April 4, 2017 | Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, National Security Subcommittee
Assessing the Iran Deal
President Donald Trump promised to “rigorously enforce” the JCPOA, which he has also called “the worst deal ever negotiated.”[ii] While strict enforcement is an important first step, it is insufficient. The JCPOA provides Iran with a patient pathway to nuclear weapons capability. If the United States simply enforces the agreement, Iran will become a threshold nuclear weapons state.
The JCPOA preserved essential elements of the country’s nuclear infrastructure and placed only limited, temporary, and reversible constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities. In exchange, Iran got the complete dismantlement of many of the most effective U.S. and international economic sanctions.
At the heart of the JCPOA is a fatal flaw: Iran does not need to cheat to reach threshold nuclear weapons capabilities. By following the deal, and waiting patiently for key constraints to disappear, Tehran can 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; access to advanced heavy weaponry; greater regional dominance; and a more powerful economy increasingly immunized against Western sanctions.
In less than four years under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in which the JCPOA is embedded, the UN embargo on conventional arms sales will disappear. In less than seven years, the restrictions on ballistic missile development will disappear, too.[iii] From there, Tehran can significantly enhance its military power – as well as the capabilities of its proxies – by acquiring advanced conventional weapons and further expanding its long-range ballistic-missile program to include intercontinental ballistic missiles. No country developing ICBMs has ever not also obtained nuclear weapons.
Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran’s uranium and plutonium pathways to atomic weapons expand over time, as well. The deal allows for Iran to continue limited testing and ultimately ramp up the testing of even more advanced centrifuges in seven years, and install these machines in its Natanz enrichment facility in nine years from now.[iv] Breakout time – the amount of time needed to enrich one bomb’s worth of fissile material to nuclear grade – drops from one year, where it is now, to months and then just weeks.[v]
In less than 15 years, the majority of restrictions on vital components of a military-nuclear program vanish. This includes bans on uranium enrichment above 3.67 percent purity and the stockpiling of low-enriched uranium.[vi] At that time, Iran can restart its uranium enrichment in the Fordow nuclear facility – a previously secret nuclear site buried under a mountain that is believed to be impenetrable to U.S. military strikes. Moreover, Iran can build an unlimited number of other advanced centrifuge-powered enrichment facilities just like Fordow.[vii] Iran can deploy an unlimited number of advanced centrifuges in these facilities. They are more efficient than Iran’s basic models, can enrich uranium to weapons-grade faster thereby requiring a fewer number of machines, and can be housed in smaller, harder-to-detect facilities. While building clandestine facilities and diverting uranium to these sites would be a JCPOA violation, the leaders in Iran know that the challenge of monitoring and inspecting such a massive nuclear program on a territory more than twice the size of Texas will be a formidable challenge for the IAEA and Western intelligence services.
[i] Eric Cortellessa, “In call with Riyadh, Trump vows to ‘rigorously enforce’ Iran deal,” The Times of Israel, January 30, 2017. (http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-call-with-riyadh-trump-commits-to-rigorously-enforce-iran-deal/)
[ii] “Trump administration pledges ‘great strictness’ on Iran nuclear deal,” Reuters, March 7, 2017. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-idUSKBN16E2GZ)
[iii] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015, Annex V – Implementation Plan. (http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/iran_agreement/annex_5_implementation_plan_en.pdf); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2231, July 20, 2015, Annex B, paragraphs 3 and 5. (http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2231(2015))
[iv] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015, Annex I – Nuclear-related measures, paragraphs 27, 37-38, and 53. (http://collections.internetmemory.org/haeu/20160313172652/http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/iran_agreement/annex_1_nuclear_related_commitments_en.pdf)
[v] Olli Heinonen, “Iran’s Breakout Time Drops Below Administration Benchmarks,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, July 29, 2016. (http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/olli-heinonen1-irans-breakout-time-drops-below-administration-benchmarks/); David Albright, Houston Wood, and Andrea Stricker, “Breakout Timelines Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” The Institute for Science and International Security, August 18, 2015. (http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Iranian_Breakout_Timelines_and_Issues_18Aug2015_final.pdf)
[vi] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015, Annex I – Nuclear-related measures, paragraphs 28 and 56. (http://collections.internetmemory.org/haeu/20160313172652/http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/iran_agreement/annex_1_nuclear_related_commitments_en.pdf)
[vii] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015, Annex I – Nuclear-related measures, paragraph 31. (http://collections.internetmemory.org/haeu/20160313172652/http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/iran_agreement/annex_1_nuclear_related_commitments_en.pdf)