The opponents of the nuclear deal rely only on falsehoods. I have never felt so vindicated in a position I have, because I haven’t seen a single honest disagreement based on facts, only fabrication and distortions. Here I enumerate some of the lies perpetuated by those who falsely claim that the Iran deal is a “bad deal”, and I compare their points with the text of the agreement to debunk them.
1) Iran will be able to have nuclear bombs after a decade.
Many opponents of the Iran deal claim that this deal will leave open the way for Iran to build nuclear bombs, and that’s because all the inspections and oversight will end after a decade. Here is Netanyahu the far-right Prime Minister of Israel making that point:
Because this deal will open the way for Iran not to get a bomb, but many bombs. Within a decade, it will be free to enrich uranium on an unlimited basis. And it will be able to make the fissile core for dozens of bombs–-indeed, hundreds of bombs.
That’s simply not true. Iran will not be able to do whatever it wants after 15 years (where all the limits imposed on the deal will be lifted and it will have a normal nuclear program), simply because it will join the Additional Protocol of the NPT. According to the deal itself:
Consistent with the respective roles of the President and Majlis (Parliament), Iran will provisionally apply the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in accordance with Article 17(b) of the Additional Protocol, proceed with its ratification within the timeframe as detailed in Annex V and fully implement the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguards Agreement
What does joining the Additional Protocol of the NPT entail? It means that Iran will agree to these provisions when it comes to IAEA:
That effort eventually produced a voluntary Additional Protocol, designed to strengthen and expand existing IAEA safeguards for verifying that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes. The IAEA is responsible for validating that NPT states-parties are complying with the treaty. […] First, the amount and type of information that states will have to provide to the IAEA is greatly expanded. In addition to the current requirement for data about nuclear fuel and fuel-cycle activities, states will now have to provide an “expanded declaration” on a broad array of nuclear-related activities. […] Second, the number and types of facilities that the IAEA will be able to inspect and monitor is substantially increased beyond the previous level. […] Third, the agency’s ability to conduct short notice inspections is augmented […] Fourth, the Additional Protocol provides for the IAEA’s right to use environmental sampling during inspections at both declared and undeclared sites.
By joining the Additional Protocol, Iran will agree to an intensive monitoring of its nuclear program forever. This will mean if Iran deviates from a peaceful program, the world will know far in advance. There will be enough time to try and stop Iran.
2) The inspections are not intensive enough.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, writes:
Given this history of deception, it is particularly disturbing that the promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections regime has degenerated into what has been aptly described as “sometime, somewhere” inspections.
It’s technically true that the IAEA inspectors cannot just waltz in anywhere they want anytime they want. It’s true that the deal leaves some space for Iran to appeal with a certain site which is about to be inspected. But the inspection regime set by the deal makes sure that if there are any places which IAEA is suspicious of, they will be searched and it doesn’t matter whether Iran writes it or not.
Fred Fleitz, a senior vice president for policy and programs for the Center for Security Policy, writes:
The conventional-arms embargo will stay in place for five years, and the ballistic-missile embargo will be in place for eight years but will be lifted sooner if the IAEA definitively clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. The IAEA is very unlikely to find evidence of current nuclear-weapons work, as it won’t be allowed to inspect non-declared nuclear sites where this activity is taking place.
The part I emphasized is the bullshit lie which is slipped in into the argument so craftily. Firstly, as I quoted above, the whole point of the Additional Protocol is to ensure that the “undeclared sites” loophole will not be used. It was the very reason this Protocol was invented:
Iraq, an NPT state-party, successfully circumvented IAEA safeguards by exploiting the agency’s system of confining its inspection and monitoring activities to facilities or materials explicitly declared by each state in its safeguards agreement with the agency. To close the “undeclared facilities” loophole, the IAEA initiated a safeguards improvement plan known as “Program 93+2.”
But even now, under the current agreement, Iran can’t get away with a site not monitored by the IAEA, really. Let’s read the deal itself:
75. In furtherance of implementation of the JCPOA, if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities, or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA, at locations that have not been declared under the comprehensive safeguards agreement or Additional Protocol, the IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification.
76. If Iran’s explanations do not resolve the IAEA’s concerns, the Agency may request access to such locations for the sole reason to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at such locations. The IAEA will provide Iran the reasons for access in writing and will make available relevant information.
[…] if the two sides are unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA’s original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns.
As you can see, the fate of the inspection of undeclared sites, if there’s a disagreement between IAEA and Iran, relies on the decision of something called “the Joint Commission”, which has to have 5 votes to make a decision. But who is on that Joint Commission?
A Joint Commission consisting of the E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of this JCPOA and will carry out the functions provided for in this JCPOA.
