President Obama wants everyone to know that the deal his administration negotiated with Iran is the closest thing to perfect as America can hope to achieve. But increasingly, Democrats are becoming concerned that the White House may be overselling the deal, creating a standard that they can’t hope to achieve.
The most notable example is President Obama’s insistence that the deal would foreclose all pathways to Iran producing a nuclear weapon.
“After two years of negotiations, we have achieved an arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the president told a crowd at American University. “It cuts off every one of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and provides the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”
The president even doubled down on this sentiment, later saying that critics were “selling a fantasy” to the American people.
The problem, as the New York Times’ reports, is that it’s just not true:
His problem is that most of the significant constraints on Tehran’s program lapse after 15 years — and, after that, Iran is free to produce uranium on an industrial scale.
“The chief reservation I have about the agreement is the fact that in 15 years they have a highly modern and internationally legitimized enrichment capability,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who supports the accord. “And that is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Even some of the most enthusiastic backers of the agreement, reached by six world powers with Iran, say they fear Mr. Obama has oversold some of the accord’s virtues as he asserts that it would “block” all pathways to a nuclear weapon.
A more accurate description is that the agreement is likely to delay Iran’s program for a decade and a half — just as sanctions and sabotage have slowed Iran in recent years. The administration’s case essentially is that the benefits over the next 15 years overwhelmingly justify the longer-term risks of what comes after.
Those risks aren’t just some right wing fantasy. Under the terms of the agreement, after 15 years Iran would be free to produce weapons-grade fuel using more advanced centrifuges than they currently have. Even more troubling, the complete removal of sanctions puts Iran in a stronger financial position to build a bomb and eliminates any leverage the United States’ has to stop them.
Taken together, that likely means that Iran’s “breakout time” – the time it takes to operationalize a weapon – could fall to a matter of weeks, according to David Einhorn, who was previously a member of the U.S. Iran negotiating team and currently works for the left-leaning Brookings Institute.
“[A]s Iran becomes free to increase the number of operating centrifuges and introduce more advanced types (after 10 years) and to increase its enrichment level and stocks of enriched uranium (after 15 years), breakout time will decrease and eventually shrink to a matter of weeks—leaving Iran with a “threshold” nuclear weapons capability,” Einhorn writes.
And even within the 15-year window, the president’s promise of “anywhere, anytime” access to nuclear sites is nothing more than a talking point. In reality, it Iran refuses inspectors access to any site a 24-day process dispute resolution process kicks into effect, giving Iran more than enough time to create the illusion of compliance.
Sadly, even that questionable process may be moot given recent news about previously unknown side-deals. According to new reporting from the Associated Press, two secret side agreements negotiated between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency that essentially allow Iran to self-report activities from its Parchin military site.
“The document on Parchin, however, will let the Iranians themselves look for signs of the very activity they deny — past work on nuclear weapons,” AP reporter George Jahn writes.
“Iran will also provide photos and video of locations to be inspected. But the document suggests that areas of sensitive military activity remain out of bounds,” he continues.
Obama may honestly believe that this deal is perfect and cannot be improved upon. But it’s a belief that appears more and more to be based on politics rather than policy.