Nuclear deal would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon
Negotiators in Vienna isolated three possible ways that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon:
- The uranium processing route through the plants at NatanzNatanz
The Natanz Nuclear Facility is generally recognized as Iran's central facility for enrichment with over 19,000 centrifuges currently operational and nearly half of them being fed with uranium hexafluoride.
[ More ] and FordowFordow
The Fordow nuclear facility is an Iranian uranium enrichment site that is targeted by the nuclear deal. The facility is in a heavily fortified bunker and was long kept secret from the IAEA until it was revealed by Western satellite imagery in 2009. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran will dismantle all centrifuges operating at Fordow and convert the facility into a research center.
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- The plutonium processing route through the plant at ArakArak
Iran is constructing a 40 MWt heavy water moderated research reactor at Arak. International investigators are concerned that this facility reflects Iran's effort to achieve nuclear weapons by enriching plutonium and that this reactor would generate enough plutonium to fuel two nuclear weapons annually. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran has agreed to redesign its Arak heavy water reactor so that it is incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, and promised to ship all the spent fuel from the reactor abroad.
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- and the through a covert facility not currently known to negotiators (ex. "sneakout")
The measures put in place under the nuclear deal establish verifiable limits to block each of these pathways and define measures to take if any violations are discovered. The end result is that for the term of the agreement (15 years), Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon without being discovered by the international community.
The first step on the road to a comprehensive deal came in November 2013 with an interim agreement in Geneva, in which Teh- ran agreed to freeze and modestly roll back its nuclear program in exchange for a pause in new international sanctions and a suspension of some existing penalties. The deal represents the most meaningful move toward a denuclearized Iran in more than a decade. It neutralizes Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium and therefore modestly lengthens Iran’s “breakout” timeline—the time required to enrich uranium to weapons grade—by one or two months. A new inspections regime also means any breakout at- tempt would be detected soon enough for the international community to react, and expanded International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will make it more difficult for Iran to divert critical technology and materials to new secret sites. The terms also preclude the new plutonium reactor at Arak from becoming operational, halting the risk that Iran could soon use plutonium to build a bomb
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[PRO] Yes, it will reduce the risk of Iran getting a bomb better than any of the realistic alternatives. Iran has agreed to physical limits on its ability to produce weapons-grade materials that will assure a break-out timeline of roughly a year for the next 10 years, as well as additional restraints and verification measures to mon- itor compliance and detect cheating. If the U.S. rejects the deal and returns to sanctions, Iran is certain to return to what it was doing before the interim agreement: installing additional cen- trifuges, enriching uranium, increasing its stockpile of enriched material, developing more advanced centrifuges, and complet- ing the Arak heavy water reactor. The agreement does not solve the problem, but it reduces the risk for now and buys substantial time to resolve the threat in the future.
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[PRO] If the Supreme Leader accepts an agreement with the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 – that is endorsed by the United National Security Council - Iran will be so firmly committed that it is very likely to comply for the period of the agreement. Over time, the benefits of an agreement will build a constituency in Iran who will oppose any nuclear backsliding that would jeopardize those benefits. Finally, the agreement could help foster political reform inside Iran and a more moderate foreign policy that will undercut the arguments of those Iranian factions who advocate acquisition of nuclear weapons.
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Time, however, does not in fact work to Iran’s advantage. The JPA both freezes the development of Iran’s nuclear program and provides more effective assurances against Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon than is commonly acknowledged. Under the JPA, Iran cannot increase its enrichment capacity and as eliminated its stocks of uranium enriched to 20 percent. At the same time, the safeguards and inspections regime monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities is substantial—significantly greater than what had been in place prior to the agreement, and very likely nearly as comprehensive as anything the P5+1 will ever achieve. Existing safeguards are certainly not perfect, but no verification mechanism will ever provide complete assurances. More to the point, the combination of the “limits on infrastructure” and “activities with increased safeguards” provisions in the JPA make it virtually impossible for Iran to carry out a nuclear breakout without providing the United States and its allies time to detect the attempt and to intervene. The Obama administration’s estimate of a two-month breakout time sounds scarier than it is, especially if one keeps in mind that this is the minimum amount of time, under highly ideal conditions, it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a single weapon. Even having achieved that, Iran would still lack a credible nuclear deterrent and be substantially far from acquiring one. Therefore, the current risk of an Iranian breakout attempt, let alone a successful one, has to be judged extremely low.
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The fact that Iran possesses a basic nuclear capability, and that political will, not technical capacity, will determine the nuclear endgame suggests that any agreement will need buy in from Iran if it is to be successful. Iran knows how to build a centrifuge, and neit her sanctions nor military strikes can change that. In the long - term, the best way to insure than Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons if for Iran to embrace its non - nuclear posture.
Perhaps most importantly, the DNI has assessed that Iran has not yet m ade a decision to pursue nuclear weapons and may or may not make such a decision in the future. This would seem to imply that the moment is ripe for an agreement that would lock Iran into a political decision and a policy path that takes it down a non - nuclear road.
