A Nuclear Deal Dangerously Biased in Favor of Iran

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In a recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama made sweeping claims about the benefits of the Iran nuclear deal. He said, "With this deal, we gain unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear facilities, and monitor them 24/7. Without a deal, we don't get that. With this deal, if Iran cheats, sanctions snap back on. Without a deal, the sanctions unravel." However, those claims are simply not consistent with the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal with Iran is formally known. Rather, America's hands will effectively be tied if and when Iran begins to cheat – detecting it will be difficult, and enforcing the deal will be basically impossible.

While negotiating the nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran would have to come clean about its previous efforts to build the bomb. "They have to do it," Kerry told "Newshour" on PBS. "It will be done. If there's going to be a deal, it will be done." While Iran swears that its program is for peaceful purposes only, U.N. inspectors have compiled plenty of evidence to show otherwise.

In its November 2011 report to the U.N. Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported with certainty that "Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." However, Iran still has not explained its dangerous activities to that agency, despite frequent promises to do so.

Iran needs to come clean because a full understanding of its past activities would give inspectors a baseline for comparison with the Iranian nuclear program today. According to Olli Heinonen, former chief inspector for the IAEA, "you are taking a heck of a risk if you don't establish a baseline of how far they went."

Regrettably, U.S. negotiators caved to Iran on this critical point. According to the agreement, disclosure of past activities is not a prerequisite for lifting international sanctions against Iran. What's worse, the administration is now telling Congress "that such an acknowledgment wasn't critical to verifying Iranian commitments in the future." In other words, the United States and international community forfeited any leverage they had to compel Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, and the central question of Iran's dangerous nuclear activities will remain unresolved.

In addition to losing their baseline, IAEA inspectors will not be able to access suspicious sites in anything close to a timely manner. The complicated process for requesting access may take as long as 24 days, and there is no means to enforce the adjudicators' decisions. Testifying before Congress, Heinonen said "A 24-day adjudicated timeline reduces detection probabilities exactly where the system is weakest: detecting undeclared facilities and materials." In particular, this weakness may fail to detect small scale facilities "which could be critical in the weapon manufacturing process."

What's more, the deal says, if IAEA inspectors want to access a suspicious site, "the IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification." In other words, inspectors have to reveal the cause of their concern, which may lead to the Iranians quickly sanitizing the site.

Though President Barack Obama said, "if Iran cheats, sanctions snap back on," he did not mention that if sanctions go back on, the entire deal collapses. Under paragraph 37 of the agreement, "Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions ... or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this [agreement] in whole or in part." In other words, if the United States seeks to punish Iran for violating the agreement, Iran will be within its rights to simply walk away from the deal and resume work on its nuclear program without restriction.

Instead of a "sanctions snapback," the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' Mark Dubowitz has testified, "the JCPOA provides Iran with a 'nuclear snapback' to intimidate Europe, the United States and other countries, to refrain from using sanctions as an effective mechanism to enforce the nuclear agreement and to target the full range of its illicit conduct, including its support for terrorism." The faulty "sanctions snapback," Dubowitz says, therefore "incentivizes" Iran to cheat "incrementally, not egregiously, even though the sum total of its incremental cheating is egregious."

While President Obama insists, "this deal is not built on trust, it is built on verification," the facts don't bear him out. Iran will not give a correct and complete accounting of its nuclear activities, its suspicious sites will likely never be inspected, and if the United States tries to punish Iran for violating the agreement, then the deal itself will likely be scuttled. As Congress continues to review the Vienna deal ahead of a vote of approval or disapproval, lawmakers should take the time to consider whether or not such a deal that is so biased in favor of Iran is truly in the national security interests of the United States.

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