September 10, 2015

Memo: House Republicans’ Iran Deal Conspiracy Theory

Today, the House will vote on a resolution claiming that the clock hasn’t started on the 60-day period that Congress granted itself to review the Iran nuclear agreement because the President has not submitted text of a separate agreement between Iran and the IAEA to Congress.

Opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement were going to lose a planned disapproval vote to block the President from implementing the Iran accord and so, after abruptly canceling the scheduled debate, are now attempting to drum up a political distraction. Instead of debating the merits of the agreement, hardliners in the House Republican caucus have resorted to inventing conspiracies – claiming that Obama is hiding secret side deals cut with the Iranians from Congress – to avoid the trials of governing. In the long term, this is an effort to maintain political momentum to continue casting doubt on the legitimacy of the nuclear agreement and working to undermine it. This is a reckless stunt that undermines U.S. leadership on the world stage and is a clear instance of some in Congress putting politics above national security.

What is the claim behind this stunt?

On July 14, 2015, the IAEA and Iran entered into an agreement: the “Roadmap for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program.”  Under this roadmap, which is legally binding on Iran, the IAEA and Iran agreed to resolve all outstanding concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program in a timely manner so as to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.  So far, reports indicate that the two sides are ahead of schedule, as Iran has presented its initial set of documents to the IAEA and the IAEA has responded with additional questions and clarifications.

House Republicans’ legal interpretation is wrong

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the President is required to transmit to Congress “the agreement…including all related materials and annexes.”  For purposes of this provision, “agreement” is defined in INARA as “an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran that includes the United States, commits the United States to take action, or pursuant to which the United States commits or otherwise agrees to take action…”  Because the agreement between Iran and the IAEA does not include the United States, nor does it commit the United States to take any action whatsoever, it does not fall within the definition of “agreement” for purposes of INARA and is thus outside the scope of the documents that the President is required to turn over to Congress. House Republicans are simply wrong on the law.

IAEA agreements require confidentiality

As is true of most agreements made between the IAEA and signatory states, the IAEA-Iran Roadmap is kept safeguards-confidential.  This means that the agreement is kept confidential between the two parties so as to avoid disclosure of sensitive information that could compromise a state’s legitimate security concerns.   This is the cost of ensuring that nuclear programs around the world – not just Iran’s – are devoted to exclusively peaceful purposes, as states are unlikely to grant the IAEA intrusive access to sensitive sites and facilities absent confidence that the information will be kept in confidence.

This effort endangers all nuclear inspections regimes

Opponents of the Iran nuclear accord have gone from trying to kill the deal to now undermining the IAEA’s ability to conduct rigorous inspections and investigate Iran’s PMD issues. This jeopardizes not just the Iran nuclear agreement, but all current and future nuclear agreements by deliberately attacking the reputation of the nuclear agency.

Doubting inspectors and repeating Iraq

It is unclear what the agreement’s opponents seek to accomplish by trying to gain access to the Roadmap agreed to between the IAEA and Iran.  Would they attack the credibility of the IAEA to conduct their investigation? Would they repeat the mistake of the Iraq invasion and second-guess what nuclear inspectors on the ground were telling the world? The fact is, they are already working to politicize the IAEA’s work in ways that damage the reputation of the United States and the nuclear agency alike.

Not being nuclear experts or having any experience inspecting nuclear sites, House Republicans pale in expertise compared to that of the IAEA. Deference to the IAEA is warranted: the IAEA was right about Iraq’s lack of nuclear weapons work, while Republicans in Congress – as well as many Democrats – were dead wrong.  We should not let Congressional hardliners overrule the experts and lead us into a costly war again. 

Back to top