms of timeframe.  If Iran somehow managed on its own to fabricate and load fuel into Bushehr, major safety issues could arise.”

  • Does the Obama administration agree with Mr. Einhorn’s assessment?  If so, then does Mr. Einhorn’s assessment provide the absolute ceiling on what the United States sees as Iran’s “practical needs” for a uranium enrichment program?
  • To what extent does the Obama administration believe that Iran has any practical need for uranium enrichment, especially given the argument by former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried S. Hecker and former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry that:  “[N]o matter how many more centrifuges Iran installs, it can never become self-sufficient because it does not possess adequate uranium ore reserves for a large-scale nuclear energy program”?  Instead, could Iran be allowed to purchase any and all nuclear fuel it would require for a legitimate civil nuclear program on the global market?

(7) Negotiations over the size and scope of Iran’s enrichment program under a comprehensive agreement have reportedly moved from a debate over the program’s quantity (how many centrifuges?) and quality (how advanced will these centrifuges be?) to a debate more narrowly focused on the program’s output capacity as measured in “separative work units” (SWUs) per year.

  • Do you agree that it’s important for U.S. negotiators to focus carefully not just on what the Iranian enrichment program’s total output capacity (as measured in “separative work units” per year) might be under a comprehensive agreement, but also on how many total centrifuges Iran would have, on how advanced the centrifuges might be, and on limiting centrifuge research and design work?
  • Would using separative work units (SWUs) per year as the only accountable metric for the Iranian enrichment program leave Iran free to build and prepare for operation any number of centrifuges, including those of advanced design?  Wouldn't this give Iran a tremendous breakout capability—exactly what Secretary Kerry says the agreement is intended to prohibit?

(8) Former State Department official Robert Einhorn calls Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak a “plutonium bomb factory.”  In turn, Secretary Kerry told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in December 2013 that “[f]rom our point of view, Arak is unacceptable,” adding:  “[y]ou can’t have a heavy-water reactor” in Iran under a comprehensive agreement.

  • Is it still the Obama administration’s position that Iran “can’t have a heavy-water reactor” under a comprehensive agreement?  If so, is this a non-negotiable position?
  • Do you agree with Mr. Einhorn’s assessment that Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak will be a “plutonium bomb factory”?

(9) In December 2009, the United Arab Emirates concluded a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States in which the Emirates legally obliged to uphold a new “gold standard” for responsible nuclear behavior by forsaking uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing or other sensitive nuclear activities.  In January 2014, President Obama submitted for congressional review a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in which Taiwan made a similar legally-binding obligation.

  • If a final deal with Iran allows Tehran to enrich uranium, would it not undermine efforts by the United States to establish a “gold standard” for responsible nuclear behavior in which states refrain from uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other sensitive nuclear activities?

On IAEA Verification and the Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Program

(10) The United States and the IAEA are still trying to resolve grave concerns about the Iranian nuclear program’s military dimensions, including research and experiments related to exploding a nuclear weapon and to delivering a nuclear warhead on ballistic missiles.  In February 2014, Under Secretary Sherman told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that U.S. negotiators “raised possible military dimensions” with Iranian negotiators, adding:  “in the Joint Plan of Action, we have required that Iran come clean on its past actions as part of any comprehensive agreement”.

  • Is it still the Obama administration’s requirement that (in Under Secretary Sherman’s own words) Iran “come clean on its past actions as part of any comprehensive agreement” and completely resolve any and all concerns about the Iranian nuclear program’s military dimensions?

(11) After South Africa admitted in 1993 to having possessed a nuclear weapons program, it proactively cooperated with IAEA inspectors to resolve all concerns about the South African nuclear program’s military dimensions.  In particular, South African Presidents F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela adopted a “sustained policy of full openness and transparency with the IAEA” and also allowed “anywhere, any time, any place” inspections.

  • As we seek to get Iran (in Under Secretary Sherman’s own words) to “come clean” on its nuclear program’s military dimensions, do you agree that South Africa’s model for nuclear verification—one that features “full openness and transparency” and “anywhere, anytime” inspections—should be the minimum standard for nuclear verification in Iran?  If South Africa’s model for nuclear verification was good enough for President Nelson Mandela, why shouldn’t it be the minimum standard for nuclear verification in Iran?

(12) To resolve concerns about the South African nuclear program’s military dimensions, former IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen wrote that South Africa gave IAEA inspectors access to personnel and facilities involved in its civil and military nuclear program, enabling inspectors to reconstruct the South African nuclear program’s history from “cradle to grave.”

  • As we seek to get Iran (in Under Secretary Sherman’s own words) to “come clean” on its nuclear program’s military dimensions, do you agree that Iran should be required in any comprehensive agreement to give IAEA inspectors access to personnel and facilities involved in its civil and military nuclear program, just as South Africa did in the 1990s?
  • Given that it required IAEA inspectors nearly 20 years to confirm that the nuclear program of a highly cooperative South Africa was exclusively peaceful, do you agree that it will take at least 20 years, if not much longer, to do the same with the nuclear program of Iran, a state sponsor of international terrorism that has a long track record of nuclear concealment?

On the Role of Congress in P5+1 Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

(13) ITAR-TASS News Agency reported in July 2014 that representatives from Rosatom, the Russian government’s state-owned enterprise for nuclear exports, have joined the negotiations with Iran in Vienna.

  • Does the Obama administration believe it’s acceptable for unelected representatives from a Russian state-owned enterprise to have a seat at nuclear negotiations, but yet not to have any Members of Congress participate even as observers, as U.S. lawmakers did previously in SALT talks with the Soviet Union and other nuclear negotiations?
  • If Rosatom representatives can have a seat at nuclear negotiations with Iran, would the Executive Branch be willing to allow Members of Congress to participate as observers?

(14) Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently said in a high-profile speech that Iran has a "definite need" for potentially many tens of thousands more uranium enrichment centrifuges than it currently has.  On July 17th, Al-Monitor reported that, while Secretary Kerry did not announce a change in the Obama administration’s stated policy on sanctions-in-waiting legislation to increase non-military pressure on Iran in a private meeting with congressional lawmakers, he, according to one Member of Congress, “said it might be useful as a spur.”

  • Do you agree that congressional efforts to advance a sanctions-in-waiting concept could be “useful as a spur” in efforts to get Iran to agree to accept a comprehensive agreement that (in Secretary Kerry’s own words) could “pass muster with Congress”?

(15) In response to a question on whether the Obama administration should “come back to the Congress” to lift sanctions under a final deal, Secretary Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2014:  “We would be obligated to under the law, Mr. Chairman.  We would absolutely have to.  And so clearly, what we do will have to pass muster with Congress.”

  • Would the Obama administration support efforts by Congress to require the Executive Branch to formally submit any new agreements with Iran to lawmakers in an unclassified format so that the American people and the news media can also read and review any new agreements?  If not, then why not?
  • If the P5+1 concludes a comprehensive agreement with Iran, will the Obama administration commit to immediately going to Congress and asking it to legislate a pathway for comprehensive sanctions relief on Iran’s nuclear program?  Or will it instead adopt a “phased approach” to comprehensive sanctions relief and only approach Congress after many months?

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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