At a hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers and nuclear proliferation experts discussed the drawbacks and deficiencies of the emerging deal with Iran. The chairman of the committee, Ed Royce (R-CA), expressed frustration that the US has conceded to the Ayatollah Khamenei’s red lines including maintaining enrichment, not dismantling any of its facilities, continuing centrifuge R&D, and acquiring an industrial-sized program.
Former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker asserted that the major drawback of the emerging deal is that it “will represent acceptance by the international community of Iran as a nuclear weapons threshold state” and that in 13-15 years, Iran will be allowed to have an industrial-sized nuclear capacity with, as President Obama himself acknowledged, a breakout time close to zero. David Albright, leading nuclear scientist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, insisted that Iran needs to make concrete progress on the disclosure of its weaponization activities prior to receiving sanctions relief because an agreement that ignores Iran’s past weaponization work “would risk being unverifiable.” Furthermore, he stated that the inspections Iran had agreed to were not sufficient, and that prompt access to facilities anywhere in the country, including military facilities, was needed. The Iranian regime has rejected the idea of allowing inspections at Iranian military facilities.
Albright argued that in practice, “snapback,” the Obama administration’s proposed strategy of rapidly re-imposing multilateral sanctions in response to a major Iranian violation of a potential deal, will be very difficult to do within one year and that “you’ll be forced at that point to confront a military option.” Rademaker added that any UN Security Council vote would require the consent of Russia, which will be very hesitant to reapply sanctions.
The hearing also focused on the regional implications of a potential deal with Iran. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) expressed discomfort with negotiating with Iran while its destabilizing activities and support for terror continue, and Royce voiced concern with what the Iranians are doing and will do with funds from sanctions relief. He referenced reports that Iran has been providing the terrorist group Hamas with increased funds for the rebuilding of tunnels and the replenishing of its missile arsenal, both of which target Israeli civilians.
Rademaker noted that Iran’s status as a threshold nuclear state would have significant bearing on the way Iran would be treated, “because countries that are able to produce nuclear weapons virtually overnight have to be treated by the rest of the world as if they already have nuclear weapons.” Moreover, both Albright and Rademaker warned that Saudi Arabia and Iran’s other Sunni rivals will seek similar nuclear capabilities, which Rademaker said would cause a “cascade of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.”
The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, according to people briefed on the matter.
A well-stocked nuclear armory in North Korea ramps up security fears in Japan and South Korea, neighboring U.S. allies that could seek their own nuclear weapons in defense. Washington has mutual defense treaties with Seoul and Tokyo, which mean an attack on South Korea or Japan is regarded as an attack on the U.S.
“I’m concerned that by 20, they actually have a nuclear arsenal,” said Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor and former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who attended the closed-door meeting in February. “The more they believe they have a fully functional nuclear arsenal and deterrent, the more difficult it’s going to be to walk them back from that.”