October 24, 2017 | House Foreign Affairs Committee, Middle East and North Africa Subcomittee

The President’s Iran Decision: Next Steps

Download the full testimony here.

The preamble to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) asserts that the “full implementation” of the deal “will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.” In addition, the full implementation of the JCPOA “will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.”[1] More than two years have now passed since the conclusion of the JCPOA. Therefore, it is a good time to review those aspects of the deal that require strengthening if the JCPOA hopes to deny Iran access to a nuclear weapons capability.

UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsed the JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium recovery, while adding restraints on Iran’s ballistic missile activities. These restrictions will be lifted when the JCPOA sunset clauses kick in. Six years from now, Iran will be able to start manufacturing advanced centrifuges, enabling it to gradually cut down its one-year nuclear breakout time. At the same time, if not earlier, restrictions on Iran’s missile program will be terminated.

The time to act is now, and not six years from now when the sunset clauses begin to take effect. It will be far harder to fix the deal once sunset clauses help Iran to permanently establish itself as a threshold nuclear state with the capability to manufacture and deliver nuclear warheads in a short period of time. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif himself has stated that Iran will emerge from the deal with a stronger nuclear program.[2]

To increase the likelihood that the JCPOA ensures the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program, there must be a far more robust and meaningful verification of the deal’s provisions. To that end, several measures will be necessary. First, the IAEA’s quarterly reports on the deal’s implementation must be enhanced, preferably in the manner I describe below. Next, the IAEA should complete the follow-up actions related to its investigation of the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian nuclear program, including site visits and interviews with scientists.[3] Third, the JCPOA and related agreements must apply to all sites related to the Iranian nuclear program, with no exceptions for military sites or any others. Fourth, Iran should ratify the Additional Protocol well before the sunset provisions take effect and before the IAEA issues a Broader Conclusion about the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. Fifth, the UNSCR 2231 limitations on ballistic missiles should be extended to cruise missiles, while the restrictions on missile ranges and payloads should be lowered. Finally, these and other measures should extend Iran’s one-year breakout time indefinitely into the future, while enabling more effective enforcement.

[1] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015, Preamble Section ii and Preface first paragraph. (https://medium.com/@ObamaWhiteHouse/joint-comprehensive-plan-of-action-5cdd9b320fd)

[2] Julian Borger, “Iran's foreign minister urges Europe to defy US if Trump sinks nuclear deal,” The Guardian (UK), September 29, 2017. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/29/iran-foreign-minister-zarif-europe-trump-nuclear)

[3] From 2002 onwards, the IAEA became increasingly concerned about the possible existence of undisclosed, nuclear-related activities in Iran involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. Subsequently, the IAEA identified outstanding issues related to these possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as actions required by Iran to resolve these issues. The IAEA issued its PMD findings in the report: International Atomic Energy Agency, “Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” December 2, 2015. (https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/gov-2015-68.pdf)