July 31, 2014

Senate Bill Would Cut off Iran Nuclear Inspections

For Congressional hawks claiming to take a tough line against Iran’s nuclear program, cutting off funding for enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections over that program seems like an odd approach. Yet a new bill introduced by the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would threaten to do just that.

The “Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014,” recently introduced by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and a group of Republican Iran hawks, would tee up a Congressional vote of disapproval within a matter of days if the P5+1 and Iran succeed in striking a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. If passed, the vote would block any State Department funds from being used to implement an agreement.

That’s a big problem, because U.S. funding for the IAEA is included in the State Department’s budget. That means the first casualty of a vote of disapproval would be the enhanced IAEA inspections that would be included in a deal to ensure Iran fulfills its commitments and which would deter both overt and covert Iranian nuclear breakout. One would be hard-pressed to imagine any action more counterproductive to ensuring Iran’s nuclear program is limited to peaceful purposes than willingly blindfolding international nuclear inspectors.

The key provision is included in Section 3 of the Corker bill, which states that, if Congress votes down an agreement (or if the administration fails to submit an agreement for Congressional review within three days), “no funds authorized to be appropriated for the Department of State that remain available for obligation as of the date of the enactment of this Act may be obligated or expended to implement an [Iran nuclear] agreement.” 

In the State Department budget, there is no fund more vital to implementation of an agreement than the IAEA budget, which is funded through the Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) and Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR) accounts. Blocking these funds means blocking the IAEA from conducting the enhanced inspections that will be a vital component of any final deal. 

With the JPOA, which provided increased inspections over Iran’s nuclear sites, the IAEA had to nearly double the number of people it had working in Iran, and received additional funding from the U.S. and other member states in order to fund its enhanced activities. The IAEA has already asked for an additional $1 million Euros in order to monitor implementation of the JPOA during the four-month extension. 

In addition to restricting IAEA funding, the vote of disapproval also seeks to impede delivery of sanctions relief in a final agreement. This would force the United States to violate an agreement that we and the rest of the world signed on to, a nightmare scenario that would kill the deal, collapse the sanctions regime, and free Iran’s nuclear program from any of the hard earned constraints secured by our diplomats. Instead of Iran being the intransigent party, the international community would place the blame on a U.S. inability to make good on its word.

The bill’s authors appear eager to ensure that Congress plays a key role in any prospective agreement. But that role is already clear. Congress will surely hold hearings following the striking of a deal and ultimately holds final authorities for lifting nuclear-related sanctions, a key component of any final nuclear deal as articulated in the JPOA. But threatening to torpedo a deal within days of the striking of a nuclear accord, in part by cutting off funding for the international watchdogs that guard against an Iranian nuclear weapon, is a ham-handed approach that will not achieve any objective other than sabotaging efforts to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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