Our country seems impossibly divided on so many important issues. However, on one issue there is close to unanimous agreement – there is grave danger in allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and we need to take steps to prevent it.
But in Congress that agreement ends quickly on the matter of “how” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Following the announcement of a negotiated agreement with Iran by five countries including the U.S., the issue of “how” to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has erupted into an aggressive and ugly debate. Some politicians have even questioned the patriotism of the negotiators, and callously related their actions to the Holocaust.
I admit there is room for different opinions about the diplomatic agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. But there is no room for the thoughtless ranting we’ve been hearing – nor is it a time to play politics with such an issue.
Here is the issue: For the past 20 months, the U.S. and five other countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Russia and China) have been negotiating with Iran to prevent that country from acquiring or building a nuclear weapon.
The agreement reached by the parties is complicated, technical and specific. But most of the nuclear non-proliferation experts I respect agree that this deal will block all pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran. Further, diplomats and experts who have worked in this area for decades believe that this agreement is the right path to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
I am convinced that supporting this agreement is the right step for our country and is the right step to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons on our planet. It takes away the vast majority of the nuclear capabilities Iran has now and would prevent Iran from enriching uranium for a nuclear bomb for 15 years – keeping America and Americans safer.
Here are a few facts to consider:
- The agreement prevents Iran from enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium needed to develop nuclear weapons.
- The agreement requires Iran to dismantle most of its current nuclear infrastructure and what remains will not allow them to build a nuclear bomb.
- Iran will forfeit 97 percent of its current uranium stock.
- Iran will not reprocess spent fuel into weapons grade plutonium and will send spent fuel out of the country.
- Iran will not possess uranium over 3.67 percent enrichment (weapons-grade uranium is 90 percent).
Critics of the agreement insist Iran can’t be trusted. There is reason not to trust them, but this deal is not built on trust. It is built on a comprehensive inspection and verification regime.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, along with the intelligence capabilities of the U.S. and other world and regional powers, will all be focused on verifying compliance with the terms of this agreement.
The announcement of this agreement has created a loud roar of complaint by some who opposed the negotiations while they were taking place. But their position begs an important question. What would the critics do to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?
Some critics suggest we can get a better deal. After months of exhaustive negotiations, the U.S., our negotiating partners, and Iran all agree to this deal and no other. If the U.S. tries to go back to the bargaining table, it will be a table for one.
Diplomacy has worked in this case. The sanctions against Iran will not be lifted until it is verified that Iran is complying with the agreement. And that compliance means that Iran will not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In my judgment there is little risk in proceeding with this agreement. If Iran does not keep its promises, the agreement will be voided. But the risk of Congress rejecting this agreement is that Iran will be free to continue work that experts say will give them a nuclear bomb in about two years or less. That would be a destabilizing threat to the region and the world. That’s not a risk worth taking.
Dorgan is retired U.S. senator from North Dakota.