Why We Still Oppose the Iran Deal

As the vote on the Iran Deal in Congress grows nearer, the administration and its allies are pulling out all stops to ensure its opponents can’t muster the two thirds majority it needs to block a presidential veto. They’re busy trotting out all the big names and having J Street spin the facts to make it seem as though the deal is air tight. The JPF would like nothing better than for this deal to succeed and stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, however as of yet we remain unconvinced and unimpressed. Here’s why:

First, both President Obama and John Kerry had, up until the very last few weeks of negotiations, insisted that Iran would have to answer the IAEA’s questions about the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program. In an interview in April, just three short months before the deal was signed, Kerry was adamant Iran would have to answer the questions before a deal was reached:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, another issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?

JOHN KERRY: No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it’s not there now.

JOHN KERRY: It will be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So that information will be released before June 30th, will be available.

JOHN KERRY: It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.

After years of saying answers about the PMDs “has to be” part of the agreement, Kerry and the Western negotiating team collapsed when it became clear Iran wouldn’t say yes. Instead of insisting Iran answer the IAEA’s questions before the deal is signed, it would merely have to agree to “parameters” to address them… “eventually.” This is a major problem that has not been explained away by the administration or its apologists in anyway close to an adequate manner.

The entire deal with Iran is predicated on its ability to keep Iran at least one year away from developing a bomb, however, without understanding all of the progress Iran has already made toward building a bomb, there is no way to know how much longer it will take! This isn’t a matter of ideology, it is a simple matter of logic.

Now we’re told that despite the fact that Iran refused to answer these questions when it was under crippling sanctions, now that its economy is unshackled and it has access to $150 billion it will slowly fess up to how it cheated past agreements and secretly worked towards a nuclear weapon. Even if Iran were to comply with this bizarrely unrealistic scenario it still would not be sufficient. What happens if Iran finally comes clean and it turns out that because of the work they’ve done Iran is less than a year away from a bomb? Doesn’t that throw off the entire premise of the deal? If that is the case, would more sanctions or safeguards prop up in an attempt to push Iran back from the brink? Not in this deal.

Another aspect of the PMD issue is that had the US stuck to its guns and insisted that Iran come clean at the beginning of negotiations rather than at the conclusion (which they didn’t even have to do in the end!) this would not have been a discussion between equals. This would have been a negotiation between the major world powers and serial deal-breaker seeking to throw itself on the mercy of the court. Forcing Iran to answer the IAEA’s very reasonable questions (of which they have still only answered part of a single question) would set the basis for a much better deal.

The other big problem is the issue of verification. It is true that the safeguards in place at Iran’s declared nuclear sites are robust. No one is seriously questioning that. The problem rests with verification at military sites where suspected illegal nuclear work occurred in the past. Under the current agreement, not only would such inspections take place no sooner than 24 days after asking Iran politely to comply and more realistically after at least 3 months as the world powers debate and talk about whether a violation actually occurred that was great enough to force inspectors in, all of this giving Iran plenty of time to hide or move any illicit activities. But even this is the most optimistic scenario.

Ayatollah Khamenei and Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps’s aerospace arm, as well as other leaders of the IRGC have made it clear that no inspectors will be allowed into military sites at all! Since any cheating by Iran would likely take place at covert sites like these and not at the declared nuclear sites, this is where verification is the most important.

Even worse, the IAEA has begun to legitimize this position by agreeing that soil samples from places like Parchin, where work on PMDs has been done in the past and subsequently covered up, could be provided by the Iranians themselves not taken by IAEA inspectors. Would a police officer ever let a known drug user provide their own urine sample unsupervised? Of course not but here the stakes are far higher with that exact arrangement!

This deal does not address the minimum requirements that President Obama himself laid out at the beginning of negotiations. If this administration wants to convince its critics that this is in fact a good deal, it will have to address these issues… but don’t hold your breath.