The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security erroneously claimed on Wednesday that allowing Iran uranium enrichment as part of any final deal over its nuclear program would violate Untied Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Geneva deal reached last month allows Iran to continue enriching uranium, but capping its low enriched uranium, eliminating its medium enriched stockpile and allowing more intrusive inspections. In return, Iran receives modest sanctions relief from the U.S. and its international partners.
While Obama administration officials have said that it’s likely Iran would retain enrichment capabilities in any final deal, Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday during a House hearing that he is unsure about that outcome.
House Homeland Security Committee chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said on Fox News that he thinks it’s “very dangerous” to lift the more punishing oil and banking sanctions on Iran in the final deal and still allow the country to enrich uranium. “It’s empowering other partners in the Middle East to possibly do the same, it could start a nuclear arms race, it violates six U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said.
The U.N. has indeed passed six Security Council resolutions on Iran but they do not say that Iran must cease enriching uranium indefinitely, only that it suspend enrichment while negotiations take place. And while Iran failed to abide by those resolutions, Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball recently told ThinkProgress that the first step Geneva deal “effectively accomplishes the original goal of the U.N. Security Council resolutions by capping the total amount of 3.5% material [low enriched uranium] and it goes further by requiring Iran to neutralize its 20% stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20% levels while a comprehensive agreement that further limits Iran’s enrichment capacity below current levels is negotiated.”
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that lawmakers are now shifting “the terms of the debate from the interim accord … to the more comprehensive one that international negotiators now plan to pursue.” And in doing so, many like McCaul are pushing so-called “zero-enrichment” for Iran. House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce (R-CA) pressed Kerry on this issue during Tuesday’s hearing, saying that Iran “simply can’t be trusted with enrichment technology, because verification efforts can never be foolproof.”
President Obama highlighted a snag in Royce’s line of thinking during a discussion at Brookings on Saturday, noting that the U.S. will never really ever be able to block Iran’s access to, as Royce said, “enrichment technology.”
“The technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And [Iran has] already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate,” Obama said. “But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.
“I think what we have said is we can envision a comprehensive agreement that involves extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and intrusive inspections,” Obama added, “but that permits Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program.”
Discussing the possibility of allowing Iran to enrich as part of a final deal, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said last month that such an outcome would not occur without strict inspections. “If and only if Iran can meet all of our concerns, give us assurance that their program is peaceful, accept significant constraints that meet the test of the United States and the international community, if and only if in that circumstance could we foresee that acceptance of that capability,” he said.