July 23, 2015 | House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Download full testimony here

Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, members of the Committee, on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, thank you for the opportunity to testify.

This morning, I would like to address three of the major design flaws in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):

1. The JCPOA effectively dismantles the U.S. and international economic sanctions architecture, which, in key areas, was designed to address the full range of Iran’s illicit activities. The JCPOA also emboldens the most hardline element of the regime, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which will be a major beneficiary of this agreement;

2. The JCPOA creates an Iranian “nuclear snapback” instead of an effective economic sanctions snapback. This “nuclear snapback” provides Tehran with the ability to immunize itself against both political and economic pressure, block the enforcement of the agreement, and diminish the ability of the United States to apply any sanctions, including even non-nuclear sanctions, against the full range of Iran’s illicit conduct; and,

3. The JCPOA provides Iran with a patient path to a nuclear weapon over the next decade and a half. Tehran has to simply abide by the agreement to emerge as a threshold nuclear power with an industrial-size enrichment program; near-zero breakout time; an easier clandestine sneak-out pathway; an advanced long-range ballistic missile program, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); and hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to immunize its economy against future economic snapback sanctions, increase its conventional military power, and support terrorism and other rogue regimes.

Instead of this current JCPOA, Congress should work with the Obama Administration to amend and strengthen the agreement so that it much more effectively “cut[s] off every single one of Iran’s pathways” to a nuclear bomb and retains tools of effective and peaceful sanctions enforcement against Iranian illicit behavior on multiple fronts. President Obama and his Cabinet have repeatedly said, “No deal is better than a bad deal. In making this commitment, the president clearly had an acceptable alternative path in mind during the negotiations or he would not have threatened to walk away from the table if Iran didn’t come to an agreement. It is reasonable to assume that no president would enter negotiations, especially over something as fundamental to American national security as preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, unless that president had a well-developed best alternative to a negotiated agreement.
That alternative path of American coercive diplomacy still exists as a viable alternative, and includes: 1) leveraging the power of U.S. secondary sanctions to persuade international financial institutions and companies to stay out of Iran; 2) the use of military power, either directly or through the support of allies, against Iranian regime interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen; and 3) the credible threat of conventional and cyber-enabled force against Iran’s nuclear program.
If the president believes in the power of U.S. sanctions to maintain an effective economic snapback a decade or more in the future, then such an option exists today when the Iranian economy is still fragile and international investors have yet to return to Iran. If the president believes, however, that the multilateral sanctions regime cannot withstand a renewed commitment to negotiate an improved agreement, then he is admitting that the United States does not have sufficient peaceful economic leverage to enforce this agreement in the future when Iran’s nuclear program will be much bigger, Iran can leverage its “nuclear snapback” against the re-imposition of sanctions, and the regime’s economy will be much stronger.
If economic leverage is unavailable, then a future president will be left with only two options: concede Iran’s nuclear weapons development or use military force against a much stronger Iran when its nuclear breakout or sneak-out options will be much greater, and the consequences of force will be much more severe.
Congress should insist on an alternative to this deeply flawed deal and keep the president to his commitment that such alternatives always did—and continue to—exist. An agreement that gives Iran patient pathways to a nuclear weapon, access to heavy weaponry and ICBM technology, while enriching the leading state sponsor of terrorism, should be unacceptable. An agreement that undermines the use of peaceful economic leverage should be unacceptable. An agreement that leaves military force as the only effective option for a future president to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons development should be unacceptable.
This testimony now turns to an analysis of the fundamental flaws in the construction of the JCPOA.