So it will include the USA, the UK, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran. Even imagining that Russia and China will always vote in Iran’s favor – which they won’t, as they don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons as well and they have never vetoes Security Council’s sanctions – the west already has five votes. If the IAEA cannot convince Western countries such as France or Germany that the inspection is necessary, then it’s really not.
But it can. So, basically, yes, the inspection regime implemented in the deal will ensure that in action IAEA can inspect anywhere, but with a little due process along the way to ensure Iran’s sovereignty.
3) This deal will lead into a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
This is one oft those fabricated myths that is repeated so often that no one challenges it anymore. Dermer, making the previous bogus claims and then just taking it for granted that the deal will allow Iran to make a nuclear weapon, writes:
That leads to the third problem with the deal. Because states throughout our region know that the deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb, a number of them will race to get nuclear weapons of their own. The most dangerous region on earth would get infinitely more dangerous. Nuclear terrorism and nuclear war would become far more likely. In fact, if someone wanted to eviscerate the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, this deal is definitely a great place to start.
That’s not true. Firstly, the deal does stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon. Secondly, Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity or the infrastructure to make such a bomb.
Fareed Zakaria has done a perfect job of debunking this myth:
But couldn’t Saudi Arabia simply buy a nuclear bomb? That’s highly unlikely. Any such effort would have to take place secretly, under the threat of sanctions, Western retaliation and interception. Saudi Arabia depends heavily on foreigners and their firms to help with its energy industry, build its infrastructure, buy its oil and sell it goods and services. Were it isolated like Iran or North Korea, its economic system would collapse.
It is often claimed that Pakistan would sell nukes to the Saudis. And it’s true that the Saudis have bailed out Pakistan many times. But the government in Islamabad is well aware that such a deal could make it a pariah and result in sanctions. It is unlikely to risk that, even to please its sugar daddy in Riyadh. In April, Pakistan refused repeated Saudi pleas to join the air campaign in Yemen.
So let me make a prediction: Whatever happens with Iran’s nuclear program, 10 years from now Saudi Arabia won’t have nuclear weapons. Because it can’t.
There are of course holes in Zakaria’s arguments. Jeffrey Lewis correctly points them out. Iran is not a highly advanced country and it has a nuclear program anyway, you don’t need to be too advanced to have them. But Zakaria’s other point stands out: It’s 100% against the interests of Saudi Arabia as an ally of the USA to develop or buy a nuclear weapon. And Saudi Arabia, becoming more hostile under King Salman notwithstanding, are too smart to do so.
The prospect of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is empty alarmism more than anything.
4) Iran will use the money to fund terror.
This is another refrain we hear often from the opponents of the nuclear deal. Don’t give money to Iran! They will fund terrorists! Dermer says:
Those funds are unlikely to be spent on new cancer research centers in Tehran or on funding a GI bill for returning members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Instead, tens of billions are likely to flow to the Shiite militias in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza and other Iranian terror proxies in the region.
Iran is not a country dedicated to funding terrorists. There are elements within the regime who do that. They did it before the sanctions. They did during the sanctions. They will do it after the sanctions too. Like their far-right religious extremist equivalents in Israel, these elements of the regime are also opposed to a nuclear deal.
Unlike what these opponents claim, the Revolutionary Guard was not impoverished by the sanctions, it was enriched by them. Lifting of sanctions will decrease their income.
But the idea that what’s good for business–the lifting of heavy sanctions against Iran–is good for the IRGC, could be misleading. What the deal certainly does is make life more complicated for the Pasdaran. Up until now, its combination of political, military and financial clout made the IRGC the country’s premier sanction busters, providing the organization and many of its individual members with lucrative incomes year after year.
With sanctions set to end, the sanction-busing income will drop accordingly. (As an analogy, think of the devastating blow to American bootleggers when the sanctions of Prohibition ended.) But the problems for the IRGC don’t stop there.
According to the Israeli-based Iran analyst and commentator Meir Javedanfar, “the removal of sanctions removes income from smuggling, but it also removes income derived from the huge monopolies on business [that the IRGC has in Iran] because Iran will be opened up to foreign investors.”
Likewise, we know that the sanctions have enriched the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei too. In general the sanctions have only enriched the regime and harmed the people. The only reason that they came to the table was fear of revolt and the pressure of the public opinion, and that’s why most Iranian analysts consider this deal a victory for the public opinion in Iran.
The lifting of sanction and the money freed by it will improve Iranian economy. It will make reformists more powerful. It’s not only absurd to assume all that money will go to Lebanon and Gaza, it’s simply fear-mongering and exaggerating the negative side of Iran’s foreign policy. Only someone who lives in the bubble of Republican and Likud propaganda can think that simplistically.
5) Iranian people oppose the nuclear deal.
