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Arguments about the Iran Deal

Aug 13, 2015

Arguments about the Iran Deal

Update from AIJAC

August 13, 2015
Number 08/15 #02

This Update features contributions to the intense debate still occurring about the G5+1 nuclear deal reached with Iran in mid-July – especially as the US Congress moves to vote on the agreement. In particular, it highlights some responses being offered to arguments for the deal being put forward by the US Administration and its allies.  

The first item is a response to a pro-agreement letter signed by 29 prominent scientists, which received considerable media publicity, including in Australia. The reply is written by Dr. Emily Landau, a top Israeli proliferation and arms control specialist, who argues that the letter appears to be largely a repetition of the talking points of the US Administration, without addressing the political questions that have been raised by critiques of the deal.  She repeats a few of these – on inspections, ambiguities in the text of the agreement, sanctions “snapback”, and the unenforced requirement that Iran account for past “possible military dimensions (PMD)” of its nuclear program – and concludes that without addressing these issues, the statement cannot be “taken seriously as an authoritative judgment of the Iran deal.” For Landau’s analysis of the statement in full, CLICK HERE.

Next up is American columnist and radio compere Dennis Prager, who attempts to directly answer many of the points that US President Obama made in his speech in support of the deal last Wednesday at American University. He takes a number of key factual claims – such as the deal “permanently prohibits” Iran from building nuclear weapons when Iran has been so prohibited in international law since 1970, and the claim that if Iran cheats, we “we can catch them, and we will” when there is good reason to doubt this. But Prager also takes on some of the controversial rhetoric and analogies Obama employed, including insisting that “the Republican caucus” is making “common cause” with Iranian hardliners and complaining about the “tens of millions of dollars in advertising” that will be spent in arguing against the agreement. For this good discussion of the counter-arguments to both Obama’s claims and his approach to selling the agreement, CLICK HERE. More on the President’s extreme rhetoric against critics of the deal from columnist Bret Stephens.

Finally, this Update includes an important article from respected former weapons inspector David Albright, now head of the Institute for Science and International Security. Albright is strictly neutral on the deal itself, but notes some worrying recent developments that cast doubt on the viability of the deal’s inspections regime and International Atomic Energy Agency efforts to account for “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s program before sanctions are lifted. They concern Parchin, a military site long suspected of being used for nuclear weapons research  – and not only satellite images showing Iran apparently heavily sanitising the site before allowing in inspectors, but blatant attempts by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to point blank deny this even though the satellite evidence seems crystal clear. For this article exploring a potential problem with the agreement’s implementation already, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

What 29 top US scientists don’t know

Emily B. Landau

Times of Israel, August 10, 2015, 11:13 am

The recent letter of support sent to President Obama for his Iran deal secured last month – signed by 29 scientists, including Nobel laureates – was obviously well-timed to lend firmer scientific backing to what many regard as a severely flawed nuclear deal. This is an impressive group of individuals, with achievements that speak for themselves, and their opinions obviously matter. Yet, the very fact of their scientific achievements does not mean that their assessments of the deal are correct. Indeed, their collective judgment of the Iran deal must be assessed on its merits. And in this regard, unfortunately, more than anything else, the contents of the letter echo the well-known talking points of the Obama administration, and suffer from some of the same deficiencies.

If this highly respected group of scientists is not aware, for example, that the 24-day cap on Iran’s ability to delay an investigation into a facility suspected of supporting clandestine activities could actually be much longer than that, why would we attribute any more authority to this letter than to other sources making similar arguments to support the deal? If the group had scrutinized paragraphs 75-76 in the Access section – that are not about science, but rather politics – they would have seen that Iran’s ability to play for time regarding inspections of suspicious military facilities begins when the IAEA first submits its concerns, and waits for Iran’s clarification. The 24-day count begins only after that, if and when the IAEA makes a request for access; but the preliminary phase has no time limit.

And there are additional dangerous ambiguities in the deal. There are holes and loopholes and flaws that Iran can abuse for its purposes. So when one assesses the deal, the scientific aspects are certainly important, but that is not where the assessment ends. Rather, there is a need to consider the history of dealing with Iran, and the experience gained thereby. Iran has shown its determination not only to hold on to its vast nuclear infrastructure and breakout capability, but continues its highly aggressive attitude toward the US and the Middle East. Moreover, Iran has over the years perfected tactics of playing for time, and has made it very clear that it will not tolerate inspections at its military sites where suspicions are that it has worked on a military nuclear capability. If pressed on inspections in the coming years, Iran will most likely continue to evade and play for time, and the deal dangerously provides ample room for Iran to do so.

