Tough Questions

The agreement has generated a lot of important and challenging questions. The answers are rooted in the facts.

How can the deal be pro-Israel if Prime Minister Netanyahu and even his political rivals oppose it?

By cutting off every pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon, the deal will make Israel safer, and many within the top echelons of Israel’s security establishment agree.

Former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon argues that the agreement is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view.” Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy says that the agreement “distances Iran from a bomb,” while retired major general Amram Mitzna wrote recently, “This agreement is better than no agreement and must not be rejected.” The Israeli Peace and Security Association, which represents hundreds of Israeli security experts, IDF veterans, Mossad, Shin Bet and police, maintains that the deal “should remove the immediate threat of an Iranian break-out leading to a nuclear military capability within a few months” and “is expected to lengthen the break-out time to 12 months for at least 10 years.”

Israel’s leaders have a right to speak out on matters that concern their country, but those who know Israeli security best are saying that it is better than the alternatives.

If Iran is found to be non-compliant, can we trust that the UN will reimpose sanctions?

We dont have to “trust” anyone — it will happen automatically because the United States refused to be party to an agreement without that very assurance. If Iran violates any part of the agreement, the UN Security Council resolution requires that the sanctions snap back unilaterally, provided the US and our EU partners demand that they do. Neither Iran, Russia, nor China could block the snapback of these sanctions. Additionally, the EU and US can snap back their own sanctions at any time if Iran does not meet its commitments. The US will always retain the ability to take whatever steps necessary to protect America’s security and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

What happens after the deal expires or sunsets? Can’t Iran just go back to trying to build a nuclear weapon then?

The agreement never expires or sunsets. The agreement contains some time-limited restrictions on certain Iranian nuclear activity, but its prohibition on Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and its submission to an aggressive inspections and monitoring regime are permanent.

Specifically, the agreement establishes strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first 10 years, and after the initial 10 year period, Iran must continue to limit enrichment to a level that is consistent with a peaceful nuclear program. Certain transparency measures will last for 15 years, others for 20 to 25 years, and some will last forever, namely its obligations under the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.

This deal in no way authorizes, allows, or encourages future Iranian nuclear weapons activity, which will always be prohibited under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If Iran every acts to pursue a nuclear weapon in violation of the agreement, the United States and its allies retain their ability to respond with any number of diplomatic and military options. And thanks to the agreement, America and its partners are now in a better position to thwart any break-out attempt given the unparalleled understanding and awareness of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that the deal has already provided.

Why doesn’t the deal require Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure?

It does require Iran to dismantle or neutralize the bulk of its nuclear infrastructure. The core of the Arak plutonium reactor had to be removed and filled with concrete. Iran was required to not only physically remove ⅔ of installed centrifuges, but also dismantle and remove all of the pipework that connects the centrifuges and allows them to actually enrich uranium. This infrastructure was removed from their current sites and placed under continuous IAEA surveillance. It would take well over two years for Iran to build back what it had before the deal, and inspectors would detect within days any attempt to rebuild.

Without a deal, Iran’s existing nuclear infrastructure would remain in place, fully connected and unmonitored as the regime rapidly adds to it.

Won’t the deal spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?

No – the deal can prevent one. A real incentive to a nuclear arms race in the region would be Iran racing toward a nuclear weapon in the absence of an agreement. Remember, until the interim agreement in the fall of 2013, that is exactly what was happening – it has only been successful diplomacy – and Iran’s compliance with that deal – that froze and actually rolled back for the very first time parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now, by verifiably blocking all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, this deal provides assurance to allies and partners in the region that we will not allow Iran to obtain or threaten its neighbors with one. The US is also working with allies in the region at this very moment to address their specific security concerns, which is why President Obama brought our closest Gulf allies to Camp David earlier this year.

Without a deal, Iran’s nuclear program would proceed unmonitored and unrestricted, virtually guaranteeing a nuclear arms race in the region.

Is 24 days enough time for Iran to hide nuclear weapons activity from IAEA inspectors?

Absolutely not. In fact, the United States and our partners turned to the best non-partisan, independent nuclear scientists and experts to confirm this very fact before they signed the deal. The experts agreed that it would be impossible to conceal a weapons program in 24 days.

Due to uranium’s half-life of millions of years, it can take from 6 months to several years to “clean” a facility where nuclear activity has taken place. James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment stated, “It’s impossible to sanitize a nuclear facility [in 24 days]. And when inspectors got there after 24 days, there would unquestionably still be evidence of… nuclear material.” Gary Samore, executive director for research at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs said that 24 days would not be enough time to hide evidence of the uranium enrichment facilities Iran would need to create the fissile material required for a bomb.

Can we trust Iran when it has violated many past agreements?

We don’t trust Iran — and this agreement leaves nothing to trust. It is based on unprecedented verification, with the strictest inspections in history. It mandates 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, including Natanz, Fordow, and Arak. International inspectors have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain – its uranium mines and mills; its conversion facility; its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities; and its other declared nuclear sites. As a result, Iran would need to construct an entire covert supply chain to pursue a covert nuclear weapons program. The IAEA can also access any undeclared sites within 24 days, and don’t worry — Iran, Russia or China do not have a veto over that right.

Why doesn’t the deal impose “anytime, anywhere inspections?”

There is no such thing — it is a semantic debate about a term that does not exist in arms control circles or at the IAEA. There are currently no countries who grant “anytime, anywhere” inspections to the IAEA nor has any country ever agreed to such a condition.

What is important and undeniable is that inspectors will get the access they need, when and where they need it. Iran’s nuclear facilities will be monitored 24/7, and no site will be off limits from IAEA inspectors including military sites, a diplomatic coup for the United States and our partners and something Iran’s Supreme Leader had opposed publicly. If Iran refuses to provide access, the US and our EU partners can deem Iran in violation of the deal, even over the objections of China and Russia.

What’s the alternative? Without a deal, international inspectors would be granted little or no access to any sites, while Iran’s nuclear program proceeds unmonitored and unrestricted.