Assessing the Nuclear Deal with Iran

August 05, 2015

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Nuclear Weapons

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Philip Gordon argues that, while the Iran nuclear agreement is not a perfect deal, it is far better than any realistic alternative and Congress should support it.

CFR's Philip H. Gordon testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee


  • Without the JCPOA we would very quickly face the unpalatable choice between acquiescing to an Iranian nuclear weapons capability or using military force to temporarily stop it. A rejection would result not in Iran agreeing to all our demands or even a "better deal" but the continued expansion of its nuclear program.
  • History suggests that continued economic pressure will not force Iran to agree to everything we might want. Despite harsh sanctions and isolation, North Korea still became a nuclear-weapons state. Crippling sanctions on Iraq still did not lead to Saddam relenting to U.S. demands—even under the threat of invasion. There is no guarantee that even powerful sanctions and the threat of force will lead Iran to eliminate all aspects of its nuclear program, and plenty of reason to think that it will not.
  • It is a fair concern that Iran will use some of the assets it gains from sanctions relief to support its regional foreign policy agenda, which in many ways threatens U.S. partners and interests.  But keeping all the current sanctions on Iran and getting a good nuclear deal at the same time was never a realistic option, and the concerns about lifting sanctions would be the same whether the deal allowed Iran to keep 5,000 centrifuges, or zero. Insisting on no sanctions relief would mean no nuclear deal. 
  • Through continued and increased military and intelligence support to partners in the region—who collectively spend many times more on defense than Iran does—the United States can continue to contain Iran, just as it did before the international sanctions were put in place. Iran continuing to develop its nuclear program is far more destabilizing to the region—especially if it becomes a nuclear-weapons state.
  • The verification mechanisms in this agreement are extensive, including not just continued monitoring and daily access to declared enrichment facilities but the monitoring of the entire nuclear fuel cycle. To cheat successfully, Iran would have to somehow mine and mill uranium, convert it to gas at an industrial facility, enrich it to weapons grade at a different facility, and successfully develop a covert weaponization program—all without being detected by separate monitoring regimes.
  • Many of the most important restrictions last for a very long time—until 2025 for number of centrifuges; until 2030 for the limited nuclear stockpile; until 2035 for centrifuge production; until 2040 for access to Iran's uranium mines and mills; and indefinitely for adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the commitment not to pursue nuclear weapons, and the application of the IAEA's Additional Protocol, which requires access by inspectors to any suspected sites. Iran must prove that its nuclear program is peaceful. If it fails to do so, with this deal the United States will have all of the tools it does now in the future.

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