WASHINGTON — President Obama heartily defended his nuclear deal with Iran at the State of the Union, vowing to veto a sizable bipartisan movement in Congress to keep sanctions pressure on the Islamic Republic.
“For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” Obama said, getting not as much applause as he may have hoped from the joint session.
The morning before he took the dais, though, a congressional panel heard that Iran has fully retained its ability to build a nuclear bomb that could be cranked out in as little as two months under the terms of the much-touted P5+1 agreement.
Gregory Jones, senior researcher of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on the Middle East and North Africa and Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade that the Obama administration has engaged in “mischaracterization of the deal’s benefits and the denial of the deal’s great flaw.”
“President Obama has said that the deal has ‘cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb,’” Jones said. “This is not true. Before the current nuclear deal, Iran could produce the highly enriched uranium — HEU — for a nuclear weapon in just six weeks. Over the next six months, the joint plan of action will increase this interval only slightly to eight weeks.”
“Iran will remain perilously close to a nuclear weapon. The joint plan of action allows Iran to continue to produce 3.5 percent enriched uranium which is the key starting material for any Iranian effort to produce HEU for weapons. Iran’s stockpile of this material will continue to grow during the course of this nuclear deal, though several White House statements, as well as Secretary Kerry, have incorrectly claimed otherwise.”
Jones warned that “as this stockpile of enriched uranium grows, the number of nuclear weapons that Iran can produce from it will grow as well.”
“Iran’s stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride is not supposed to grow. Iran is supposed convert the excess into an oxide form, but Iran can easily convert this material back into hexafluoride once it begins to produce nuclear weapons,” he added. “This fact is well known to U.S. technical experts, but their input was apparently either not sought or heeded.”
That means Iran could have enough uranium, once converted to weapons-grade material, for about four nuclear weapons by the time the interim agreement is up in July.
Mark Wallace, a former ambassador to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform during the George W. Bush administration, is now CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran. “Absent countries that fully and 100 percent cooperate, there is no such thing as verification that works,” he told the panel. “…Absent 100 percent cooperation, ‘verification’ equals bomb.”
The lawmakers on the panel who have seen the unfiltered version of the deal with Iran — which the administration won’t release to the American public because it says technical details need to be kept classified — remain convinced that the deal won’t stop Tehran from getting the bomb.
“First, if Iran has nuclear weapons Americans shouldn’t feel that they are safe, even if missile defense worked, because you can smuggle a nuclear weapon inside a bale of marijuana,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). “Second, the best argument for this agreement remaining secret is it must contain wonderful pro-American provisions that hardliners in Iran are unaware of. Unfortunately — and I know the hardliners look to me for advice and information — we’ve seen it. It doesn’t.”
“No doubt President Obama will tout this deal as the ultimate achievement for diplomacy and peace while excoriating those of us who had the temerity to say, hey, wait a minute: I don’t trust the Iranian regime,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said of the agreement announced in November but not launched until Jan. 20.
“There is no mechanism that allows for adjudication of violations in this deal and that is very troublesome. Bottom line, as long as the infrastructure is in place for Iran to continue its nuclear program, the threat that it can create a nuclear weapon will always be all too real, and that where P5+1 momentarily failed in this interim agreement,” she continued.
And the public boasting from President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that Iran “would not dismantle any part of its nuclear program under any circumstance… it has me fearing what the administration will accept in a final comprehensive agreement.”
Zarif told CNN today that Iran brushed off Obama’s address as fodder for “domestic consumption” but not representing the agreement accurately.
“It doesn’t matter how the Americans try to spin it for domestic consumption. When it comes to Iran, it does matter,” Zarif said. The Obama administration has likewise accused Iran of altering details of the agreement for public consumption.
“The Iranian stockpile is essentially useless for their domestic energy program. However, 19,000 centrifuges and 7 tons of enriched uranium are highly useful when a nation is trying to build a nuclear weapon,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). “We can all agree that nuclear science is complicated, but it seems that even someone with only a cursory knowledge of nuclear technology understands the dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities.”
“How concerned should we be that continued R&D will simply allow Iran to install highly advanced centrifuges in six months, or in a year, or in five years?”
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said “all of us are a little stunned” by the agreement.
“I think we’re stunned that not only does Iran continue to enrich uranium, but they’re very, very vocal about the fact that they’re going to continue the research and development on faster and faster spinning of centrifuges,” Royce said. “And for them to be making this pronouncement in the middle of this interim agreement on how they’re reaching this capability to develop and spin these centrifuges at supersonic speeds, setting new records, implies a certain intent on undetectable nuclear breakout capability.”
“One of today’s witnesses has estimated that even if we were to force Iran to dismantle 80 percent of its 19,000 installed centrifuges — and of course they say they won’t dismantle one of them — even if we were to force it to close its entire enrichment facility at Fordow, even if we were to dismantle or convert its planned heavy water reactor to a light water reactor and agree to a multi-decade intrusive inspections regime, the fact is that Iran would still be six months away from nuclear breakout.”