Arms Control Experts to Obama: Your Iran Deal Is ‘Not Verifiable'

Patrick Goodenough | September 3, 2015 | 4:51am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry led the U.S. delegation at the nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, File)

( –  On the day President Obama secured enough Senate support to uphold his planned veto of a resolution rejecting the Iran nuclear agreement, dozens of security experts, including top nuclear and arms verification specialists, urged him Wednesday not to veto the measure.

“The signers of this letter have more direct experience in verification matters regarding all areas of arms control and nonproliferation treaties than any existing anywhere in the world,” commented one of the signatories, former assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance Paula DeSutter.

“The JCPOA is not verifiable,” DeSutter added.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the formal name of the agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S., and five other powers. The administration asserts that the verification and transparency measures in the deal are the most robust in the history of negotiated nuclear agreements.

Republicans in Congress are expected to vote to disapprove the JCPOA after Labor Day, but the administration on Wednesday secured a 34th Democratic senator’s support for the deal, meaning Obama’s promised veto can now be sustained.

The 56 signatories to the letter recalled that Obama has said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

“Guided by our experience with U.S. and foreign nuclear weapons programs – as well as with the history and practice of arms control, nonproliferation, and intelligence matters, we judge the current JCPOA to be a very bad deal indeed,” they wrote.

Far from meeting Obama’s promise that the agreement would stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, they argued, “it virtually guarantees Iran a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.”

“A far better alternative is to reject the JCPOA, strengthen the sanctions, fall back to the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], and take all possible measures to try to enforce it.”

The letter quoted the late arms control grandee Paul Nitze as having said, when testifying in 1988 on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, “'Poorly-verified agreements are in reality far worse than having no agreement at all.”

Accompanying the letter was a 14-page attachment detailing what the experts view as “fatal flaws” and weaknesses in the agreement.

On verification – an area of expertise for a number of those who signed the letter – the JCPOA was found to be severely wanting.

“Verification, far from being strengthened to address Iran’s 30-year history of noncompliance, is rendered completely ineffective by significant ambiguities in the agreement, the lack of an oft-promised ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspection regime and the addition of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures that ensure delay or denial of suspect site inspections,” they wrote.

Requirements that Iran must cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its effort to resolve questions about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear activities have been set aside, the experts said.

They recalled that not long ago the U.N. Security Council and IAEA demand had been for Iran to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the Agency.”

But even before Congress had time to review the JCPOA, the administration had gone to the U.N. and sought the elimination of the relevant Security Council resolutions, “without any obligation by Iran to fulfill its existing obligations.”

And the administration had done so, the signatories recalled, despite a formal request from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) for Obama to postpone the U.N. vote until after Congress had considered the agreement.

(Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman said later of that decision that it would have been difficult for the U.S. to have told “the world” that it “should wait for the United States Congress.”)

Sanctions snap back? Never

The experts writing to Obama also highlighted other perceived flaws in the JCPOA, among them an absence of credible enforcement mechanisms in the event Iran cheats.

“We are confident there will never be a ‘snap back’ of sanctions,” they wrote. “How can this be considered to be anything other than a bad deal?”

Other concerns ranged from confidential “side deals” between Iran and the IAEA, to Iran’s expected use of released funds to boost its military programs and terror-sponsorship.

Several of the signatories have backgrounds including senior positions in the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency – including its former deputy director Stephen Read Hanmer, Jr., former assistant director Henry Cooper, former assistant director for verification and intelligence Manfred Eimer, former assistant director for nonproliferation Kathleen Bailey and former arms control policy advisor Brig. Gen. Larry Grundhauser.

Another prominent signer, C. Paul Robinson, was president and director of Sandia National Laboratories, head of the nuclear weapons and national security programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and chief negotiator at the U.S./Soviet Union nuclear testing talks; while Henry Cooper was chief defense and space talks negotiator, and director of the Pentagon’s Strategic Defense Initiative organization.

Others include former CIA director James Woolsey, former national security advisor Robert McFarlane, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, and former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, and former assistant secretary of energy for defense programs Troy Wade.

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