Rep. Huffman Announces Support for Iran Nuclear Agreement

September 09, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today issued the following statement in support of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement negotiated between Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the European Union, China, and Russia:

“This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an historic agreement negotiated by the United States along with China, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Because this is one of the most consequential votes I will cast as a member of Congress, I have spent the past two months in careful deliberation including classified briefings, meetings with the President, Secretary of State, and leaders of the defense and intelligence communities, and numerous discussions with constituents.

“I have concluded that the JCPOA is our best option for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. I will vote to support the agreement.

“The starting point for this decision is my firm opposition to Iran having nuclear weapons. Not only would a nuclear-armed Iran pose a grave threat to our security and that of Israel and other allies, it would ignite a nuclear arms race in the already-volatile Middle East. There’s no question that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons; the question is how best to prevent it.  

“In a perfect world, I would like the certainty of a deal that permanently bans all nuclear enrichment by Iran. Unfortunately, we tried that demand during the Bush years and got nowhere, even after offering far more sweeteners and incentives than anything in the JCPOA. Iran flouted our demands, added thousands of centrifuges, built a highly enriched uranium stockpile and became a nuclear threshold state capable of achieving ‘breakout’—i.e., enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb—in just a few months.    

“The JCPOA does not ban all enrichment. Rather, it seeks to block Iran’s nuclear weapons path by restricting enrichment to non-threatening levels for 15 years and imposing comprehensive inspection, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. In the first few months, 98% of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile would be destroyed, two-thirds of its centrifuges mothballed, key facilities disabled to prevent enrichment, and inspection and monitoring systems put in place. The goal is to increase Iran’s ‘breakout’ time to at least a year—enough time for the U.S. and our allies to catch and confront them before they could develop a nuclear bomb.

“My evaluation of the JCPOA focused on two questions:  1) whether it could actually prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East; and 2) whether there is a better alternative if the U.S. rejects the deal.

“On the first question, the JCPOA is not without risks. Because Iran has a history of cheating on agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), we must do better than ‘trust but verify;’ we must ‘distrust and verify.’  The unprecedented monitoring, inspection and enforcement provisions in the JCPOA reflect that approach. I agree with the many esteemed nuclear experts and national security leaders who have concluded that with diligent and vigorous enforcement, the JCPOA can keep Iran’s nuclear program “in a box” for at least 15 years.

“As for non-proliferation, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman—the countries most likely to pursue nuclear weapons if they felt the deal would not work—have all endorsed the JCPOA.  This key measure of confidence indicates that for at least the next 15 years, we will avoid a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

“An important consideration for me and many of my constituents is the security of Israel, America’s friend and most important ally in the region. I have travelled to Israel, have family there, and am keenly aware of the unique threats to Israel’s security and potentially its very existence. I would not support the JCPOA if I thought it threatened Israel by ‘paving the way’ for an Iranian nuclear bomb, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has hyperbolized. American military and intelligence officials, a vast number of nuclear and defense experts, and many prominent military and intelligence leaders in Israel believe the JCPOA does just the opposite.   

“That is not to suggest the JCPOA solves all problems with Iran—it doesn’t change the brutal nature or hostile intentions of the Iranian regime. This is a nuclear arms agreement, not a political transformation. Just as we struck nuclear deals with the former Soviet Union while continuing to confront their belligerence and aggression, we can do that with Iran. We must confront them on a dismal human rights record, including the outrageous imprisonment of my constituent Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist who has been held for over 400 days on trumped-up charges, and three other innocent Americans. The U.S. and our allies should confront Iran’s penchant for fomenting regional conflicts and supporting terrorist groups by vigorously enforcing existing embargoes on advanced weaponry, aggressively interdicting Iranian arms shipments, renewing our commitment to Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and strengthening alliances in the region.

“But we should also use this 15-year period to build on diplomatic progress and negotiate a longer-term nuclear agreement with Iran.  By sending a clear and strong message to Iran that we will not allow them to resume a nuclear weapons program while showing Iran’s younger, less radicalized generations that being part of the world economy is better than being a nuclear pariah, we should be able to achieve a permanent extension of the JCPOA’s restrictions on enrichment capacity and stockpiles, bringing even greater security and stability to the region.   

“To my second question, is a ‘better deal’ possible if the U.S. rejects the JCPOA?  I don’t think so. Most of the world has endorsed the JCPOA, including all of the nations whose cooperation would be necessary if we tried to pressure Iran back to the negotiating table with more sanctions. Our European allies, Russia, and China have all bluntly told Congress they won’t participate in sanctions if the U.S. rejects the JCPOA. With few or no sanctions partners and an enormous loss of credibility for abandoning the deal we just negotiated, we would be playing a much weaker hand than the one that brought us to this point. It’s hard to imagine any deal in that scenario, much less the “better deal” JCPOA opponents envision.

“That leaves military action as the likely alternative to the JCPOA, and we should be honest about what that means. Military leaders have explained to me that a sustained bombing campaign would be necessary to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s air defenses are far more formidable than those of Iraq in 2003. Casualties would be expected, and the conflict could easily escalate into a broader war with unforeseeable consequences. The best case outcome:  a one or two year setback for Iran’s nuclear program, during which time they would simply rebuild and more heavily fortify their facilities.

“I consider the JCPOA, despite its imperfections, a more intelligent and promising path forward.

“As I have struggled with this critical decision, the plight of my constituent Jason Rezaian has been on my mind continuously. I agree with the Obama administration that securing the release of Jason and the three other innocent Americans must remain separate from the nuclear issue. We cannot trade nuclear concessions for the release of innocent prisoners. But I also feel strongly that we must press harder for their rights and their freedom. I have conveyed this to the President, Secretary Kerry, and other high-level administration officials and received their assurances that they share my concern and will do everything possible to bring Jason and the other innocent Americans home.

“The whole world is evaluating Iran’s intentions and focusing on its actions. If Iran complies with its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA in the months ahead, it can earn relief from nuclear sanctions. Many countries and firms are considering whether Iran is a safe, stable place to do business. Iran has an opportunity to show the world it respects the rule of law and values human rights by releasing Jason Rezaian and the other innocent American prisoners. I expect Iran to do this and I will continue working with Jason’s family, administration officials and others to secure that outcome.”