The Iran Task Force of the Atlantic Council supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) announced in Vienna this week and applauds the bold intent and intense efforts of President Barack Obama and his team of diplomats and scientists who worked so hard to bring it to fruition.

This Task Force has worked for five years on Iran-related issues and has accumulated a great deal of knowledge, insight and understanding of these issues from Iran’s internal political developments to the impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy, with a special focus on the challenges raised by Iran’s nuclear program. We have held more than fifty seminars and other events with a wide-range of experts and published more than a dozen issue briefs and reports, including a groundbreaking 2013 study that has informed US policy and that we hope will continue to do so going forward.

At the same time we support the JCPOA, we believe it is necessary to view the agreement with a clear-eyed, realistic perspective, wishing for the best outcome but also being prepared for less-favorable scenarios given past Iranian conductWe hope that our colleagues in Congress will share this objective with a non-partisan appraisal of the agreement. 

It is our hope that Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will fully comply with their pledges in the JCPOA. On Iran’s side, these include its promises to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, its acceptance of the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its pledge to turn away permanently from any temptation to acquire a nuclear weapon, not just during the term of the agreement but after its expiration. We also hope that the large sums of money that will come to Iran following the lifting of sanctions will be used for internal development and the betterment of its citizens, not for further support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is also a requirement that the U.S. government be vigilant against any obstruction of IAEA inspections of declared or suspect sites and recognize the difficulty of “snapping back” sanctions if there are violations. We believe it is critical that the US government take actions to deal with the significant opposition to this agreement from our closest Arab allies in the Middle East and from Israel, which views an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat. The US government, working with its European allies, must act urgently to insure that the JCPOA does not ignite a new nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East, and that the end of the multilateral conventional arms embargo and missile embargo on Iran in five and eight years respectively does not threaten American interests in the region or those of our allies. The United States must provide our allies with the means necessary to defend themselves against threats from Iran and its proxies. Iran must also know that the United States views Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon during or after the expiration of the JCPOA as unacceptable, and will take all actions necessary to assure against this contingency.

Still, we come to the conclusion, even in a worst or most likely a mixed case scenario, that this agreement is better than the alternatives if the JCPOA is rejected. We would be left with only a military option, which may be necessary if Iran actually marches toward a nuclear weapon. 

We believe that additional sanctions are not likely to produce a significantly improved agreement. The reason is that we already have the most extensive, comprehensive sanctions ever exacted against a country in peacetime, and there are few others available to the United States. Moreover, it is highly doubtful that the European Union, China and Russia, whose cooperation in imposing sanctions has been critical to getting Iran to seriously negotiate and make the significant compromises embodied in the JCPOA, would support additional sanctions in the absence of Iranian misdemeanor. Even during the sanctions period, Iran continued to increase the number of centrifuges, to work on more advanced centrifuges, and to begin a plutonium facility at Arak.

Most important, with no agreement, there would be no significant reduction in Iran’s 19,000 installed centrifuges; no redesign of its Arak reactor; no intrusive IAEA inspections; and no elongation of its breakout period from several months to a year.

As a result, this Task Force supports the administration and the implementation of the JCPOA, while urging special vigilance against any violations of its terms.

Signed: Stuart Eizenstat, Task Force Chair; Odeh Aburdene, Cornelius Adebahr, James Cartwright, Joseph Cirincione, Ilan Goldenberg, John Limbert, Jim Moody, William Reinsch, Richard Sawaya, Thomas Pickering, Greg Thielmann and Harlan Ullman

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