Despite over-the-top praise for the new framework nuclear agreement with Iran by the Obama administration, the news media and liberal pundits, Obama officials have made several questionable claims defending it, including some that have been disputed by Iranian officials.
Taken together, these statements raise questions as to whether the framework can bring about a final nuclear agreement with Iran that will actually reduce the threat from an Iranian nuclear bomb. These claims include:
Misleading if not false. Both the American and Iranian governments agree that Iran will continue to enrich uranium and develop much more efficient uranium centrifuges while a final agreement is in effect. Iran also will keep a plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor and an underground enrichment facility that probably was constructed to withstand American or Israeli airstrikes. As a result, any agreement based on the framework would shorten the timeline to an Iranian nuclear weapon by allowing Iran to improve its capability to produce nuclear fuel while it is in effect.
Steps to cut off pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon would include monitoring Iran’s declared civilian nuclear program and Iran’s cooperation in resolving questions about possible military nuclear work. Even if the agreement succeeded in cutting off these pathways for the duration of the agreement (which appears doubtful), it would leave Iran closer to a nuclear bomb at its conclusion or if Tehran pulled out of the agreement and expelled IAEA inspectors.
There will be robust and intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Misleading. IAEA inspectors will only have access to declared nuclear sites associated with peaceful nuclear activities. Although Obama officials claim Iran will allow intrusive inspections of suspected covert and military nuclear sites, Tehran has long resisted permitting this and refused to comply with a November 2013 agreement with the IAEA to answer questions about 12 areas of possible nuclear weapons-related work. While Obama officials have asserted that Iran will be required to permit inspections of possible military-related nuclear sites under an agreement known as the IAEA additional, Tehran has refused to honor this agreement since the nation signed it in 2003. Moreover, according to a joint EU/Iran statement on the framework agreement, Iran has only agreed to “provisional application” of the Additional Protocol.
Iran also reportedly has rejected snap inspections of nuclear sites which means it could delay inspections of these sites until it removed evidence of possible nuclear related activity.
The Arak heavy water reactor will be re-designed so it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium.
False. It is impossible to operate a heavy-water reactor without producing plutonium. Although this reactor might produce less plutonium by redesigning it, the only way to prevent plutonium production is to convert this reactor it into a light-water reactor, an option that the U.S. and European states proposed but Iran rejected.
Iran disagrees with the Obama administration’s claim that the Arak reactors’ core will be removed so it produces less plutonium. An Iranian statement on the framework says this plant “will remain” and will “be updated and modernized.”
Meaning unclear. Western states wanted Iran to send all of its enriched uranium (which can currently be made into fuel for eight or more nuclear weapons) out of the country, but Tehran apparently rejected this demand over the last two weeks. There has been talk that Iran will dilute its enriched uranium so it would need to be enriched again to use as reactor or weapons fuel. Iran has refused to do this in the past. The Obama administration may again assert that the risk from Iran’s enriched uranium will be reduced by converting it to uranium dioxide powder. Experts shot down this claim after Obama officials made it last fall because this process can be reversed in about two weeks.
Iran will receive phased sanctions relief if it verifiably abides by its commitments.
Meaning unclear/Iran disagrees. Obama officials claim sanctions against Iran will be lifted in phases. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Friday accused the Obama administration of lying about this and said Iran would have all nuclear-related sanctions lifted once a final deal is signed.
U.S. officials also claim sanctions against Iran would be suspended and could “snap back” if Iran failed to comply with a final nuclear agreement. Zarif disagrees and said all sanctions must be completely terminated once a final deal is signed and not suspended.
The only alternatives to an agreement based on the framework are bad ones: war or pull-out of the nuclear talks.
False. The status quo would be a far better outcome than the nuclear agreement sought by the Obama administration, which will legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and allow it to enhance its capability to produce nuclear fuel while an agreement is in effect. This agreement is likely to further destabilize the Middle East, encourage a regional nuclear arms race and could spark a war. Give the lopsided agreement that the Obama administration has negotiated, the best outcome would be to halt the nuclear talks and leave this issue for a future president who is not so desperate for a nuclear agreement with Iran.
The Obama administration will engage Congress on a nuclear agreement with Iran and will discuss a congressional oversight role.
Misleading. This claim is to distract from President Obama’s refusal to allow Congress to vote on a nuclear agreement with Iran. Although administration officials will testify to Congress about an agreement, the president will not submit the agreement to Congress for approval.
Obama officials are likely to respond to criticism about gaps and ambiguities in the framework agreement by claiming it is only an interim agreement and the final details still need to be worked out. I believe the framework represents a series of unacceptable American concessions and language that papers over serious U.S.-Iran disagreements. This makes me wonder whether the framework was really a PR stunt to shore up the nuclear talks at a time when they have been subjected to growing bipartisan criticism from Congress.
Congress should not be fooled by this charade. The framework will lead to a bad deal which will allow Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program at a time when it is increasing its influence and meddling in the Middle East. For the sake of American security and the security of America’s Middle East friends and allies, Congress must do what it can to kill any nuclear agreement with Iran based on this deeply flawed framework.
Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst, is Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs for the Center for Security Policy. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.