Congressional Dispatches: Senate Hearing on JCPOA

By Ceena Modarres, AIC Research Associate

As the Senate nears its August recess, the debate over the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran shows no signs of slowing. Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from the Institute for Science and International Security’s Mr. David Albright, the National Institute for Public Policy’s Ambassador Robert G. Joseph, Ph.D., and Harvard’s Dr. Gary Samore on a number of issues related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The committee was preparing for a confidential meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano Wednesday, thus much of the hearing focused on the role of the IAEA in the JCPOA. In fact, ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) explicitly asked the witnesses: “what questions should we be asking the Director General [tomorrow]?”

Dr. Samore – who handed out a briefing book titled “The Iran Nuclear Deal – A Definitive Guide” to everyone in attendance – recommended inquiring into whether the IAEA can “do its declared job, which is monitoring the declared facilities” and what the expectations are for Iranian cooperation on revealing information regarding the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of its nuclear program.

Those PMDs were a recurring theme of the hearing. All three witnesses emphasized the lack of clarity on addressing the concerns of the IAEA and the international community on the history of Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Albright recommended that “Congress condition [sanctions] relief on a determination that the IAEA’s PMD concerns are addressed prior to implementation day.”

Further concerns were raised on the set of confidential agreements reached between Iran and the IAEA, which some senators have been referring to as a “side deal.” Senator James Risch (R-ID) lambasted this aspect of the JCPOA: “I am just astonished that people are willing to sign off on this, particularly given the party we are dealing with. You want to make a deal you haven’t read?”

As Dr. Samore maintained, public documents imply that these confidential arrangements are related to the resolution of the PMD issue. Senator Risch remained unconvinced, stating “we don’t know what is in there.” Ambassador Joseph echoed the Senator’s concern, and stated that, until this information is revealed, the United States should not move forward with implementation.

An animated Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) dissented with a number of his colleagues’ distrust of the IAEA: “The IAEA told George Bush, [Iraq] does not have a nuclear weapon. We cannot find it Mr. Bush! We cannot find it Mr. Rumsfeld! Please, don’t start this war. The Bush Administration undermined the credibility of the IAEA. That is the essence of this whole thing. Are we going to repeat history, or are we going to create new history that turns the IAEA into the watchdog not the lapdog.”

When Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) asked if the United States could effectively negotiate a better deal if the JCPOA is rejected, Dr. Samore and Mr. Albright recognized the risk and refrained from providing a definitive response. They did, however, challenge the notion that the sanctions regime would erode and the United States would lose its partners in negotiation.

Ambassador Joseph stated confidently that the United States could eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.

After a private meeting with Director General Amano Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a public hearing later that afternoon on the effects of the JCPOA on U.S. Policy in the Middle East before putting the issue to rest until after the August recess. As Senator Cardin reminded the attendees, today is only “day 16,” there is still a long way to go.


Kayvon Afshari

Kayvon Afshari managed the campaign to elect Hooshang Amirahmadi as President of Iran. In this role, he directed the campaign’s event planning, publicity, online social media, web analytics, and delivered speeches. Mr. Afshari has also been working at the CBS News foreign desk for over five years. He has coordinated coverage of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other stories of international significance. He holds a Master in International Relations from New York University’s Department of Politics, and graduated with distinction from McGill University in 2007 with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. At NYU, his research focused on quantitative analysis and the Middle East with an emphasis on US-Iran relations. In his 2012 Master’s thesis, he devised a formula to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, concluding that an overt strike would not materialize.