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As contemporary scholars of nuclear studies have repeatedly pointed out, the historical record for non-proliferation is a surprising story of success. Dark predictions of nuclear spread did not come true; we do not live in a world of dozens of nuclear weapons states. In fact, the rate or pace of proliferation has steadily declined since the 1960s, with fewer and fewer countries joining the nuclear weapons club each decade. The pool of potential proliferators is the smallest is has ever been, and since the end of the Cold War, more countries have given up their weapons assets than joined the nuclear club. In short, nonproliferation is one of America’s greatest policy successes. Congress can take a major share of credit for that outcome, from the efforts of Senator McMahon and later Senator Pastore and on through the work of this committee today.
Of course, not all the news is good. North Korea and the A.Q Kahn network are reminders that there is still difficult work to be done, and that success requires continued effort. The unambiguous evidence to date suggests, however, that it is possible to prevent and even reverse proliferation.
The data also suggests that negotiated agreements are a powerful tool for achieving nonproliferation objectives. There is scholarly debate about the causes of America’s nonproliferation success, and one should assume that a variety of factors contribute, but my own research suggests that, contrary to my expectations, nonproliferation agreements can have a profound effect. From the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to the Libya nuclear agreement, negotiated agreements are among the most important tools governments have to preventing and reversing proliferation.
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There is no such thing as a perfect agreement, free of risk. In public policy there are always risks – risks from action, risks from inaction. But as history has repeatedly demonstrated, an agreement that greatly advances nonproliferation and US national security does not have to be perfect. If perfect were the standard, we would have no NPT, no arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, no nuclear deal with Libya, no Proliferation Security Initiative, and the like – all of which have advanced American national security.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, arguably the single most important and effective nonproliferation tool ever devised, has numerous flaws. It has no enforcement clause; it provided for nuclear testing (for peaceful purposes); it did nothing to limit the fuel cycle or fissile material. Safeguards arrangements in 1970 were a pale, weak cousin to what we have toady. Had the NPT been up for consideration today rather than 45 years ago, it might have been rejected for its flaws. And doing so would have been a gigantic error of enormous consequence. The NPT, like all nonproliferation and arms control agreements, was not perfect and did not eliminate all risk, but it was spectacularly successful. It helped prevent the cascade of proliferation that virtually every government and academic analyst had predicted in the years prior to its passage.
MYTH: A good comprehensive deal with Iran must dismantle Iran's nuclear weapons capability.
REALITY: Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed that Iran has developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame "if it so chooses." Eliminating that capability is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran completely "dismantled" its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.
Ergo, the goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to prevent Iran from exercising that capability by limiting and constraining its nuclear capacity (especially fissile material production) and by increasing transparency over its program. Phased sanctions relief also offers incentives for continued compliance to comply with the deal and not decide to build a nuclear weapon in the future.
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The best way to understand how an agreement can successfully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is to examine Iran’s nuclear strategy. Since the start of the Obama administration, Iran has been within a year’s time of obtaining enough 90 percent highly enriched uranium for a bomb, but has not actually chosen to enrich to that level.1 The final steps necessary to obtain the material are conspicuous and cannot be explained as dual-use activities meant for Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.2 Any attempt then to pursue this course of action would be quickly noticed, creating a window of vulnerability during which Israel, the United States, or an international coalition could strike the program and set it back. Iran has slowly sought to shrink this window of vulnerability so that should it ever decide to break out, it would be able to do so with less risk. This strategy has entailed bringing on more centrifuges, improving their efficiency, increasing stockpiles of low enriched uranium, and building facilities that are more difficult to attack.
The real measure of any final deal’s effectiveness is whether or not it can reverse Iran’s attempts to expand its nuclear program and set the Iranians far enough away from a nuclear weapon that they will never dare risk pursuing a breakout by taking the final steps necessary to obtain a nuclear weapon. In other words, a deal has to keep the window of vulnerability large enough. If the final agreement is reflective of the White House fact sheet released on April 2, 2015, at the conclusion of the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, it should be able to successfully lengthen the window of vulnerability to a point where Iran is deterred from pursuing a nuclear weapon for years to come.3
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From the record of arms control negotiations and agreements by both Republican and Democrat presidents – from Nixon and Reagan and both Bushes, to Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton and Obama – one brute take-away is hard to deny: agreements have reduced risks of war, reduced the numbers of nuclear weapons, reduced uncertainties in estimating threats, and enhanced predictability.
As Henry Kissinger said to this committee five years ago, “A number of objectives characterize arms control negotiations: to reduce or eliminate the danger of war by miscalculation, which requires transparency of design and deployment; to bring about the maximum stability in the balance of forces to reduce incentives for nuclear war by design, especially by reducing incentives for surprise attack; to overcome the danger of accidents fostered by the automaticity of the new technology.”