FPI Suggested Questions for Hill Hearings on the Iran Nuclear Deal

July 22, 2015

Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program was announced on July 14, lawmakers and nuclear experts have carefully examined its provisions. As Congress continues to review the agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew will testify before panels in the House and Senate.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes that the following questions will help lawmakers and their staffs determine whether or not the JCPOA is truly in the national security interests of the United States.


I. Iran’s Nuclear Infrastructure

The nuclear agreement with Iran limits its stockpile of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms. It also prohibits the enrichment of uranium to a concentration of greater than 3.67% of U235. These prohibitions expire after 15 years. After 10 years, there will be no binding limits on the type or number of centrifuges Iran may employ.

  • Secretary Moniz, would you agree that if there are no limits on the stockpiling of enriched uranium, the degree of enrichment or the number and type of centrifuges, then the uranium pathway to a bomb will be wide open at the end of year 15?
  • After 15 years, Iran is no longer required to let the IAEA conduct continuous monitoring of its declared nuclear sites, including daily visits. Would you therefore agree that at the precise moment the uranium pathway to a bomb opens up, the IAEA will lose much of its ability to determine whether Iran is following that path?

President Obama said in April that a “relevant fear would be that in year 13, 14, 15, they [Iran] have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” According to scientist and proliferation expert David Albright, if Iran installed advanced centrifuges in year 13, as the deal allows them to, it “would allow Iran to lower its break-out times down to days or a few weeks.” Yet Secretary Moniz and Secretary Kerry, you have both denied that the breakout time would ever be zero, saying instead there would be a “soft landing.”

  • Secretary Moniz, can you explain why you disagree with President Obama and Dr. Albright? What do you know that they don’t?
  • Secretary Kerry, can you specify the rate at which breakout times will decrease after year 12, so Congress can understand what you mean by a “soft landing”?

According to the April 2015 parameters for the nuclear deal, known as the Agreed Framework, Iran would accept a permanent prohibition on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, which would allow it to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The final deal only prohibits Iran from reprocessing that fuel for 15 years. At that time, the prohibition on building heavy water reactors and reprocessing facilities will also expire.

  • Secretary Moniz, if all restrictions on plutonium production expire after 15 years, doesn’t that mean that the plutonium pathway to a bomb will be wide open at that time?
  • If you believed that a permanent prohibition on the processing of spent fuel was necessary in April, why did you allow that prohibition to expire in the final deal? Between April and July, did the Iranian government become more trustworthy?

Secretary Kerry, you said that the purpose of these negotiations is “to require Iran to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and to ensure that it cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.” Even so, Olli Heinonen, the former Director of Safeguards at the IAEA, noted, “Under this arrangement, Iran, however, remains a nuclear threshold state.”

  • Would you agree with Dr. Heinonen that “the final nuclear deal will allow Iran to operate a nuclear program that exceeds its current and reasonable future needs”?
  • If the purpose of negotiations was to demonstrate the peaceful nature of the Iranian program, why is Iran allowed to maintain a program that lets it enrich more uranium than it will need for any peaceful purpose?

II. Sanctions Relief

The nuclear deal will quickly unfreeze approximately $100-$150 billion of Iranian assets currently in overseas accounts, a provision that one might describe as a “signing bonus.” For comparison, Iran had only $20 billion in fully accessible foreign exchange reserves prior at the outset of negotiations in November 2013. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy to Syria, recently estimated that Iran spends $6 billion per year to equip and stabilize the Assad regime.

  • Secretary Lew, do you agree with National Security Advisor Susan Rice's statement that “We should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now”?
  • Would you further agree with General Dunford, the President’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified, “I think it's reasonable to assume that if sanctions are lifted, the Iranians would have more money available for malign activities”?
  • Will the end of sanctions make it easier for Iran to sustain or increase its $6 billion per year subsidy for the Assad regime?
  • Secretary Kerry, how can you defend your statement on PBS Newshour that “None of what they [Iran] are doing today…is a reflection of money,” if Iran must spend billions to keep Assad in power and support other terrorist and guerrilla organizations?

Secretary Kerry, you told PBS that since Iran will now have significantly increased means to support Hezbollah and other terrorist or guerrilla forces, “We’re going to clamp down.” Yet President Obama said, “It’s not like the U.N. has the capacity to police what Iran is doing,” although the U.S. does have “authorities that allow us to interdict those arms.”

