The Anti-Defamation League has long advocated for robust sanctions against Iran because we know that a successful diplomatic outcome is the best way to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. However, our initial review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) gives us cause for concern that the agreement falls short of that goal.
Congress must now assess whether the JCPOA meets that objective. President Obama was absolutely right when he said, in announcing the JCPOA, that the details of the agreement matter very much. The U.S. negotiators and a team of technical experts spent countless hours negotiating a very complex and detailed document. Congress should critically examine how the deal would be implemented, whether it can, in fact, effectively safeguard America and its allies from the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, and consider additional appropriate policies and measures that will decrease the likelihood Iran will become a nuclear weapons state. If, after such an exhaustive examination, Congress is unable to achieve this, we would urge you not to approve the deal.
The serious stakes of the issue merit a debate that rejects the false choice between accepting this agreement and advocating for war. This message ill-serves the goal of ensuring that an agreement with Iran will make America and its allies safer.
We are not non-proliferation or nuclear weapons experts and we don’t presume to have the answers. But, ADL’s policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon compels us to ask that Congress probe these key questions that are generating intense trepidation among our constituents.
1. Does the agreement sufficiently limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capability?
The JCPOA represents a pause, not a stop to Iran’s nuclear weapons quest. It restricts all aspects of Iran's nuclear program for many years, some lasting as many as 25 years. But the tightest restrictions on development, on the number of centrifuges and what they may yield, on dual use item procurement and other areas, are time-limited. After 15 years, Iran will be able to increase its enrichment capability and, thus, significantly shorten the breakout time it needs to produce highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Iran then will be a legitimate threshold nuclear state that can possess even weapons grade uranium and will not be barred from critical reprocessing activity. The jump from being a threshold nuclear weapon state to a state armed with a nuclear weapon is very small and next to impossible to interrupt.
2. Can the verification and enforcement mechanisms ensure Iranian compliance?
The monitoring regime may be unprecedented, but so will Iran’s efforts to evade it. The President has said that the agreement is not based on trust but rather on rigorous verification. The agreement includes continuous monitoring of the uranium supply chain to ensure that Iran cannot divert raw material for use in clandestine activity to develop a covert program. At the same time, experts agree that Iran’s long track record of evasion makes it likely that Iran will test the verification system and attempt to go around it.
3. How can America’s deterrence be strengthened in the face of relatively front-loaded sanctions relief?
Sanctions relief is not immediate but, in roughly six months, when compliance commences, Iran will receive access to close to $150 billion in frozen funds, largely from oil revenue. If even a small portion of this newly available money was diverted to Hezbollah or other proxies, the prospect of an increased terror threat would be serious.
Sanctions are re-imposed, “snapped back”, in response to significant breaches in the deal. But, even if Iran is deterred from major breaches in the deal, there is also a chance that the U.S. will, in turn, be deterred from bringing down the entire agreement in response to small violations. This gives Iran the ability to evade restrictions under the agreement with small violations which will test the limits of verification and erode its effectiveness.
The deal includes a mechanism to monitor and investigate smaller breaches. But, it does not provide a system of graded, proportionate penalties for less significant violations. The U.S. should closely examine this loophole and explore ways in which it can be closed.
Military action is a last resort that no one wants to see. But the U.S. must be clear that if Iran is seen to be skirting the agreement and moving toward development of a nuclear weapon, even as a result of small infractions, that there will be serious consequences. More importantly, the U.S. should make clear that, once major restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program end, should Iran engage in nuclear activity that is inconsistent with a peaceful program, the U.S. will be prepared to act militarily.
A robust and serious debate about ensuring that the deal is supported by strong deterrence is vital both to ensure compliance with the agreement and to prepare for a world in which Iran is a nuclear threshold state.
4. How can the U.S. refine a broad regional strategy to counter the threat of Iran’s aggression?
While the issue may fall outside the strict parameters of the JCPOA, the final terms exacerbate concern about the agreement as a destabilizing factor in a turbulent region. The U.S. has an urgent and vital interest in addressing Iran’s destructive regional role. Regardless of one’s views of the JCPOA, it has destabilizing implications in the region by legitimizing Iran and thereby empowering its support for terrorism, and its proxies in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in addition to its ongoing threats against Israel.
Iran’s regional role will be buttressed, not only by the sanctions relief and oil revenue, but by the legitimacy now lent to Iran and its ongoing destabilizing efforts and aggression in the region.
We put these questions before you in good faith and we urge you to probe the issues earnestly and to seek answers from the Administration. We have been highly skeptical throughout the process of these negotiations. But, we remain open to ways to address these questions and to the potential for supplemental efforts by the U.S. to improve the prospects of preventing the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Despite our deep concern about Iran as a trustworthy partner, we urge Congress to conduct a thorough, serious and fact-based examination that rejects partisan or ad hominem attacks on the intent or the character of proponents on either side of the issue.
Barry Curtiss-Lusher Abraham H. Foxman
National Chair National Director