Indeed, Iran might very well be able to escape such inspections altogether. The ambiguous language in this regard – “implement the necessary means” – leaves us wondering whether Iran will ultimately be forced to admit inspectors into its facilities, or whether the language provides it a way out. And Iran’s emphatic rejection of such inspections gives no cause for complacency. So can one really say – as the scientists do – that the deal provides “effective challenge inspection for the suspected activities of greatest concern”? Hardly.

And what about the PMD – the Possible Military Dimensions or weaponization aspects of Iran’s program? Again, the scientists lend unequivocal support to the administration’s position, which has actually been to kick this issue down the road, until the end of the year. Moreover, there is no clear indication either in the JCPOA or the IAEA-Iran work plan that sanctions relief will be conditional on the IAEA receiving answers to its longstanding queries that it is completely satisfied with. But the scientists assume that this will happen, and seem to find comfort in the fact that Iran will not be shamed. The fact that the ambiguous handling of the PMD issue is very likely to enable Iran to continue to hold onto its erroneous narrative of having ‘done no wrong’ in the nuclear realm seems not to bother them one bit.

Moreover, there are crucial issues that relate to the political will of the strong international powers to identify Iranian violations, and then confront them with necessary determination. Will this political will be present? For the US and the P5+1? The problems with snapback sanctions have been well documented, especially when matched with Iran’s explicit threat to exit the deal if sanctions are reimposed. And why would military force in the scenario of a serious violation down the road be any more of an option then than it is today? In fact, it will very likely be even less, if it becomes apparent that Iran is very close to a nuclear weapon.

Interestingly, at least one of the scientists that signed the letter is well-versed in how a determined proliferator can lie and cheat, and ultimately get away with it – to the point that it becomes a nuclear state. That is what happened in the case of North Korea, and the scientist in question is Siegfried Hecker. In 2010, Hecker was one of the American scientists invited to North Korea to see the new and modern uranium enrichment facility that North Korea had constructed at Yongbyon, with the international community powerless to stop it. Shouldn’t the experience of North Korea have impressed upon this scientist how dangerous proliferators can deceive the international community, even after making deals?

Finally, it is not clear what the scientists are referring to when they say that the deal has “more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated nonproliferation framework.” Do they mean compared to the NPT? Well, that’s not saying much. Or maybe they mean compared to the deal struck with Libya in 2003? No, that couldn’t be it either, because that deal actually signaled a Libyan decision to reverse course on all categories of WMD, and dealt with the nuclear realm at a very initial stage. That would qualify as a good nonproliferation agreement, a far cry from the current deal with Iran.

As a vote of support for the administration’s talking points – the letter is fine. But to be taken seriously as an authoritative judgment of the Iran deal – that will “advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East” – then with all due respect to the signatories and their impressive scientific achievements, there is no getting around the conclusion that it simply doesn’t make the cut.

Emily B. Landau is Head of the Arms Control program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University.

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Responses to the President’s Arguments for the Nuclear Deal

By Dennis Prager,  August 11, 2015


At American University last week, President Barack Obama gave a vigorous defense of the Iran nuclear agreement. In the belief that every student who was present — indeed, all Americans — should hear the other side, here are responses to claims the president made. (For the information of my readers, I made a Prager University video on the agreement released last week that has about five million views on YouTube and Facebook — found at Americans obviously want clarity on this issue.)

—President Obama: “With all of the threats that we face today, it is hard to appreciate how much more dangerous the world was at that time (when John F. Kennedy gave his peace speech at American University during the Cold War).”

I lived through the Cold War and studied the Russian language and the communist world at the Russian Institute of Columbia University’s School of International Affairs. I do not believe the world was “much more dangerous at that time.”

First, in the 1960s, when JFK gave his speech, the Soviet Union was headed by people who valued their own lives and even those of their fellow countrymen incomparably more than the Islamic leaders of Iran do. They therefore had no interest in nuclear war, which is why the doctrine known as mutually assured destruction (MAD) worked. Regarding Iran’s Islamist regime, however, MAD does not necessarily work. The Islamist fanatics who rule Iran might actually welcome a nuclear exchange with Israel. Iran has almost 10 times Israel’s population and nearly eight times its landmass.