Elliot Abrams is one of the most deceitful writers I have come across. He writes:
Of course Obama has a theory: The main problems in world politics come from American militarism, aggression, bullying, and the like, and if we open our “clenched fists” to embrace Iran, it will respond in kind. We’ve seen the results of such policies in Russia and North Korea, and most recently in Cuba. In fact Obama’s Iran deal is based on his “Cuba model”: Hand a lifeline to a regime in deep economic trouble and ignore the population of the country and their quest for human rights and decent government. Call it a historic achievement, and above all don’t bargain hard for recompense. For, you see, in these openings to Iran and Cuba we are only righting the historical wrongs America has committed and for which we need to apologize.
That’s simply a shameless lie. Iranians elected Rouhani. They have poured into streets to celebrate the deal. Based on a poll about 86% of them supported the deal. Iranians have shown again and again that they want a reopening of relations with the USA and they support normalizing. The only people opposed to it are people like Eliot Abrams and his right-winger Iranian equivalents.
If you want to peddle your racist war-mongering anti-Iranian policies, at least have the decency not to pretend that you are talking on the behalf of Iranian people.
6) All sanctions on Iran will be removed.
Another wild claim by Abrams, who has exactly zero concern for truth, is a baffling claim about the sanctions.
First, it has taken decades to build the structure of international sanctions against Iran, and now we are entirely abandoning it. […] Think about that: Obama has agreed that the federal government will fight any move by any state to impose or maintain state sanctions on Iran — for example, for human-rights violations, support of terror, aggression in the region, or any other reason. Because, you see, state sanctions of any kind, interfering with finance or commerce in any way, are surely “inconsistent with this change in policy.”
That’s complete gibberish. Here he relies on quoting a certain provision of the deal, and the laziness of his readers not to actually read the damn thing he quoted. Here I will quote that and I will bold and italicize the important part which Abrams chooses to ignore:
25. If a law at the state or local level in the United States is preventing the implementation of the sanctions lifting as specified in this JCPOA, the United States will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities, with a view to achieving such implementation. The United States will actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this JCPOA and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.
As you can see, it doesn’t say “all sanctions”, but “these specific sanctions we mentioned here”.
7) Iran will be able to buy arms with no sanctions.
It’s true that some arms sanctions on Iran have been eased. But the opponents of the deal pretend that all arms sanctions are removed and that Iran can buy and sell any weapons it chooses, but that’s also another lie. And it is evident that the Republicans are putting their eggs into this basket with the hopes of derailing the deal.
“It blows my mind that the administration would agree to lift the arms and missile bans,” John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the top Republican in Congress, told reporters.
Firstly, we need to remember why this happened. The easing of the arms sanctions was done to placate Russia. Russia actually wanted this very badly. Now that Europeans will return to the markets, the only way Russians can earn money off of Iran is to sell arms to Iran. Actually the Russians wanted the arms sanctions completely gone but Iran itself decided not to press it too much.
Secondly, the embargo is not “lifted”. It is “eased”. And Iran must be transparent about it and ask in a case by case basis. Again, Iran will not be actually able to buy anything it wants.
And the weapons will help Iran fight IS. Remember that.
8) If the deal wasn’t done, Iran would have abandoned its nuclear program completely.
Yes, Iran has kept the infrastructure of its nuclear program, as every opponent has repeatedly shouted from the rooftops. That’s not the lie. The lie is the assumption behind this fact. The assumption is that not lifting the sanctions would force Iran to abandon its program completely. But that’s impossible.
Sanctions have not held up Iran’s nuclear programme and it could produce bombs within two years, Israel’s new top spy said on Tuesday, staking out a conservative timeline in the face of rosier U.S. assessments. […] “The sanctions have had an impact on the Iranian economy, but they have had no impact on Iran’s nuclear programme,” Gen Kochavi said in his first briefing to an Israeli parliamentary defence panel, according to its spokesman. “The question is not when Iran will have a bomb but rather how much time until the Supreme Leader decides to escalate” uranium enrichment, Gen Kochavi said, referring to a currently low-purity project that Iran says is for peaceful energy needs.
Also, it’s very likely that if the USA had refused to cooperate, the rest of the world would simply give up on sanctions.
The argument that is needed is that a tougher US president who refused to grant sanctions relief unless Iran went further would, in fact, have gotten Iran to make more concessions. What John Kerry and his team think is that if they had held out even more than they did, the international coalition to maintain the sanctions would have unraveled as foreign leaders concluded that the US, rather than Iran, was being unreasonable. This is the key point on which the whole thing turns.
If the opponents of the deal were really concerned with the infrastructure of the Iranian program, they might like to know that back in 2003, Iran, led in negotiations by the current President Hassan Rouhani, agreed to a much smaller program in negotiations with the European troika of the UK, France, and Germany. The Bush administration blew that deal, and now Iran has a much vaster nuclear infrastructure.
Don’t believe them when they pretend they are actually concerned about the infrastructure. It’s a ploy.
Image credit: U.S. Department of State, via Flickr, image is public domain