House Subcommittee Testimony of David Albright on Assessing Iran Nuclear Deal

April 5, 2017


David Albright

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) needs to be implemented more effectively and its nuclear conditions strengthened and better verified. A critical part of that effort is to determine the type and extent of Iranian non-compliance with provisions in the JCPOA and associated United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2231.

The deal’s implementation under the Obama administration was too permissive and tolerant of Iran’s violations of the deal, its exploitation of loopholes, and its avoidance of critical verification requirements. The result was that Iran was able to push the envelope of allowed behavior in directions harmful to U.S. national security. Too often, the Obama administration made concessions, tolerated cheating, or avoided strengthening steps out of a misplaced fear that Iran would walk away from the deal or that somehow President Rouhani’s presidency needed protecting. This led to absurd situations where U.S. officials badgered European JCPOA country officials to support initiatives clearly favoring Iran that were contrary to their own views and interests. One must ask based on the JCPOA’s implementation so far, why have the deal in the first place if verification steps or strengthening measures have been avoided for fear of the JCPOA failing?

Until today, the Trump administration has continued to implement the deal. I hope that policy continues. However, that does not mean that the Trump administration should continue the Obama administration’s overly permissive way of implementing the deal and its avoidance of dealing with the JCPOA’s shortcomings. I certainly expect the Trump administration to chart a new path forward that better protects U.S. interests and national and Middle East regional security.

There is an urgency to focus on fixing deficiencies in the Iran deal. At its core, the Iran deal is a bet that by the time the nuclear limitations end, Iran, the region, or both will have changed so much that Iran will no longer seek nuclear weapons. But despite immense sanctions relief, Iran has been increasing its conventional military power and efforts at establishing regional hegemony, including interfering in the affairs of and threatening its neighbors. The bet does not appear to be winnable under the current circumstances, and Iran’s current trajectory is a threat to the United States and its allies in the region.

Those who argued that a key benefit of the nuclear deal would be a moderation of Iran’s behavior in the region have been sadly disappointed. Armed with substantial funds and a growing economy, Iran is challenging the United States in the region and appears as committed to maintaining the capability to pursue a nuclear weapons path as before, just a longer path.

When the major nuclear limitations end at the end of year 15 of the deal, Iran has stated it will have industrial-size enrichment facilities. With this capability, it will be poised to rapidly break out to make weapon-grade uranium, first within a few months and in successive years, breakout times will decrease toward a few days. Iran will have developed advanced centrifuges that would enable a quick sneak out to nuclear weapons. It is seeking to master long-range, nuclearcapable ballistic missiles including possibly intercontinental nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. So, in a sense, the JCPOA potentially delays and creates an even worse reckoning. This Iranian nuclear future is unacceptable. A solution needs to be thought through, and a remediation path developed that will strengthen and fix the deal.

But as this longer-term process develops, the deal needs to be better enforced and verified. A priority is knowing how Iran has been violating the deal and associated United Nations Security Council resolution 2231. Also important is understanding how Iran exploits loopholes in the deal and pushes the envelope of tolerated behavior. 

Read the full testimony at the Insitute for Science and International Security