Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who led U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran for President Obama, said Monday that the Iran nuclear deal ensures the Islamic Republic will never get a nuclear weapon because Tehran said in the agreement that it will not do so.
Sherman made her comment while appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe to discuss U.S.-Iran relations after the nuclear accord's implementation on Saturday. The deal stipulates that Iran will take steps to curb its nuclear program in exchange for large-scale sanctions relief in an effort to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, challenged Sherman’s assertion that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon because of the nuclear deal.
"I understand why you would say that this deal makes it difficult for Iran to get a nuclear weapon for the next 10 or 15 years, but I don't understand your use of the word ‘never,’" Haass said. "Because, as you know better than anyone, the limits on centrifuges and enriched uranium expire after 10 and 15 years. So how can you or anyone say this agreement makes sure Iran will never get nuclear weapons?"
"The reason I say never is, A, the deal makes the commitment by Iran that it will never get a nuclear weapon," Sherman said.
Sherman further argued that the deal "ensures [Iranian compliance] because if Iran doesn't comply, if Iran starts to cheat off the deal, then we have all of our options at our disposal," referring, to the ability to snap back United Nations sanctions if Iran violates the deal.
Critics of the agreement point to a paragraph in the document that reads, "Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA," arguing the deal is flawed since any attempt to punish Iranian cheating will end the accord altogether.
Critics also point out that the Obama administration has not articulated specific penalties for low or mid-level violations that may not warrant a large-scale response like the reimposition of all sanctions, which could lead the international community to ignore such infractions entirely.
Sherman conceded that "the number of centrifuges can go up and research and development progress can be made after those 10 or 15 years," but added that for 20 years, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be inspecting uranium production and for 25 years all uranium will be watched. She also mentioned Iran's agreement to the additional protocol, a measure that allows for the IAEA to "inspect any site where they have concerns that Iran is doing something that it shouldn't."
The deal stipulates that the limits on centrifuges will expire after 10 years and the cap on uranium enrichment will be lifted after 15 years. In the interim, Iran is permitted to conduct research and development on advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium at a faster rate and create enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb with fewer machines.
Lawmakers and analysts have expressed concern that Iran can wait 10 or 15 years to "break out" to a nuclear weapon without violating the agreement because it is permitted to have a large, industrialized nuclear program with expiration dates on key facets.
Sherman and other Obama administration officials have pointed to the unprecedented inspections regime that the deal has created, which gives Tehran up to 24 days to comply with an IAEA inspection request before the matter goes to an international commission to determine how to proceed.
With the implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran is set to receive between $50 billion and $150 billion, depending on the source. Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser, has said that Iran can spend these funds how it wishes, and there are fears Iran will put some of this money toward terrorism and proxies that it uses to spread its power and influence throughout the Middle East.
The administration has argued that Iran will spend most of this money on domestic needs, mainly to strengthen its economy. Some analysts have said the administration hopes greater access to international markets will strengthen the pragmatists in the Iranian regime and have a moderating effect on the government's anti-American attitude.
The U.S. still maintains unilateral sanctions on Iran, which may keep some businesses from immediately investing in the Islamic Republic. However, many European companies are anxious to do business with Tehran. Russia has already announced plans to sell weapons to Iran.
Washington has also imposed new sanctions on Iran for illegally testing a ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead. The nuclear deal does not limit Tehran's ability to grow its missile arsenal, but United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, the international counterpart to the deal, forbids Iran from testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.