The Nuclear Deal with Iran: The Details and ADL's Position

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August 14, 2015

On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 (the US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany – with EU facilitation) announced the finalization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. The agreement, which emerged after 20 months of negotiations, significantly scales back Iran’s nuclear program for a period of 10 to 15 years, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Iran. Congress has approximately 60 days from the agreement date to review the JCPOA agreement (until September 17), and then vote to accept or reject it, or do nothing.

On July 20th, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously approved a resolution which endorsed the Iran deal and created a basis for the lifting of UN sanctions against Iran. The resolution takes effect in 90 days (on October 18), which allows Congress time to review the deal.

ADL’s Position:

ADL initially raised serious concerns about significant elements of the JCPOA. Our benchmark for a good deal has always been whether it stops Iran from having a nuclear weapons capacity.   This deal doesn’t stop it. It delays it for 10 to 15 years at best. At that time there is a risk that Iran will be able to drastically enlarge its enrichment facilities, reducing its breakout time to zero, and giving it the capacity to enrich enough uranium for multiple bombs.  In the ensuing weeks, we have closely followed the debate, including presentations by Administration officials, public testimony before Congress, and the analysis of leading experts. While ADL believes the Administration has addressed some of the questions we highlighted in our July 20 letter to Members of Congress, other serious concerns remain.

Until the Administration acts in clear ways to address our deep concerns regarding the JCPOA, ADL has concluded that Congress should vote no on the deal.   

At the same time, and regardless of the outcome of the vote in Congress, we U.S. policy must address the ‘day after’ the vote and Iran’s state-sponsored promotion of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism; its illiberalism at home, aggression in the region and support for terrorism around the world; and its unending litany of threats against America, Israel and other U.S. allies.   With this ‘day after’ in mind, we believe the stakeholders  should work across the aisle for a more robust approach towards Iran. We need to recognize the strategic challenges posed by Iran address them with new consensus around a regional strategy, one that reflects America’s democratic values and highest ideals.

See below for a summary of the Iran agreement's main points, a detailed explanation of ADL's assessment, the role Congress should play, links to expert analyses and next steps. 

The Agreement's Main Points (according to the US Administration):

  • Iran will reduce the number of operating centrifuges at its Natanz facility by two-thirds to 5,060;
  • Iran’s uranium enrichment will be capped at 3.67 percent, and its stockpile reduced by 98 percent to 300 kilograms for a period of 15 years. Iran will either dilute or ship out of the country the remainder of its enriched uranium;
  • The underground enrichment Fordo facility will be turned into a nuclear physics research center;
  • The heavy-water reactor in the Arak facility will be re-engineered to prevent it from producing sufficient amounts of plutonium for a nuclear bomb;
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors will continuously monitor Iran’s declared nuclear facilities. Iran has also agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to the IAEA Safeguards Agreement which will allow inspectors to access and inspect sites they deem suspicious;
  • Once the IAEA confirms that Iran has implemented these and other commitments contained within the deal, the UN Security Council (UNSC) will vote on a resolution to void all previous UNSC resolutions, thereby lifting oil and financial sanctions. There will also be a gradual lifting of the international arms embargo against Iran;
  • If a P5+1 state suspects an Iranian violation of the agreement and the agreed dispute resolution process does not resolve the issue, the UNSC will vote on a resolution to continue the sanctions lifting.  If that resolution is not adopted, UNSC sanctions against Iran will be re-imposed.

ADL's Assessment of the JCPOA and the Congressional Review:

ADL has expressed serious concern about shortcomings in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), initially saying the agreement appears to “fall far short” of assuring that Iran will not become a nuclear weapons state.   With the benefit of analyses by respected experts who have been deeply involved in the issues related to Iran's nuclear program, our concerns remain. 

Longstanding ADL policy on this matter (adopted by ADL’s National Commission and NEC dating back to 2005) calls for Iran to “end its nuclear weapons program.”

While ADL appreciates the significant efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Energy Moniz, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman,  and the entire P5+1 negotiating team to reach a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, many questions still remain regarding the substance and strength of the agreement. 

The JCPOA pauses, but does not stop Iran’s nuclear weapon program through measures such as limiting the permitted level of enrichment, subjecting the nuclear supply chain to constant supervision, altering the plutonium production capability of Iran's heavy water reactor and providing for intrusive inspections and compliance verification.  Iran's assets frozen under the international and U.S. sanctions will be released and all nuclear-related sanctions will be removed.

While the deal would limit Iran’s known uranium enrichment facilities for 15 years, once the limitations phase out Iran could emerge as a nuclear threshold state with a nuclear program that is recognized and legitimized by the international community.  Iran would be able to revert to ignoring its obligations under the NPT and resume on a much shortened path to build and deliver a nuclear weapon, representing an even more urgent threat.

ADL is also deeply concerned by the new international legitimacy that will be granted to this fundamentally illiberal regime, which violates the basic freedoms we hold dear, propagates base anti-Semitism, including the denial of the Holocaust, and violently represses LGBT, religious and ethnic minorities, and political opposition.

