President Obama misled the American people in his January 28th State of the Union address regarding what Iran is required to do under the six-month interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 nations – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany. Obama made the following patently false claim about the implementation of the interim agreement: “As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.”
Iran has not eliminated anything. It has merely begun to temporarily convert part of its enriched uranium stockpile from a 20 percent enrichment level to a 5 percent enrichment level or below, and to covert the remainder of its 20 percent enriched uranium to oxide. These actions can be reversed by Iran at any time.
“We can return again to 20 percent [uranium] enrichment in less than one day and we can convert the [nuclear] material again,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Iranian television earlier this month. We are still waiting for an Obama administration nuclear expert to credibly refute this claim.
Iran is able to return its nuclear material back to the 20 percent enrichment level in part because the Obama administration and its fellow P5+1 negotiators caved in to Iran’s demand that it be permitted to hold on to its 5 percent enriched stockpile. Iran was not required to either render its lower enriched uranium completely unusable or to ship it out of the country as Syria is doing with its chemical weapons material.
Now Obama has asked for more time to try and negotiate a final comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. Give diplomacy a chance to succeed, he said, while warning Congress that he would veto any new sanctions bill that “threatens to derail” his diplomatic outreach to the Iranian regime, including presumably the bipartisan sanctions legislation under consideration in both chambers.
President Obama also set out to deceive the American people in trying to bolster his case for more time-wasting negotiations. He falsely claimed that diplomacy, backed by pressure, has “halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled parts of that program back—for the very first time in a decade.” The truth is that aside from the reversible conversion of its highly enriched uranium and a few other minor concessions, Iran is still able to plow full steam ahead with its nuclear arms program on multiple fronts.
Iran is not required to dismantle a single one of its more than 19,000 installed centrifuges. All it is required to do is to disconnect the centrifuge links (the tandem cascades) used to enable 20 percent enrichment. According to Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran can re-connect the centrifuge links to enable resumption of 20 percent enrichment “in one day’s time.” Furthermore, he warned that Iran has the technical capability to put the requisite number of linked centrifuges into operation, after which “it would take about two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon.”
If that were not bad enough, the interim agreement permits Iran to continue its research and development of even more technologically advanced centrifuges, which would be far faster than previous models.
Iran has another route to production of a nuclear bomb – its heavy water production plant in Arak, which is designed to supply a heavy water reactor under construction nearby that could be used to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Iran has agreed to suspend further construction at the site and not to produce or transfer fuel or heavy water to activate the reactor. However, there does not appear to be anything in the interim agreement that would require Iran to stop the building of components for future installation in its heavy water facilities in Arak, much less dismantle what is already there.
The interim agreement also leaves completely untouched Iran’s Parchin military research facility where clandestine nuclear weapon-related activities may have gone on in the past, involving development and testing of a nuclear explosives device. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is being allowed to broaden its inspections of certain facilities agreed to by Iran such as its Fordow and Natanz uranium enrichment facilities and the Arak facilities, is still barred from gaining access to the Parchin military research facility.
In other words, Iran is free to complete the development of the technology necessary for successfully triggering a nuclear device, while also free to move ahead with the construction of all the components necessary for heavy water plant facilities useful for producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Iran is also free to continue its long-range ballistic missile testing to enable it to develop the full technological capacity to build a nuclear weapons delivery system that could threaten the United States and its allies. President Obama’s statement to the American people that his administration’s diplomacy has “halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled parts of that program back” is deceptive.
President Obama did admit in his speech the obvious point that negotiations with Iran to complete a final comprehensive agreement “may not succeed.” However, he failed to level with the American people as to why the negotiations will be so difficult. Instead, he insisted that “we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.” Aside from more than a decade of getting nowhere with negotiations while giving Iran more time to reach its goal of achieving a nuclear arms capability, there are likely insurmountable obstacles to reaching a final agreement unless the Obama administration decides to cave and revert to a nuclear containment policy.
The Institute of Science and International Security set forth its recommendations for the minimum conditions it deems necessary to achieve a workable final agreement with suitable verification, in order to have confidence that Iran’s atomic program will be beyond use for weaponization. This would include the dismantling of thousands of centrifuges. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made it abundantly clear that Iran will “not under any circumstances” agree to dismantle any of its centrifuges. Why isn’t President Obama just as clear in publicly declaring what the United States will require in order to ease any more existing sanctions and desist from imposing even more onerous sanctions?
Although Obama indicated that, if the negotiations fail, “he will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon,” we have heard such “red lines” in the past that soon faded away.
The president missed an opportunity to explain truthfully to the American people what is at stake for the United States’ own national security interests if Iran is allowed to succeed in obtaining a nuclear bomb. Instead, he chose to lull the American people into a false sense of security.
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