This is the fourth post in our series on the questions for the President by Iran deal opponent Robert Satloff. This question concerns an apparent contradiction in the President’s assurances to different groups.
In your American University speech, you said the Iran agreement produced a “permanent” solution to the threat of the Iranian nuclear bomb. But just a few months ago, you told an NPR interviewer that Iran’s breakout time toward a bomb “would have shrunk almost down to zero” when restrictions on centrifuges and enrichment expire in after 10-15 years. Can both statements really be true?
The second claim is quite true, so to establish whether the two sets of claims can both be true we need only to establish the truth of the first set of claims. At the American University, the President went to some trouble to underline the permanent nature of the deal. “The prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent,” he said. “The ban on weapons-related research is permanent. Inspections are permanent.” Indeed, the word “permanent” appears three times as often in the President’s remarks as it does in the actual text of the Iran Deal, where it appears only in a footnote referring to “permanent resident aliens.”
The words “forever,” “eternal,” and “everlasting” fail to appear at all. The word “ban” appears in provisions related to our bans on visas to certain persons involved in Iranian support of terrorism and other activities.
The closest thing to a ‘permanent ban’ to appear in the deal is not a ban by the P5+1 powers on Iranian activity, but a statement of intention by Iran made in the general prologue. “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” We have their word.
Iran likewise gives its word on a number of other things, to include its “intentions” toward modernizing its Arak reactor, how it “intends” to pursue “peaceful” research, and so forth. It “intends” to ship out its spent fuel rods, and not reprocess them into weapons. So we have their word here, as well: we have their word that they have good intentions.
Now if their word is good enough, then yes, this agreement produces a permanent solution to the threat of an Iranian bomb even if Iran’s breakout time to develop a bomb shrinks to almost zero under this deal.
However, the President himself said in the same speech that we were not going to trust Iran, nor were we going to hope that the experience of being brought into the world community would change the nature of the Islamic Republic. “The deal before us doesn’t bet on Iran changing, it doesn’t require trust,” he said. Methods of verification would be in place to ensure that Iran keeps its word. Are those permanent?
They are not.
The relevant terms are set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, by which the international community moves beyond “intentions” and “reaffirmations,” and lays down what mechanisms will enforce the agreement. In its Preamble, paragraph xvi, the Security Council states that it regards this deal as marking a fundamental transformation of the Security Council’s relationship to Iran’s nuclear program, one that will allow it to terminate its monitoring of that program in ten years. After ten years, all enforcement of the deal will cease unless the Security Council votes anew to impose it — a process over which Russia and China shall have veto power.
Meanwhile, the IAEA is empowered to reach at any time a “Broader Conclusion” that Iran’s nuclear activity is peaceful. Once it does so, or in eight years at most, member states will dismantle any outstanding sanctions on peril of violating the Security Council Resolution. You can see an example of this language — apparently a requirement that the United States Congress shall disband any remaining sanctions, based on a treaty entered into only by our executive — in paragraph C.23.
Eight years after Adoption Day or when the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, whichever is earlier, the United States will seek such legislative action as may be appropriate to terminate… the sanctions specified in Annex II on the acquisition of nuclear-related commodities and services for nuclear activities contemplated in this JCPOA[.]
Now this IAEA action will be a one-time event, not a permanent series of re-examinations to ensure that Iran remains peaceful forever. That, by the way, is also consistent with the IAEA’s reported approach to the Parchin complex, where Iran’s military nuclear research is thought to be centered. The alleged side-deal between Iran and the IAEA does not contain any provision for “permanent” or even “ongoing” inspections. It requires Iran to pony up certain details and samples that Iran itself will collect. Nowhere in that deal is any reference to this being done more than once. In fact, the language about how this provision will be “followed by” a courtesy visit arranged by Iran indicates that it is a temporally specific event: it will happen once, and then the IAEA will be satisfied. Lest you believe that ongoing inspections of Parchin are in the road map to which the side deal refers, they are not: the paragraph 5 specified merely states that there will be a separate agreement treating Parchin, of which this is apparently the whole.
So, can the President’s statements both be true? Yes, if Iran keeps its word.