Washington D.C. - House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith released the following statement for today’s hearing on potential implications of the Nuclear Iran Deal:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to join you in welcoming our witnesses here today.  The agreement with Iran covering their nuclear program is an important topic, and I suspect that this is just the first of many conversations we’ll be having on it.

At its core, the debate Congress will be having on the nuclear agreement is about risk—risk associated with approving, or at least not rejecting, the agreement and the risks if Congress rejects the deal.  We should also discuss, in either case, what Congress should do to mitigate those risks.

The risks of leaving Iran’s nuclear program as it is now should be obvious. Iran has built an industrial scale nuclear program, with 19,000 centrifuges, an advanced research and development program, deeply buried and hardened facilities, and a sophisticated procurement program that would leave that country only months from building a nuclear weapon, were the Iranian leadership to make that decision. We should be clear—that cannot be allowed to happen.  A nuclear-armed Iran would, at the minimum, be able to pursue strategies designed to undermine U.S. national security interests in the Middle East and to support terrorists and proxy forces that attack Israel and our Arab allies in the region almost without concern that the U.S. or other countries would respond with military force.  Some observers have pointed to North Korea as a warning about making deals with rogue states, but the real lesson of North Korea may be that the possession of a nuclear deterrent allows a rogue state to freely engage in all sorts of trouble making.

History suggests that over time, sanctions regimes begin to decay and leak.  Logic suggests that as Iran approached the point of being able to put together a nuclear weapon so quickly that it would not be detected, countries would be less likely to support sanctions that had clearly failed to prevent Iran from getting to this point.  The risks of this would be obvious—over time, Iran would become a virtual nuclear weapons state, bound only by a rapidly decaying international sanctions regime.  It is an unacceptable scenario for many of our allies and clearly a threat to our vital national security interests.

There are similar risks if Congress forces the Administration to walk away from the deal.  It is almost inconceivable that an Iranian regime would reenter negotiations with us anytime soon, and even the other members of the P5+1 would likely conclude that Congress was moving the goalposts and they could not trust the United States to negotiate in good faith.  Walking away from this deal would likely undermine the ability of this, or any Administration, to negotiate any multilateral agreement for years to come.

Walking away from this deal would almost certainly cause the Chinese and Russians to conclude that the United States isn’t serious about a deal and to begin to reverse their support for the sanctions that brought Iran to the table.  In such a situation, Iran would be the clear benefactor—the sanctions regime would be decaying, their nuclear program would be free of most restraints, and there would be almost no chance of concerted international cooperation, either on sanctions or kinetic action, to push back on them.

There are longer-term effects as well.  As countries moved to restart business with Iran, they would be incentivized to find ways to do so without triggering U.S. secondary sanctions that penalize those who do business with Iran, particularly in the oil and gas industry.  It is not in our interests, for a variety of reasons, to push countries to develop pathways for investment outside the banking structure over which we have a great deal of interest.  We cannot forget this as a possible side effect, and I would hope we would put a significant amount of thought into how to preserve these sorts of advantages, or if that is even possible, before we act to potentially force the administration to walk away from this deal.

There are some who believe that we can walk away from this deal and simply negotiate a better one.  I would encourage those who believe this to explain how exactly we would convince the P5+1, who just spent two years working on this deal, who cooperated for many years on sanctions to bring Iran to the table, and all of whom have signed off on the deal as sufficient to curb the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, to tear up the agreement and start over with no guarantee that it would get better.  It might well be possible, but until we’re sure that it’s likely we have to think about this very carefully.

Finally, there are risks associated with approving the deal.  Let me be perfectly clear—this is not a perfect deal.  Like any diplomatic agreement between countries that are not friends, it is clearly a compromise.  The Administration clearly adjusted their desired goals to build international support and reach what they believe is a good enough agreement.  For those who oppose on principle such compromises, we should remember that for years it was the U.S. position that Iran had to give up everything and we achieved nothing, while Iran built a large nuclear program.  So compromise of some sort was clearly necessary, the question is if this compromise does enough to protect our interests and those of our allies.

In the period the deal is most in effect, the first 10 to 15 years, the largest downside of the nuclear agreement is clearly Iran’s increased access to additional funds which could easily be used to support terrorist groups and Iranian proxies in the region, groups which threaten the security of our allies.  This is a real concern.  Many have pointed out that collectively, and in many cases individually, Israel and our Arab allies vastly outspend the Iranians on defense.  Nonetheless, we must not dismiss the very real harm that could be caused by proxies with increased funding. 

Instead, the question we are faced with and with which I hope this panel can help is, assuming Congress approves the deal, how can we mitigate this going forward?  Are there diplomatic agreements we can sign with our Arab allies that would extend some level of protection to them?  Are there additional arms sales or training that we should be offering?  How can we best share intelligence and coordinate efforts to intercept illicit Iranian arms shipments?  Should we be altering our posture in the region to present a better deterrent to Iranian malign actions?

Many observers have also expressed concern that Iran would be able to restart its program at the end of ten or fifteen years, when most of the restrictions from this agreement expire.  I share that concern.  We need to think through, seriously and soon, what, assuming the agreement enters into effect, we can do to stop Iran from taking this step.  This will require close consultation with our allies.  I am somewhat consoled by the idea that we will have much more knowledge of the Iranian program at the end of that period than we do now, which is a huge advantage.  Unless there are major changes in the works, an Iran with a nuclear weapon in 15 years is still an uncomfortable idea to contemplate, although it would gain us an additional 15 years.

I hope our witnesses here today can help us think these questions through.  This is a complex and difficult matter, and one with which I think many members will struggle.

Again, I thank our witnesses for appearing.  I yield back my time.