  • Secretary Kerry, if the U.S. clampdown involves more frequent interdiction of arms shipments, doesn’t that increase the likelihood of an armed clash between U.S. and Iranian forces?
  • If so, how can President Obama assert that this provides an alternative to war, rather than encouraging it?

Secretary Kerry, you told ABC News on July 14 that Qasem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was not actually listed in the nuclear deal as someone who would have sanctions against him lifted. Specifically, you said, “No, that’s another Suleimani.”

  • Secretary Kerry, can you confirm that the Qasem Suleimani listed in the JCPOA is in fact General Qasem Suleimani of the IRGC?
  • Former CIA Director General David Petraeus called Suleimani “truly evil.” Can you detail for this committee the activities of General Suleimani and the IRGC in the Middle East over the past decade, including their role in killing as many as 500 U.S. servicemen in Iraq?

President Obama said, “we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.” Yet the nuclear deal requires the European Union to lift its sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, including measures that exclude Tehran from access to SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. In November 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury “for the first time identified the entire Iranian financial sector; including Iran’s Central Bank…as posing illicit finance risks for the global financial system.”

  • Why does this deal lift sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and other entities involved in illicit finance if the President promised that we will keep in place sanctions focused on support for terrorism?

III. Inspections and Verification

Secretary Moniz, this agreement allows Iran to delay for up to 24 days before granting access to suspicious sites that may house undeclared nuclear materials or activities. President Obama dismissed concerns about this waiting period by asserting, “if there is nuclear material on that site, high school physics will remind us that that leaves a trace.” However, nuclear scientist David Albright points out that when Iran was in the process of building illicit facilities at Fordow and Natanz “and people wanted to go there, there were not any centrifuges at those sites, let alone any [nuclear] material ... if you had 24 days, you could clean the site out.”

  • Secretary Moniz, do you disagree with any part of Dr. Albright’s statement about Fordow and Natanz?
  • If those facilities could be cleaned out in 24 days, what reason is there to believe that Iran couldn’t conduct a similar clean up at suspicious sites identified by the IAEA under the terms of this deal?

Secretary Moniz, in April you told Bloomberg News, “We expect to have anywhere, anytime access” for inspections in Iran. Yet Secretary Kerry, in response to a question from CBS about “anytime, anywhere” inspections, you said, “this is a term that honestly I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table.”

  • Secretary Kerry, if Secretary Moniz as well as numerous reporters and analysts employed that phrase, how could you possibly be unfamiliar with it?
  • If “anytime, anywhere” inspections were never on the table, what was the original U.S. negotiations position? Or did you actually start negotiations by proposing a 24-day wait prior to inspections of suspicious sites?

Secretary Kerry, President Obama also sought to allay concerns about the 24-day inspections timeline by suggesting that once a suspicious site is identified, “we’re going to be keeping eyes on it.” Yet remote surveillance, by plane or satellite, can be blocked through concealment. Or if illicit activities take place underground, they may not be visible at all. For example, the U.S. was completely surprised by the discovery of Iran’s Fordow nuclear research facility, which is located under a mountain.

  • Secretary Kerry, given Iran’s experience with concealing illicit nuclear activities from American surveillance, is there any reason to believe that surveillance will expose Iranian efforts to sanitize suspicious sites during the 24 days before inspectors have access?

Secretary Kerry, Section Q of the first annex to the nuclear deal says that Iran will have three days to comply with a request by the Joint Commission to allow access to suspicious sites. Section Q says nothing about what happens if Iran takes longer to grant access or even refuses to grant access to a suspicious site as directed by the Joint Commission. There is no enforcement mechanism and no schedule of penalties, other than a complaint to the U.N. Security Council. As President Obama indicated, if the Iranians “continue to object, we’re in a position to snap back sanctions and declare that Iran is in violation and is cheating.”

  • Secretary Kerry, is President Obama correct that a complaint to the U.N. Security Council is the only means of enforcing compliance with inspections?
  • Paragraph 37 of the nuclear deal indicates that Iran will cease performing all of its commitments in the event of a full or partial snapback. How can the U.S. use snapback to compel Iran to allow inspections, if using snapback releases Iran from all of its commitments?
  • Doesn’t the all-or-nothing nature of snapback effectively deter the U.S. from ever seeking to punish Iranian violations?

