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Critique of Sen Schumer's Statement Against Iran Deal

Critique of Senator Schumer's Statement
in Opposition to the Iran Deal

by Paul Surovell, Chair, South Mountain Peace Action, Maplewood NJ
August 9, 2015

[ Responses to Schumer indented and highlighted in gray ]

On Thursday [August 6, 2015], Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that he would oppose the deal with Iran over its nuclear program. The following is the full text of the statement the Jewish Democrat from New York:

Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views.

Over the years, I have learned that the best way to treat such decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.

I have spent the last three weeks doing just that: carefully studying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reading and re-reading the agreement and its annexes, questioning dozens of proponents and opponents, and seeking answers to questions that go beyond the text of the agreement but will have real consequences that must be considered.

Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.

While we have come to different conclusions, I give tremendous credit to President Obama for his work on this issue. The President, Secretary Kerry and their team have spent painstaking months and years pushing Iran to come to an agreement. Iran would not have come to the table without the President's persistent efforts to convince the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese to join in the sanctions. In addition, it was the President's far-sighted focus that led our nation to accelerate development of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), the best military deterrent and antidote to a nuclear Iran. So whichever side one comes down on in this agreement, all fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the President's strong achievements in combatting and containing Iran.

In making my decision, I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal. In each case I have asked: are we better off with the agreement or without it?

In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not "anywhere, anytime"; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) - the tools that go into building a bomb but don't emit radioactivity.

The agreement blocks all pathways to a nuclear bomb by preventing Iran from producing enough enriched uranium for a bomb. For the first 10 years, if Iran were to seek to "break out" of the agreement, it would need at least 1 year to build a bomb.

Schumer concedes that a 24-day delay would not enable Iran to evade detection of cheating with respect to uranium enrichment, so the breakout period would remain essentially intact, even if the 24-day waiting period were invoked and cheating were detected.

Schumer voices concern about activities of "possible military dimensions" (PMD) unrelated to uranium enrichment. In a worst-case scenario, these activities, if undetected (highly unlikely if the activities were of a significant nature) would not enable Iran to build a bomb nor would they reduce the breakout time to build one with regard to the need for 25 kg of highly-enriched uranium (HEU). PMD activities relate to a separate breakout time -- the time to build a warhead (not the HEU that goes into the warhead) which is also estimated as at least one year (in addition to the year needed to enrich enough uranium for one bomb).

The level of confidence on Iran's breakout time to build a warhead is not as great as the level of confidence on Iran's breakout time to enrich enough uranium for a bomb, so the time to build a warhead is not included in the often-cited one-year breakout time. That one-year breakout time refers to uranium enrichment alone, which can be verified with a high degree of confidence.

The issue of monitoring PMD is indirectly covered by the Iran deal, through an IAEA protocol: (see page 30)

Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.

If radioactivity is detected, Iran would be in violation and at risk of renewed sanctions and all investigative forces would be brought to bear. Either the IAEA would learn precisely what was being done or the sanctions would be put back in place.
Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.
Schumer's fears that the Europeans are going to block inspections when faced with evidence of a violation assumes that Europeans do not care if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. That assumption flies in the face of experience and logic and it is hard to believe that Schumer really believes what he is saying.
Additionally, the "snapback" provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use. While the U.S. could unilaterally cause snapback of all sanctions, there will be instances where it would be more appropriate to snapback some but not all of the sanctions, because the violation is significant but not severe. A partial snapback of multilateral sanctions could be difficult to obtain, because the U.S. would require the cooperation of other nations. If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.
Schumer voices concerns about the "difficulty" of re-imposing sanctions under the deal if Iran is in violation ("snapback") because it would require cooperation of other nations. Yet, he is calling on Congress to kill the deal, which virtually all observers agree will end the sanctions by our partners permanently. His concern about the difficulty of "snapback" and his lack of concern about the end of all sanctions by our partners if the deal is killed is a fatal contradiction in Schumer's argument.

Those who argue for the agreement say it is better to have an imperfect deal than to have nothing; that without the agreement, there would be no inspections, no snapback. When you consider only this portion of the deal - nuclear restrictions for the first ten years - that line of thinking is plausible, but even for this part of the agreement, the weaknesses mentioned above make this argument less compelling.

Schumer concedes the deal is better than no deal for the first 10 years because it would prevent Iran from getting a bomb during that period. However, the "weaknesses" that he mentions to mitigate his endorsement of the nuclear restrictions for the first ten years -- like the "difficulty" of snapback and the difficulty in identifying the exact source of detected radiation -- are important, but trivial, in comparison with the deal's ability to block Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for 10 years.
Second, we must evaluate how this deal would restrict Iran's nuclear development after ten years.

