Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a senior member of the House Republican caucus on foreign policy issues, on Tuesday tried to downplay any significance of Iran complying with the Geneva nuclear deal that went into effect this week, claiming the agreement set such a low bar for Tehran to follow.
“We have set the bar so low with this deal, that every six months we will be applauding this deal as saying, ‘Look! Iran has met all of the goals!'” Ros-Lehtinen said on a right-wing radio program on Tuesday. “Yes, because they’re at the kindergarten level!”
The Florida Republican predicted that Tehran will indeed live up to its end of the bargain. “I fully expect Iran to comply everything in this bad deal because the bar is so low,” she said. “People have got to know that when we start applauding Iran for complying, it’s at a very dangerously low level. So don’t applaud.”
The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) implemented under the Geneva nuclear agreement went into effect on Monday and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed this week that Iran is complying. According to the IAEA, Tehran suspended its production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, halted work at its heavy water reactor in Arak and opened up to more intrusive inspections. In return, Iran will receive modest sanctions relief over a six month period, but the more crippling oil and banking sanctions will remain in place.
Experts and the countries involved with the negotiations disagree with Ros-Lehtinen, saying that a successful implementation of the JOPA is a significant and important first step. The Arms Control Association (ACA) called it “a net plus for nonproliferation.”
“By halting enrichment to 20 percent, converting and diluting the existing 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and freezing the number of centrifuges available for enrichment,” wrote the ACA’s Daryl Kimball, “the first phase agreement will, by the end of first six months, add several weeks to the amount of time that it would theoretically take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon.”
The U.S. and its international partners in the talks with Iran, the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany), also applauded the “unprecedented opportunity” to rein in Iran’s nuclear program for good. “I am pleased to note that the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action has started today. This is an important development,” IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said on Monday.
So why isn’t Ros-Lehtinen happy about the deal? It doesn’t “dismantle the existing centrifuges,” nor does it “stop the uranium enrichment program” entirely, she said.
But it’s unlikely that even the final deal, let alone the interim one, will totally dismantle Iran’s nuclear program nor will Tehran agree to this so-called “zero-enrichment” provision, as many hawks in Congress want. Indeed, many in the House and Senate are trying to codify this outcome in law, a move that experts and the Obama administration oppose. Even some in the Israeli security establishment have said that allowing Iran some kind of enrichment program as part of a final deal would be “reasonable.”
Moreover, President Obama explained last month that completely dismantling Iran’s nuclear program isn’t realistic, as it’s impossible to eliminate Tehran’s access to the technology.
“One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, ‘we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone,’” Obama said. “If we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it. But that particular option is not available.”