Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon if we dismantle its infrastructure
July 14 marked the six-year anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As negotiations continue in Geneva, the Biden administration holds tremendous leverage as Iran seeks sanctions relief from the maximum pressure campaign of the Trump administration.
That leverage should be exercised to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and not simply push its breakout time to one year. The international community came together to eliminate nuclear programs in Libya, South Africa, and Ukraine. We can do so again with Iran, but it takes political will.
The JCPOA faced significant bipartisan opposition in Congress, in part because it was Congress’s intent to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program and not simply to get them to the negotiating table. Congress put in place an entire sanctions regime designed to prevent a nuclear Iran, halt Iran’s ballistic missile program, address Iran’s support for terrorism, and hold the regime accountable for its abysmal human rights record and unjust detainment of American hostages.
Despite the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, Iran remained a party to the accord but openly and willfully violated its terms, including but not limited to exceeding limits on heavy water and enriched uranium stockpiles; enriching uranium at Fordow; enriching uranium up to 63 percent; installing and operating advanced centrifuges; producing uranium metal enriched to 20 percent purity; and ceasing its implementation of the Additional Protocol.
Yet for all these violations, the rest of the P5 + 1 countries failed to hold Iran accountable and snap back any sanctions — so returning to the status quo of the JCPOA is not enough. Iran has not answered questions on the possible military dimensions of its program, questions that became more salient in the aftermath of the release of Iran’s nuclear archives by the Israelis. There also remain questions regarding the reversible nature of Iran’s supposed dismantlement of the core at Arak. These issues cannot be ignored and swept under the rug.
Former U.S. policies looked to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. For example, in 2009, the United Arab Emirates agreed not to enrich and reprocess uranium by adopting the gold standard of a nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 agreement. Instead, the JCPOA increased the proliferation risk once the designated state sponsor of terrorism in Tehran was allowed to enrich uranium. This decision had consequences.
Previous negotiations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on a 123 agreement have stalled because of Saudi Arabia’s apprehension to abide by the Additional Protocols and the gold standard. The JCPOA pushed its neighbors to want to enrich while also simultaneously sparking a conventional arms race in the Middle East.
Tehran feels more emboldened, as evidenced by its so-called elections in which the Supreme Leader handpicked Ebrahim Raisi as president, knowing that he was sanctioned by the United States. Iran’s malign activities also continue: It interferes in Bahrain; funnels drones to its militias in Iraq to attack U.S. troops; provides missiles and drones to the Houthis in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia; expands its military presence in Syria; shot down a passenger plane of Ukraine International Airlines; provides more sophisticated rockets and drones to Hamas to attack our major strategic ally Israel; and allegedly plotted to kidnap a U.S. journalist.
Moving forward, we must consult with Israel and our Gulf partners before finalizing any nuclear agreement with Iran. The geopolitical landscape has changed with the Abraham Accords, in which Middle Eastern countries came together, largely because of the one thing that unites them — the Iranian threat.
We also must confront the triangle of proliferation between the regimes of Iran, Syria and North Korea to prevent sharing any technology and scientific knowledge between all three regimes. Let us not forget that North Korea once built a nuclear reactor for Syria that was financed by Iran before it was destroyed.
Lastly, we must scrutinize who is charged with overseeing the JCPOA. The world was overly dependent on the World Health Organization (WHO) and when a pandemic hit, it failed us. Let us not make the same mistake again. A report by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center suggests that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) should “reevaluate its significant quantity values and decreasing them to values that better reflect the fissile material requirements of weapons with much lower yields than are currently assumed to bound the agency’s minimal concern.” We must examine and investigate the limits of the IAEA’s definition of significant quantities and its impact on overseeing any finalized agreement. We must also demand true “anytime, anywhere access” to all sites, including military sites, and Americans must be allowed in for inspections.
Iran violated the JCPOA and the knowledge and experience it learned through those breaches cannot be undone. The ultimate objective should be to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. We can do so by completely dismantling Iran’s nuclear program and its infrastructure.
Eddy Acevedo is chief of staff and senior adviser to Ambassador Mark Green, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He formerly was the national security adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development and staff director for the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa for former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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