Supporters argue that after ten years, a future President would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.

The agreement prevents Iran from obtaining enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) necessary for a nuclear bomb for 15 years, not 10. For 15 years Iran cannot have uranium enriched higher than 3.67% -- a level that can only be used for peaceful purposes. And Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium during years 11-15 will remain at 300 kg from the current level of 12,000 kg throughout the period.

The IAEA will have a comprehensive inspections system in place to monitor these conditions, a system that does not exist today. Schumer's comparison of Iran today with Iran during years 11-15 can only make sense if the restrictions under the agreement are ignored. And to suggest that the world will have less "moral and economic force" to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in years 11-15 is speculation that denies deeply rooted concerns among the P5+1 about nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

If Iran's true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience. After ten years, it can be very close to achieving that goal, and, unlike its current unsanctioned pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear program will be codified in an agreement signed by the United States and other nations. To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.

Schumer can only say that we are worse off after 10 years because he ignores the stringent conditions that will continue to be imposed on Iran after the 10th year of the agreement. There is no reference in his statement to those conditions -- the ban on HEU and the limit on Iran's uranium stockpile, as well as the comprehensive monitoring system and other restrictions. Schumer has not even gone through the verbal motions of supporting his argument on years 11-15 with evidence.

To reiterate, in years 11-15 Iran will be restricted to uranium that is enriched at 3.67% -- useful only for peaceful purposes -- and limited to a stockpile of 300 kg of low-enriched uranium, compared with its current stockpile of 12,000 kg.

Furthermore after 10 years, the IAEA will have developed significantly more knowledge about Iran and significantly deeper and broader contacts with its people, including those who do not want the regime to acquire a nuclear weapon.

We will be better off and safer in years 11-15 than we are today.

In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause.

The phrase "most pause" is telling. Schumer confesses that he is less concerned about preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb than he is about non-nuclear activities of Iran.
For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are "state sponsors of terrorism." Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.

To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country. It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran's armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.

Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.

Why were funds frozen and sanctions put in place? To get a nuclear agreement.

That was understood by Congress and the P5+1 countries when they imposed the sanctions.The sanctions were imposed and the funds were frozen to pressure Iran to accept an agreement like the one we got. The sanctions did not target Iran's non-nuclear activities.

Yes, it is possible that with additional funds, Iran will increase its non-nuclear activities. But it is also possible that because of its increased involvement with the community of nations, it will not. We don't know. But regardless of what Iran does in the non-nuclear arena, those activities can be addressed separately, and they will be. And the US is not limited in terms of what it can do by the nuclear agreement.

When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.

Senator Schumer appears to have a low and unrealistic opinion of the US ability to address Iran's behavior in the non-nuclear arena. However, Senator Schumer is fully aware that the US and its allies have many resources available to compensate and overcome any advantage that Iran might gain in the non-nuclear arena.
Using the proponents' overall standard - which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it - it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.
Again, Schumer is trivializing the importance of blocking Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon for 10 years and ignoring the continued restrictions on it from years 11-15, that would block Iran from building a bomb. And likewise he ignores the permanent inspections and surveillance regime that will alert the West should Iran decide to cheat. What changes after 10 years is Iran's ability to increase its peaceful nuclear activities -- in scale and quality. But it remains precluded from developing nuclear weapons -- forever.
Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.

If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran's hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism.

But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.

This is a false choice. Schumer knows that the negotiations were never intended to change Iran's behavior -- except for its making a commitment to not build a nuclear weapon. Again, Schumer seems unconcerned that if Congress kills the deal, Iran immediately will be under no obligation to refrain from nuclear weapons development, and the world will lose its ability to monitor any such activities.
Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who's to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?

To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.

The agreement assumes that Iran will not change, that's why it has the toughest inspections regime in history to assure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Schumer's remark begs the question -- does he want Iran to pursue its nefarious goals with nuclear weapons or without nuclear weapons?
Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.

For all of these reasons, I believe the vote to disapprove is the right one.

Schumer wants the US to "enforce secondary sanctions." Those are sanctions against allies and other countries trading with Iran. So his solution is to create a new arena of conflict for the US -- enforcing sanctions on companies of our allies and the rest if the world. Will we be better off or worse off when we find ourselves in new economic conflicts with our friends? Will Iran be better off or worse off when it is able to play the US off against its friends?

Charles Schumer has not considered the implications of his position. He would blow up allied unity on sanctions and remove all restrictions and inspections on Iran's nuclear program. His position makes more likely that sanctions will collapse and that Iran will develop a nuclear bomb. This is a very bad position for our country, for Israel and for the world.
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