Second, the Soviet Union never seriously or repeatedly called for the extermination of another country, as the Islamic Republic of Iran does with regard to Israel. It is preposterous to compare Nikita Khrushchev’s promise, “We will bury you,” to the ayatollah’s aim to “annihilate” Israel. It was simply a rhetorical flourish about communism’s eventual triumph over democratic capitalism.

Third, almost no one in any communist country believed in communism. The biggest believers in communism tended to be Western intellectuals. And communists in the West weren’t beheading people or plotting mass murder. On the other hand, at least a hundred million Muslims believe in imposing — by force, if necessary — sharia on other people. And while communists in Western European countries posed an electoral threat to democratic capitalism, more than a few Muslims in European countries pose life-and-death threats to Europeans.

Obama: “In light of these mounting threats, a number of strategists here in the United States argued we had to take military action against the Soviets, to hasten what they saw as inevitable confrontation. But the young president offered a different vision.”

If there really were “a number of strategists” who called for “military action” against the Soviet Union during Kennedy’s presidency, that number was so tiny and so irrelevant that the president’s statement is essentially a straw man.

—Obama: “After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

This might be the whopper of the speech. Only an academic audience could find this statement persuasive.

To begin with, Iran has been “permanently prohibited” from obtaining nuclear weapons since 1970, the year Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So this arms deal prohibits nothing that wasn’t already prohibited more than 45 years ago.

Even more important, the statement is utterly meaningless. It is like saying, “The United States has permanently prohibited murder.” It’s true, but so what? Iran’s behavior clearly indicates that it wants to develop nuclear weapons, and being “prohibited” from doing so did not and will not stop it. Again, it would be like saying, “Nazi Germany was prohibited from attacking Poland.”

—Obama: “It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.”

The only question is whether Obama believes this.


There are two types of lies: those one knows to be falsehoods and those the person believes. The former is more immoral. The latter, though not literally a lie, is more dangerous.

Even if one believes the agreement to be effective, it does little or nothing to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons in 10 years.

Furthermore, the agreement enables Iran to cheat the whole time. There is no inspection “anytime, anywhere” — which is the only type of inspection that matters.

a) If the IAEA suspects cheating, it gives Iran up to a 24-day notice. If Iran objects, the issue goes before the P5+1 nations, which, of course, include Russia and China. Charles Krauthammer quoted comedian Jackie Mason as observing that New York City restaurants get more intrusive inspections than the Iranian nuclear program.

b) The United States is prohibited from ever sending in its own inspectors.

c) No military sites can ever be inspected. Iran can therefore establish or move nuclear facilities to whatever area it wishes and label those areas “military.”

d) How are Congress and the American people supposed to trust the president’s claim given the existence of two secret appendices to the agreement?

—Obama: “It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”

In light of all of the agreement’s fatal weaknesses in preventing Iran from cheating, “most comprehensive ever negotiated” means nothing.

—Obama: “Congress decides whether to support this historic diplomatic breakthrough, or instead blocks it over the objection of the vast majority of the world.”

Since when does “vast majority of the world” matter to making America — and, for that matter, the world — secure? President Ronald Reagan put Pershing missiles in Europe “over the objection of the vast majority of the world.” Good thing Reagan did. Israel knocked out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi nuclear reactor “over the objection of the vast majority of the world.” Good thing Israel did.

—Obama: “Between now and the congressional vote in September, you are going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising.”

There can be only one reason the president mentioned “backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising”: to imply that there is something nefarious about such ads. The president and the rest of the American left are beside themselves over the fact that their views are not the only ones Americans get to hear. In Europe, this is not a problem for the left. There are essentially no paid ads for alternate political views, no talk radio, no Fox News, no Wall Street Journal Opinion Page (or at least none with anywhere near the clout of the American edition), no huge non-left intellectual and activist presence on the Internet, etc.

The left has the presidency and dominates education from pre-K through post-grad as well as mainstream print and electronic news and entertainment media. But that’s not enough. Paid ads that differ with the left must be delegitimized. Of course, there are also millions of dollars in advertising for the agreement — but somehow that’s legitimate.

But there is an even more sinister aspect to the president’s comment.

He doesn’t say it outright, but the left does. Those “tens of millions of dollars” are assumed to be Jewish dollars. This is now a major theme on the left: that the “Jewish lobby” and its money are the primary reasons for the opposition to Obama’s Iran agreement.

