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5 Criteria for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Kerry at Iran nuclear talks

SOURCE: AP/Brendan Smialowski

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches President Barack Obama speak via tablet in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2, 2015, after Iran nuclear program talks finished.

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The United States is on the verge of preventing one of the most serious threats to the security of the United States and its allies in the Middle East: a nuclear-armed Iran. After two and a half years of intense negotiations and more than 20 years of sanctions, the P5+1—the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany—are finalizing the details of a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran ahead of their self-imposed June 30 deadline.

It is very likely that U.S. negotiators will need more time to strike the best possible deal for American interests. Although June 30 is a worthwhile goal, extending negotiations by several days or even weeks does no damage to the United States and its partners if it means extracting vital concessions from Iran. The United States has time on its side in a way that Iran does not; Iran’s nuclear program remains frozen, its economy is weak, and it is in desperate need of sanctions relief with the price of oil still at $60 per barrel.

As the negotiations near a potential conclusion, members of Congress must decide whether they will ultimately vote to approve or disapprove a final agreement as part of the congressional review process mandated by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

In weighing whether or not a final, comprehensive agreement supports U.S. interests and security concerns, Congress should measure the deal against the following five criteria, which CAP previously laid out in April:

  1. Does it cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, including through uranium enrichment at the Fordow and Natanz facilities, plutonium production at Arak, and a covert program?
  2. Is the agreement verifiable through a rigorous international inspections regime of Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain and facilities?
  3. Is international sanctions relief tied to a clear demonstration of Iran fulfilling its commitments in a deal, and can sanctions be put back in place swiftly without being unilaterally blocked by China or Russia?
  4. Does it allow the United States the continued ability to counter Iranian support for terrorism or human rights abuses?
  5. Does it keep all U.S. options on the table to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?

If U.S. negotiators are able to reach a final agreement with Iran that fulfills these five criteria, it would be a deal that benefits the interests and security of the United States and its allies and, as such, should be approved by Congress without hesitation. However, a vote against an agreement meeting these criteria would be a vote against the most effective means of putting the Iranian nuclear issue back in a box and would make a nuclear-armed Iran and armed conflict much more likely.

Congress and the American public must remain clear-eyed about what a deal with Iran will and will not do. It will not turn Iran into a peaceful, constructive actor in the Middle East. It will not halt Iranian sponsorship of terrorism or its support for brutal regimes such as that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Nor will it dramatically alter Iran’s antipathy toward the United States’ Middle Eastern allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Despite the continuing threat Iran will pose, a deal that meets the criteria outlined above offers the most effective pathway to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Such a deal will halt the rapid development of the Iranian nuclear program. It will limit the potential for a wave of nuclear proliferation across the region. And it will prevent the need for military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions—an option that will, at best, delay but not prevent a nuclear-armed Iranian.

It is important to bear in mind that even with a deal in place, Iran will continue to face U.S. sanctions for its continued human rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism. Moreover, the United States will continue to support its allies in the region against potential attack from Iran through bolstered military capabilities and coordinated defense strategies. The United States will also continue to oppose Iran’s negative influence in the region from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq and will remain vigilant against any sign that Iran is not upholding its end of a deal—a deal that Congress can strengthen by properly resourcing U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies. Crucially, the United States will keep all options on the table to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, from reimposing nuclear sanctions to the use of force.

For these reasons, a nuclear agreement with Iran that meets these five criteria should be supported.

Vikram Singh is the Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. Shlomo Brom is a Visiting Fellow at the Center and previously served as a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces. Ken Sofer is the Associate Director for National Security and International Policy at the Center.

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