When Congress reconvenes, we will face one of the most serious global security decisions since the Iraq war vote.
Today, Iran has the uranium and enrichment capacity (20,000 centrifuges) it needs to produce fuel for eight to 10 nuclear bombs within two to three months. Iran has gotten this close to a bomb despite strong international sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Members of Congress share a common objective: preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The question is whether the agreement reached by Iran, the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany is the best way to achieve that goal.
I’ve approached this decision the same way I did when I decided to oppose the war in Iraq — without regard for partisan politics. I’ve read the plan; attended classified briefings; spoken to our lead technical expert, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and our lead negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry; and I’ve met with constituents who hold passionate views on both sides of the issue.
After considering all the analyses and arguments, and after much reflection, I have concluded that the agreement, while not perfect, gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The agreement includes a direct commitment by Iran never to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon. The agreement also includes a permanent ban on Iranian development of key nuclear weaponization capabilities.
Iran needs enriched uranium or plutonium to make a nuclear weapon. The agreement blocks both of these pathways. It requires Iran to reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent and to mothball 75 percent of its centrifuges. The 300 kilograms of uranium Iran would keep would not be weapons-grade, nor would it be enough to make a weapon. The centrifuges left in operation would be the least efficient and all centrifuges would be constantly monitored for 20 years.
The only site where Iran could produce weapons-grade plutonium is the Arak nuclear reactor. Under the agreement, this reactor would be rebuilt so it could not produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and all its spent fuel rods, a source of weapons-grade plutonium, would be sent out of the country. In addition, the plan prohibits Iran from building another such reactor for at least 15 years.
Finally, Iran has committed to extraordinarily intrusive monitoring and inspection. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would not only be monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they also would be verifying that no nuclear material is covertly diverted to a secret location to build a bomb. Iran has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to inspect any site they deem suspicious.
If, and only if, Iran complies with these steps, which is likely to take nearly a year, would international sanctions be suspended and $56 billion of Iranian funds frozen in foreign banks be released. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions could be “snapped back” into place. Nothing in the agreement would stop President Barack Obama or any future president from using all available options should Iran try to build a nuclear weapon.
This agreement is not based on trust but on strong verification requirements. All of Iran’s nuclear facilities — and its entire nuclear supply chain — would be under 24/7 human, photographic and electronic surveillance for 20 years. This would give the United States and our partners unprecedented access, intelligence, time and options to respond should we suspect that Iran has violated this agreement.
I have no doubt that Iran will remain a hostile regime and pose a significant threat to the United States, Israel and our allies, but this agreement serves to take the greatest threat off the table — Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel and the United States. This agreement will make Israel and America safer.
Many who oppose this agreement call for a “better deal.” This means having the United States threaten to deny our closest economic and diplomatic allies access to the American economy if they refused to join us at some point in re-imposing sanctions. This is a far-fetched and self-destructive strategy; 40 percent of our exports go to those countries, so we’d destroy American jobs and devastate our economy. Our trading partners know we’d never risk that.
During my time in Congress, I have always believed that we must pursue diplomacy before confrontation and that war should always be a last resort. I cannot ask the sons and daughters of the families I represent to fight a war without being able to look them in the eye and tell them we have exhausted all available diplomatic means. Congress should give this agreement a chance to work, and I intend to support it.
Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Forest Hills, represents Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional District.