On July 20th, ADL sent a letter to Senators and Representatives calling for them to “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.” The letter contained four key questions ADL believes Congress should probe.  Based on the public debate, we revisited these questions. Our questions have not been satisfactorily answered.

Our questions and evaluations follow:

Does the agreement sufficiently limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capability?

  • Experts have testified that Iran’s breakout time after year 15 could be reduced to weeks, and safeguards may not be sufficient to detect diversion in a timely manner.
  • On weaponization, we remain deeply concerned that Iran is not required to resolve all concerns about “possible military dimensions” and that weaponization work without fissile material may be successfully hidden.
  • Restrictions on Iran’s missile program will expire before the restrictions on Iran’s enrichment capability.
  • It is only due to the constraints on producing bomb fuel, that we believe Iran will not have a nuclear weapon capacity for 15 years. Afterwards, Iran will emerge as a nuclear threshold state.

Can the verification and enforcement mechanisms ensure Iranian compliance?

  • We continue to urge elected representatives to seek satisfactory answers on verification questions with the benefit of classified information provided in closed hearings.
  • On enforcement, we found the critics of the snapback mechanism to be more credible than the proponents.
  • Although we are encouraged by reports that the Administration is developing an escalating system of response to Iranian cheating for situations in which snapback of all sanctions would not be the best policy response, the details should be presented and included in the public debate, both unilateral measures and those supported by the other members of the P5+1.

How can America’s deterrence [against an Iranian breakout] be strengthened in the face of relatively front-loaded sanctions relief?

  • The question of deterring Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, during the period encompassed by the agreement and in the years after, must focus on the clear and credible policy by successive Administrations  that the U.S. will use military force to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

We welcome President Obama’s statement at American University: “Our military remains the ultimate backstop to any security agreement that we make. I have stated that Iran will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, and have done what is necessary to make sure our military options are real. And I have no doubt that any president who follows me will take the same position.”

  • We concur with the experts, such as Dennis Ross, who have suggested explicit Congressional support for this policy and for the deterrent threat to be broadened by providing Israel with an independent capability to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. We have not yet seen commitments to these necessary steps in order to satisfy us on this question.

How can the U.S. refine a broad regional strategy to counter the threat of Iran’s [non-nuclear] aggression?

At American University, President Obama said, “we need to check the [Iranian] behavior that we are concerned about directly, by helping our allies in the region strengthen their own capabilities.” And Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, “Hezbollah is sponsored of course by Iran, which is why the United States will continue to help Israel counter Iranian malign influence in the region.”

  • These statements must be backed up with concrete agreements to counter and roll back Iranian and Iranian-sponsored aggression in the region.
  • We have not yet seen specific commitments to these necessary steps in order to satisfy us on this question.

A call to action beyond the Congressional review: 

Congress has approximately 60 days (until September 17) to review the JCPOA agreement, and vote to accept or reject it, or do nothing. If a majority votes to reject the deal, President Obama can veto any resolution of disapproval, a move that would require a two-thirds majority of Congress to override.   Congress will likely vote on the agreement in early September.

Yet, regardless of the outcome of the vote, ADL believes that U.S. policy must address the “day after” and Iran’s promotion of terrorism, anti-Semitism, aggression and threats to Israel and others in the region. Stakeholders – Congress, the Administration, supporters and opponents of the deal – must work to build a more robust U.S. policy toward Iran and develop measures to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the long-term, and to counter its malign non-nuclear activities, including anti-Semitism, terrorism, violations of human rights, overt threats to Israel’s security and fomenting regional instability.

Such measures include:

  • Recognizing the new strategic challenges in the region and addressing them. Providing Israel and regional allies with what they need – diplomatically and militarily– to allay their fears and deter the constant and potentially intensifying threats from Iran and its proxies. This will include new security arrangements.


  • Making clear – backed up with sanctions and censure at international fora – that the U.S. remains committed to intensified opposition to Iran’s violations of the basic freedoms we hold dear: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press: it’s propagation of base anti-Semitism, including the denial of the Holocaust; its violent repression of LGBT, religious and ethnic minorities, and political opposition.


  • Taking concrete steps to stop the proliferation of Iranian extremism and destabilization throughout the region and around the globe. Again, using existing and additional sanctions, as well as other tools, to stem its sponsorship of terrorism for organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and others, its aggressive foreign policies, and its engagements in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere directly challenge and threaten US allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

For more reading on the topic:   

A number of international nuclear, diplomatic and military experts have published analyses of the Iran deal, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the agreement, and laying out implications for the US, its allies, and the broader Middle East.

Dennis Ross: How to Make Iran Keep its Word

Gary Samore:  Elements of the Iran Nuclear Deal

Robert Satloff:  A Better Deal with Iran is Possible

Amos Yadlin:  Following the Problematic Nuclear Agreement: Scenarios and Policy Recommendations

Washington Institute for Near East Policy:   Assessing the Iran Nuclear Agreement and The Washington Institute’s Iran Study Group June 24 Policy Statement

Also see ADL’s Q&A on the Nuclear Deal