A good example is a piece published this past weekend in the Huffington Post by a left-wing Yale University professor of English, David Bromwich. He labels as “treason” an address given by the Israeli prime minister to the annual meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America on reasons to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. That’s the oldest of antisemitic libels: that Jews are disloyal to the countries in which they live.

And the title of Bromwich’s article — “Netanyahu and His Marionettes” — exemplifies another age-old antisemitic libel: of Jews pulling the strings of the world’s major nations.

The president’s reference to “tens of millions of dollars” has only helped reinforce those libels.

—Obama: “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”

Many of the same people — such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — who voted for the war in Iraq are now making the case for the Iran nuclear deal. So the point is just an ad hominem attack on the deal’s critics.

Moreover, whatever one thinks of the war in Iraq, the reason the Islamic State has taken over large parts of Iraq is not the war in Iraq. It’s that Obama, against the advice of his military advisers, removed all of America’s troops from a pacified Iraq, creating the vacuum the Islamic State now fills.

—Obama: “There will be 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

This is a sleight of hand. There is no 24/7 monitoring of anything Iran doesn’t want monitored 24/7 and no monitoring at all of any facility Iran labels “military.”

—Obama: “If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.”

“Can” is the operative word here — as in “a third-party candidate can be elected president.” It theoretically can happen, but it won’t. Does the president believe that Chinese and Russian sanctions will “snap back” if Iran cheats? If he does, he is frighteningly out of touch with reality. Nor will European sanctions likely snap back. French and German companies are already negotiating deals with the Iranian regime.

—Obama: “Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prism… Before the ink was even dry on this deal, before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition.”

As usual with Obama, opposition to his policies is “partisan.” But support for his policies is nonpartisan.

—Obama: “The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them, and we will.”

That is not the bottom line. The bottom line is that Iran will cheat, we won’t always catch them, and the Obama administration will likely have little inclination to call Iran out on it. In fact, the Iranians are already cheating. As Bloomberg reported last week: “The U.S. intelligence community has informed Congress of evidence that Iran was sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin, in broad daylight, days after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers.”

There are so many loopholes that we will awaken one day to find out that Iran is testing nuclear weapons just as North Korea did after signing its nuclear agreement with the United States.

—Obama: “Third, a number of critics say the deal isn’t worth it, because Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Now, let’s be clear. The international sanctions were put in place precisely to get Iran to agree to constraints on its program. That’s the point of sanctions. Any negotiated agreement with Iran would involve sanctions relief.”

If America had held firm for anytime/anywhere inspections, Iran either would have agreed to such inspections or, if not, sanctions might well have remained in place. Our European allies were on board. As recently as June, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was warning that “a possible nuclear deal with Iran risks sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East unless the agreement grants international inspectors access to Iranian military sites and other secret facilities. … The best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless.”

But America is led by a president who wanted any agreement, even a useless one.

—Obama: “Our best analysts expect the bulk of this revenue to go into spending that improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people.”

Even if that is what happens, this money massively strengthens the Iranian regime. But everyone knows that much of the $40 billion to $140 billion to be released will go to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and other pro-Iranian terror groups.

—Obama: “Contrary to the alarmists who claim Iran is on the brink of taking over the Middle East, or even the world, Iran will remain a regional power with its own set of challenges.”

Every country — whether free or a police state — has “its own set of challenges.” That point is meaningless. But it is hardly “alarmist” to fear Iran seeking to dominate the Middle East and helping to prop up anti-American regimes around the world. It is already doing so in Latin America.

—Obama: “We will continue to insist upon the release of Americans detained unjustly.”

Well, that’s reassuring. If the U.S. president and secretary of state couldn’t even get Iran to release four illegally imprisoned American citizens in exchange for the ending of sanctions and a porous nuclear agreement, how will he get them released now?

—Obama: “Just because Iranian hardliners chant “death to America” does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.”

This comment is noteworthy — for its foolishness. Of course not all Iranians believe in death to America. But the Iranians who don’t believe in it are irrelevant in Iran, just as good Germans were irrelevant in Nazi Germany and good Russians were irrelevant in the Soviet Union. All that matters in a police state is what the regime believes.

—Obama: “It’s those hardliners chanting “death to America” who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Likening Iranians who chant “death to America” to Republicans may be a new low in American presidential rhetoric.

And it’s not just mean-spirited. It’s factually wrong. If anyone is “making common cause” with the Iranian hardliners, it is Obama and his supporters. The hardliners in Iran want sanctions dropped and to be able to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Now they can.