Iran has spent years stonewalling the IAEA, which is responsible for evaluating the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian nuclear program. Secretary Kerry, you said in April, with reference to Iran’s PMD disclosure, “It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done.” In that regard, the nuclear deal directs Iran to comply with the so-called “roadmap” it recently negotiated with the IAEA. However, resolution of IAEA concerns regarding PMD is not clearly identified as a pre-condition for lifting sanctions on Iran.

  • Secretary Kerry, can you assure this committee that the United States considers the full and prompt resolution of all twelve PMD-related issues of concern to be an absolute precondition for lifting sanctions?
  • Can you assure this committee that the other members of the P5+1 share this interpretation of the nuclear deal and are equally committed to the resolution of PMD concerns prior to lifting sanctions?

Secretary Kerry, IAEA officials have informed members of Congress that Iran and the IAEA have signed two agreements that are officially part of the nuclear deal but whose contents will not be shared even with the United States government and other parties to the deal.

  • Secretary Kerry, can you confirm that the contents of these deals will be withheld even from the United States government?
  • Can you confirm that one of these secret deals addresses potential IAEA access to the Parchin military complex? Can you confirm that the second deal address the IAEA investigation into possible military dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian nuclear program?
  • The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires the executive branch to provide Congress with all documents related to this deal, including “side agreements.” Would you agree that the executive branch has a binding legal obligation to share the contents of these side deals with Congress?

IV. Snapback

Secretary Kerry, Paragraph 36 of the nuclear deal describes a multi-layered “dispute resolution mechanism,” which may take up t0 35 days to yield a result. Yet Paragraph 36 does not enable either the Joint Commission or the assembled Foreign Ministers to issue binding decisions regarding disputes between the parties to the deal. Nor does Paragraph 36 provide for the enforcement of any outcome reached by the dispute resolution mechanism. The only way to impose consequences on those who violate the treaty is to initiate the “snapback” process at the United Nations, which would enable Iran “to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA [deal] in whole or in part.”

  • Secretary Kerry, can you confirm that there will be no binding decisions and no means of enforcement associated with the dispute resolution mechanism established by Paragraph 36?
  • Can you also confirm that the only means of enforcement set up by this deal is the snapback mechanism specified in Paragraph 37?
  • Since snapback releases Iran from its commitments, doesn’t that mean it can never actually be used to compel Iran to abide by the terms of the deal?
  • Doesn’t the all-or-nothing nature of snapback effectively deter the U.S. from ever seeking to punish Iranian violations?

Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew, Paragraph 37 of the nuclear deal notes that in the event of a snapback, sanctions “would not apply with retroactive effect to contracts signed between any party and Iran or Iranian individuals and entities.” In effect, the deal has a grandfather clause that protects those who rapidly sign long-term agreements with Iran. Such agreements are typical for oil exporters such as Iran, with historical exports of roughly 2.5 million barrels per day.

  • Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew, can you confirm that the grandfather clause would apply even to contracts worth tens of billions of dollars?
  • If Iran signs long-term contracts for its oil exports, is it correct to assume that those agreements will remain in force even if there is a snapback?
  • If the grandfather clause protects every Iranian industry that has signed long-term contracts, isn’t it true that Iran has very little to fear from a snapback?
  • Under such conditions, wouldn’t a snapback actually benefit Iran, since it would enable it “to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA [deal] in whole or in part”?

According to the nuclear deal, “UNSCR Termination Day” will occur 10 years and 90 days after the U.N. votes to approve the agreement. According to Section E of Annex V, “on UNSCR Termination Day the provisions and measures imposed in that resolution would terminate and the UN Security Council would no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue.”

  • Secretary Kerry, is the basic meaning of this provision that all UNSCR measures related to the deal will terminate after 10 years plus 90 days? Including snapback?
  • Would you agree that if snapback expires after 10 years, there will no longer be any means of punishing Iran for non-compliance?
  • If there is no means of punishing Iran for non-compliance, what reasons does it have to comply with any provisions of the deal that constrain its behavior for more than 10 years?

Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew, while a snapback would re-authorize the sanctions previously put in place by the U.N. Security Council, a UNSC resolution does not actually compel any country or group of countries to implement those sanctions. For example, only Congress can authorize sanctions on behalf of the United States.

  • Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew, how will the European Union ensure the re-imposition of EU sanctions following a snapback?
  • Since the EU makes decisions based on consensus, how can the U.S. be confident that none of the 28 members of the EU — including those close to Russia — will prevent implementation of snapback?
  • If a dispute between the U.S. and Iran leads to a snapback, what reason is there to believe that China or Russia will actually impose sanctions?

V. U.N. Vote on Iran Deal

Secretary Kerry, on Monday morning, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to approve the P5+1 deal with Iran. This resolution will not come into force until 90 days after the vote. Meanwhile, President Obama has announced that he will veto any resolution of disapproval passed by Congress in accordance with the Corker-Cardin bill, formally known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

  • Secretary Kerry, does this administration believe that even if Congress overrides the expected veto, this would have no effect on the Security Council’s decision?
  • Hasn’t President Obama supported a UNSC resolution that directly violated the spirit of a law passed with the support of 98 senators and more than 400 representatives?
  • If Congress overrides the expected veto, would a new Security Council resolution be the only way to prevent Monday’s resolution from taking effect? And would the passage of a new resolution require support from Russia and China?

Secretary Kerry, in April 2014 you testified, “What we do will have to pass muster with Congress.” When President Obama announced the deal with Iran, he said, “On such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal.”

  • Secretary Kerry, in light of your pledge that this deal would have to pass muster with Congress, didn’t the administration act in bad faith by pushing the deal through the Security Council before Congress could vote?
  • How could President Obama have said — with any measure of sincerity — that Congress would get a full opportunity to review the deal if he already planned to pre-empt Congress by going to the Security Council within six days?

Secretary Kerry, you justified a flagrant disregard for Congress by saying that our negotiating partners “don’t feel that they should be bound by the United States Congress — they feel that they’ve negotiated under the U.N.” Yet one of Iran’s key commitments is conditioned on the approval of its Majlis, its pseudo-democratic parliament. Furthermore, throughout American history, Congress has instructed the executive branch to renegotiate agreements before approving them.

  • Secretary Kerry, why did you agree to a deal that respects the prerogatives of the Majlis but ignores the role of this country’s freely elected legislature?
  • Secretary Kerry, why is this administration trying to prevent Congress from exercising its traditional prerogatives? Is this deal somehow different from other historic agreements?

If Congress overrides the expected veto on a resolution of disapproval, the resulting law would prevent the President from waiving, suspending, or otherwise mitigating U.S. sanctions on Iran. If those sanctions remained in place while Iran complied with its initial requirements, the U.S. would be in violation of the agreement and Iran would be able to withdraw. However, Iran could wait for every country other than the U.S. to lift its sanctions. It could also collect its unfrozen foreign assets before withdrawing from the deal.

  • By allowing the Security Council to pass Monday’s resolution on Iran, has President Obama created a situation in which Iran can reap most of the benefits of the nuclear deal without fulfilling any of its obligations?

VI. Alternatives to the Deal

President Obama said that the alternative to this deal is an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program and a substantial increase in the risk of war. Yet just two weeks before finalizing the deal, he insisted, “I’ve said from the start I will walk away from the negotiations if, in fact, it’s a bad deal.” Secretary Kerry, you are on the record saying several times, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

  • Secretary Kerry, if President Obama said that he would walk away from negotiations if necessary, don’t his words clearly show that there are acceptable alternatives to signing a deal?
  • Even though you clearly believe this deal is a good one, shouldn’t Congress have the same right as yourself and President Obama to walk away from a deal if we believe it’s a bad one?
  • By supporting Monday’s Security Council resolution on Iran, hasn’t this administration robbed Congress of the prerogative it claims for itself — to walk away from a bad deal?
  • How would you define a bad deal such that it would have compelled you to walk away from the negotiating table?

President Obama said on July 15, “Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel.”

  • Secretary Kerry, are you assuming that in the absence of a deal, the United States would be powerless to prevent the sanctions regime from unraveling, even though it worked for more than a decade to build that regime?
  • When President Obama threatened to walk away from negotiations if Iran would only accept a bad deal, did he assume that walking away from a deal would lead the sanctions regime to unravel? If not, why would walking away now lead the sanctions regime to unravel?

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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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