Schiff Incorrectly States Deal Removes “The Chief Impediment” To A Bomb

Today Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) gave an interview to NPR on why he supports the Iranian Nuclear Deal.  He is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  At three minutes and fifty-seven seconds into the interview, the female reporter asks him why the “vision of the deal” that he has laid out for her hasn’t persuaded his opponents, especially in Israel.  The vision he had laid out thus far was this:

Points that argued for him against the deal:

  • The deal gives Iran a “very modern and efficient” uranium enrichment process to replace its existing equipment. (1:18-1:32)
  • This deal will allow them to bring on a new generation of centrifuges that remove “the chief impediment” to Iran building a bomb using uranium. (2:00-2:15)
  • The only remaining problem is building the weapon, which Schiff himself says is much harder to detect and will be easier for Iran to do in secret. (2:00-2:15)
  • Such secret maneuvers will not be subject to the 24/7 inspections possible at declared nuclear sites, but would be subject to the appeals process that will take “at least” 24 days according to Schiff. (3:12-3:46)
  • As Iran is a sovereign nation, Schiff views having sites that we cannot inspect on demand as only realistic. (3:24-38)
  • Thus, we have to accept the risks posed by this advanced enrichment program in order to accept the deal. Schiff hopes to do what he can on the House Intelligence committee to prevent it. (3:12-3:56)
  • Asked why Iran would not use the money released by the deal for terrorism, Schiff said that in fact they certainly would. (5:52-5:56)

Points deciding him in favor:

  • Iran formally forgoes the right to a bomb and to enriched uranium. (1:06-1:33 and again at 6:40-7:00)
  • He views the enrichment path as closed for the 15 year life of the deal, until the new centrifuges come online. (1:10-1:32)
  • Unspecified risks “on the other side” he views as greater. Unfortunately, NPR did not elect to press him on what those risks were. (2:17-2:23)
  • These risks do not include that we might have to use military force, however, as he views that as the chief method of preventing Iran from going back on its word even under the deal. That risk thus remains constant. (6:40-7:00)
  • He hopes Congress can “strengthen the deal” by promising Gulf State allies to respond aggressively to Iranian violations with sanctions and other means. (5:59-6:32)

This vision is meant to be persuasive.  We are going to give Iran a modern, efficient uranium enrichment technology, which will solve their chief problem in pursuing a nuclear weapon with uranium.  This will allow them, should they decide to cheat, to focus on relatively easy-to-hide research on building the weapon.  This will be done in military facilities that we will agree that Iran has a sovereign right not to have inspected until the completion of a due process taking at least 24 days.  However, we presumably get 15 years of peace – except for their increased support of terrorism, which he views as certain – until they are able to use these advanced centrifuges to make a nuclear weapon.

So why does he think Israel isn’t persuaded by “all of that”?  He can’t say.  “I’m not sure I can answer that question and I have wrestled with this:  why for example in Israel is the opinion really across the political spectrum against the deal?”  He suggests that perhaps Israel was hoping, as he had been earlier in the process, for a “token” enrichment process rather than giving Iran highly advanced enrichment technology that would vastly increase their capacity to produce a nuclear bomb with uranium.

Unmentioned in his analysis is the fact that the arms embargoes on ballistic weapons and heavy weapons will be ended – indeed, if Senator Menendez is correct in his reading of the agreement, they have already ended.  Taken with the increased terror support that Schiff expects, that may be a part of the concern.

They may also be worried about the fact that the deal does not apparently derail Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon using plutonium from the Bushehr reactor.  Plutonium bombs can be made with reactor grade plutonium.  According to the Federation of American Scientists both fission bombs of the implosion variety and fusion bombs using a fission bomb as the primary.  Thus, powerful thermonuclear weapons can be produced using the material from Bushehr about which the deal says nothing.

Unfortunately we don’t know what Schiff takes to be the counterbalancing concerns that finally decided him to support the deal.  Under the argument as he presents it, however, we are faced with an Iran that will have the certain ability to build a nuclear weapon if it wants.  Perhaps the thing that is keeping Israelis from agreeing with him is merely the fact that they know what an Iranian bomb would mean for them.  America is a physically larger country, and further away, and thus will not be in existential danger from Iranian nuclear weapons immediately.  Iran would have to develop an arsenal similar to our own or the former Soviet Union’s to completely destroy the United States.  For Israel, that threat comes on the first day, and Iran couldn’t be clearer about its intentions.