Myths and realities of the Iran nuclear deal

By Daryl G. Kimball, the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association. Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.

The Iran deal isn’t a bad deal, it’s very strong says Arms Control Association director.

Unfortunately, political bickering and misinformation from critics has muddled the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.

The fundamental choice is whether to support this agreement — which will verifiably block all of Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons for the next generation, or more — or follow the advice of pressure groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other skeptics, who claim that the agreement falls short of expectations and should therefore be rejected in the hope of a “better deal” down the line.

Here’s why the critics are mistaken and why rejection of the agreement would open the door to a rapid increase of Iran’s nuclear capabilities that would bring the Islamic Republic closer to having a nuclear weapon.

First, this isn’t a “bad” deal — it’s a very strong, very comprehensive nonproliferation agreement. It puts in place a more stringent and intrusive verification regime that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency the tools necessary to monitor compliance and detect covert nuclear activity for decades to come. If Iran tries to cheat, it will be promptly detected, and we can respond to disrupt any such effort.

The agreement effectively blocks Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. It requires a substantial reconfiguration of Iran’s nuclear program: reducing the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds, capping its uranium stockpile to less than 300 kg for 15 years, and limiting advanced centrifuge research and development, destroying the core of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor so that it cannot produce enough plutonium for a weapons program. It also permanently prohibits activities that could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device.

Considering these overlapping, long-term, verifiable restrictions, the agreement creates very significant barriers blocking Iran’s nuclear capabilities that will effectively prevent the emergence of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons for more than a generation.
Opponents also argue that the U.S. and allies are providing sanctions relief before Iran resolves questions on its past nuclear work. Wrong again. UN sanctions will only be suspended if and when Iran fully explains and answers questions regarding its past activities with possible military dimensions. Until Iran cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on this matter, the U.N. Security Council sanctions and other sanctions will remain in place.

Furthermore, there will be no sanctions relief from the European Union, the United States, and the U.N. Security Council until the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken key nonproliferation and transparency steps that will increase its breakout time to a year or more.

What about the claim that the Iran deal will set off a nuclear arms race in the region? Think again. In reality, the nuclear deal will strengthen the nonproliferation regime, and head off a regional nuclear arms race. The Iran deal demonstrates the strength of the nonproliferation regime by showing that attempts to violate the treaty will be detected and that there are consequences for noncompliance.

In addition to the severe economic constraints Iran has faced from the sanctions regime, Iran’s limited nuclear program will be subject to restrictions and monitoring beyond the requirements of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. A limited, highly monitored Iranian nuclear program poses far less of a threat to the region than an unconstrained program. Without this agreement, Saudi Arabia would be more likely to hedge its nuclear bets.

What is most irresponsible of AIPAC and other critics is their call for Congress to reject this deal and hold out for a better one.

That is a dangerous fantasy. The alternative to the effective deal that has been negotiated is no deal. AIPAC’s course of action would condemn the United States, our friends in Israel and the entire region to a dangerous future.

If the United States Congress rejects this deal, and blocks its implementation, the U.S. would undercut its international allies and the necessary international support for Iran-related sanctions would melt away. Iran would be able to rapidly and significantly expand its capacity to produce weapons-grade material. The United States would lose out on securing enhanced inspections needed to detect a clandestine weapons effort.

Ultimately, without a deal, the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of a war over Iran’s program would increase.

AIPAC’s critique of the deal is deeply flawed. Let’s hope Congress sees through their misinformation campaign and looks at the facts when assessing the deal. Because the facts are clear: the Iran nuclear deal is a strong, verifiable agreement that benefits U.S. security and the security of our allies.

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