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Policy Update: The Iran Deal

As you may know, last night Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York publically announced that he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal when it comes to the Senate for a vote.  Now, Senator Schumer and I agree on practically nothing – but I cannot stress how much I agree with his position and how much his stance matters to Congress’s ability to ultimately defeat one of the potentially greatest security blunders of our lifetimes.  

Many of my constituents have reached out to me with questions regarding the Iran Deal – have I read the deal?  Does Congress get to vote?  And what are the terms of the deal?  I thought I’d spend time explaining some of the key features and pitfalls of the Iran Deal in my newsletter this week (which you can sign up to receive here) – and there couldn’t be a better time for discussion, since it looks like the tide is turning against President Obama and his poorly negotiated “deal.”

While terms of a nuclear agreement between Iran and the international community have been in the works since 2003, the “Iran Deal” that is in the news right now – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA – was finalized between Iran and negotiators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, and France.  This international group, known as the P5+1, essentially agreed through their negotiators, including Secretary Kerry and other heads of state, to a framework for international restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for lifting economic sanctions that are currently crippling Iran’s economy.

The international intelligence community has known for over a decade of Iran’s nuclear activity – specifically spinning centrifuges in order to enrich uranium and plutonium to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope.  Now, there’s a lot of science involved, but the bottom line is this:  the more regular uranium that is transformed into uranium-235 increases your percentage of “enrichment.”  To put it in perspective, nuclear power plants usually use a reactor of uranium with less than five percent enrichment.  Research reactors can be made using uranium enriched 20 percent, and weapons-grade uranium has to get to about 90 percent enrichment.  The concern is that Iran has thousands and thousands of centrifuges spinning to enrich uranium.  And while they claim that they only want to create medical isotopes or energy sources, we already know that Iran had the technology and infrastructure necessary to produce a nuclear weapon within a year in 2013, and they’d only need 2-3 months of that period to actually get the uranium enriched to weapons-grade.

Due to this activity, many nations have effectively had sanctions in place on Iran’s financial institutions, trade, and restrictions on most economic activity with the nation.  Sanctions have worked, as Iran’s economy is limping along because they’re effectively being suffocated from building their economy with international commerce.  Many of my colleagues and I believe that sanctions are the only way to truly restrict a country that has lied and avoided nuclear activity inspections over and over again.

So what exactly is in the JCPOA, which was finalized on July 14th?  There are many confusing terms, but I break them down into three general areas:  1) nuclear activity provisions; 2) access and cooperation provisions; and 3) lifting of sanctions.  

The nuclear activity provisions basically limit centrifuges, require Iran to promise to reduce their stockpiles of enriched uranium, and alter their nuclear facilities to become research and development hubs for medical and industrial nuclear uses only.  

The access and cooperation provisions are almost entirely governed by an international agency for nuclear oversight called the IAEA and give Iran plenty of warning before someone can walk in and see if they’re keeping their promises.  Both of these are built mostly on trust that the Iranian government will do what they say, and the whole framework is set to be lifted in ten years – after that Iran can go about building weapons as they please.

But the final – and most chilling – portion of this agreement lifts virtually all of our sanctions on Iran.  Iranian banks and oil companies will suddenly have access to an infusion of foreign cash.  In five years, there will be no ban on the arms that are able to be sold to Iran.  Finally, Iran was able to negotiate a bonus provision – they’re even allowed to start making nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in eight years.  That’s in the agreement.  And, with the state of affairs in the Middle East right now, Iran will be primed in the future to throw cash and weapons behind the organization of their choice in the ISIL conflict.

The clock is ticking – the UN Security Council adopted the JCPOA as written, so the day for the United States and their six partner countries, plus Iran, to adopt the agreement is expected to be in mid-October.  Congress has until then to accept or reject the agreement by a vote of both the House and Senate and then, if we reject the deal and the President vetoes our rejection, we have to override his veto by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate.

Iran is the world’s largest sponsor of terror.  By paving the way for this most dangerous state to obtain nuclear weapons and a free flow of arms, this agreement will ultimately increase Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria and its ability to support violent extremists worldwide.  I simply cannot condone a deal that legitimizes and empowers this regime and jeopardizes U.S. security, the Israeli state, and stability in the Middle East.  I pray for the safety of our nation.