—Obama: “As members of Congress reflect on their pending decision, I urge them to set aside political concerns.”

So do those of us who oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. But it’s the Democrats who cannot set aside political concerns. Let’s be real: If a Republican president had negotiated this deal, the vast majority of Democrats would oppose it — and so would the vast majority of Republicans.

—Obama: “My fellow Americans, contact your representatives in Congress, remind them of who we are, remind them of what is best in us and what we stand for so that we can leave behind a world that is more secure and more peaceful for our children.”

On that, we agree.


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What Iran’s hostile reaction to the Parchin issue means for the nuclear deal

Washington Post, August 10

Chico Marx said: “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said over the weekend that my organization, the Institute for Science and International Security, was spreading lies when we published satellite imagery that showed renewed, concerning activity at the Parchin military site near Tehran. This site is linked by Western intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to past work on nuclear weapons. But like Chico, instead of acknowledging the concern, the Iranians chose to deny the visible evidence in commercial satellite imagery. Iran’s comments would be mirthful if the topic were not so serious.

Zarif is also calling U.S. intelligence officials and members of Congress liars. They are the original source of the information both about renewed activity at Parchin and concerns about that activity. All we did was publish satellite imagery showing this activity and restate the obvious concern.

Moreover, this information about renewed activity at Parchin does not come from opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between the United States, five other world powers and Iran, as Zarif suggested. We are neutral on whether the agreement should be implemented and have made that position clear for weeks. The U.S. intelligence community is hardly opposed to the deal. Iran’s attempts to dismiss this concern as the work of the deal’s foes also is just wrong.

Concern about Parchin has become more urgent now that there is a debate raging over whether the IAEA will have adequate access to this site under the terms of its deal with Iran. It would be irresponsible not to worry about reports that suggest that Iran could be again sanitizing the site to thwart environmental sampling that could reveal past nuclear weapons activities there. This concern is further heightened because Iran has demanded to do this sampling itself instead of letting the IAEA do it. Such an arrangement is unprecedented and risky, and will be even more so if Iran continues to sanitize the site. In the cases of the Iranian Kalaye Electric site and the North Korean plutonium separation plant at Yongbyon, the success of sampling that showed undeclared activities depended on samples being taken at non-obvious locations identified during previous IAEA visits inside buildings. The IAEA will not be able to visit Parchin until after the samples are taken, and it remains doubtful that the inspectors will be able to take additional samples.

Some of this can be written off to Zarif’s volatility. At one point during the negotiations, he yelled so loudly at Secretary of State John F. Kerry that those outside the room could hear him. He obviously angers easily. But he is also one of the more reasonable Iranian government officials. I can remember in the late 1990s discussions with Iranian government and nuclear officials in New York where the Iranians vehemently stated, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they did not have any gas centrifuge programs. I was presenting the evidence that they did, in fact, have a centrifuge program, one in fact aided by Pakistan, and at one of these meetings, Zarif quietly said to me that he had always told me that Iran had the entire fuel cycle — technical language admitting to an enrichment program. His willingness to admit the obvious gave me hope that the crisis over Iran’s program could be solved diplomatically. But on Parchin, his words appear to reflect Iranian government intransigence on its past nuclear weapons program. Its action is an assault on the integrity and prospects of the nuclear deal.

Iran’s reaction shows that it may be drawing a line at Parchin. Resolving the Parchin issue is central to the IAEA’s effort to resolve concerns about Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons by the end of the year, but Parchin is not the only site and activity involved in this crucial issue. The IAEA needs to visit other sites and interview a range of scientists and officials. Instead of allowing this needed access, Iran appears to be continuing its policy of total denial, stating that the concerns are merely Western falsifications and fantasies. The United States recently reasserted that it believes Iran had a nuclear weapons program and stated that it knows a considerable amount about it. So, if Iran sticks to its strategy, one can expect an impasse that includes Iran refusing to allow the IAEA the access it needs to sites and scientists within the coming months.

U.S. officials have stated that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action requires Iran to address concerns about its past work on nuclear weapons prior to the lifting of sanctions. However, Iran may argue otherwise, and one could easily conclude that its recent actions are the start of such a reinterpretation of the agreement. The United States and Congress should clearly and publicly confirm, and Congress should support with legislation, that if Iran does not address the IAEA’s concerns about the past military dimensions of its nuclear programs, U.S. sanctions will not be lifted. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of the nuclear deal.

David Albright is founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

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