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Next steps could defuse Obama's Iran-nuclear plan- Rep. Brad Sherman to Iranian-Americans

Rep. Brad Sherman admits he will suffer politically for backing JCPOA
Congressman Brad Sherman (D- CA) delivered a speech concerning his opposition to  the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program at 30 Years After on August 27th at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills and then answered audience questions.  He spoke with us about the upstream lobbying to tow the Democrat Party line, backed by the Iran-lobby, the National Iranian-American Council ("NIAC") which receives support from the mullahs' regime, taking place on Capitol Hill.

Here is a slightly-edited version of Rep. Sherman's address, which he also presented at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA on a week prior.
Iran Deal – The Background

Now a little background about the Iran agreement, because without understanding the international finance, nuclear physics, constitutional and international law at play, the pieces don’t fit together. 

First, international finance: what are sanctions? People throw around sanctions as if it’s something we can turn up or turn down at will. And that’s true as to “primary sanctions.” Americans cannot buy any Iranian oil, and we haven’t since the mid-1990s. Unless you have an old Corvette, your car has never tasted Iranian oil. Those are primary sanctions. That’s not nearly enough. Sanctions are effective only when, through pressure and persuasion, we get European and Asian oil companies and banks to suspend their profitable business relationships with Iran. 

Congressman Sherman's  Speech

Now other countries can get a little insulted when the United States Congress tells their companies what to do. And presidents have been reluctant to go eyeball to eyeball and say 
“we’ll shut down ultimately the entire international finance system if your companies don’t do what we tell them to do.” So we haven’t really sanctioned major foreign oil companies who have done business with Iran. What we’ve done more recently is persuade and pressure countries around the world to forgo business with Iran (I will get to how we did that in a while). The bottom line is sanctions are useful only if Europe and Asia are participating. And it requires not only tough sanctions written by Congress, but good persuasion by President Obama and his team. They have done a better job than any of the prior administrations in persuading European and Asian governments to be on our side with this. And remember, no matter what Congress does, the Obama team will be telling European and Asian companies that now they should do business with Iran, subject to the deal. 

Nuclear physics. Three things you need to be a nuclear power: fissile material, weaponization, and a delivery system. The big one is fissile material. I’ll explain why. What is fissile material? You start with uranium ore, you go up to Yellowcake, you go to low enriched uranium by spinning centrifuges, which separate the uranium 235 from uranium 238 and other impurities, and you’ve got to get up to 3% or so to have fuel for a nuclear power plant; you’ve got to get up to 90% or more to have the components for a nuclear weapon. So people think they draw some solace from this saying “well, you go up to 3%, that’s a long way from 90%.” It doesn’t work that way. To get from natural uranium up to 3% is actually most of the effort. Going from 3 percent to 90 percent takes less time and effort than going from natural uranium to 3-5 percent, what is referred to as low enriched uranium suitable as fuel for a nuclear reactor. So what do we learn from this: a robust “peaceful” program gets you almost to nuclear weapons grade uranium.

Questions and Answers  Part 1

Weaponization is the process of taking that enriched uranium, building it into a ball, and having a system to implode it to bring it to critical mass. I’d like to think that we can stop weaponization, but Iran is already much of the way there. It is easier to do the weaponization piece than to get the fissile material, and weaponization research can be done in a much smaller facility and is much harder to catch. Weaponization will take a few additional months after Iran has the fissile material, but it is not the way to stop them from becoming a nuclear power. 

Finally, Iran wants intercontinental ballistic missiles. That is the symbol of being a great tyranny. But the fact is, you can smuggle a nuclear weapon inside a bale of marijuana. Iran will always have a nuclear delivery system, as long as there are a couple of guys who want 72 virgins apiece. 

So you’ve got to focus on the fissile material, and the discussion about centrifuges and stockpiles is about the fissile material, mostly enriched uranium and, to a lesser extent, plutonium, the other fissile material that can be used to create nuclear weapons.[2] 

Now when we talk about the fissile material, it’s counter intuitive, but what you need for a robust peaceful electronic generation program is much larger than what you need for a weapons program. In fact, to electrify a city or two and have enough fuel to do so dwarfs the amount of fissile material you need for a robust nuclear bomb program. So if you allow Iran to have a complete and robust peaceful program, you’re allowing them to grow a forest. And where else would you hide a single tree? And the one tree in this example is enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. 

Questions and Answers Part 2


Now as to law. Under U.S. law, the only thing that’s binding on the U.S. is a treaty that’s designed as a treaty, says its’ a treaty, is submitted to the Senate for ratification and gets a 2/3 positive vote. This Deal is not a treaty. It has no standing under U.S. law except as a handshake from our President. As a man of honor we’d expect him to follow it. What’s confusing is that much of the talk here is about whether there will be a 2/3 vote against the agreement to override a veto. And this confusion is our enemy; I’ll explain why in a bit. But the Deal is not going to get a 2/3 positive vote, the issue is whether it gets a 2/3 negative vote. But the issue is how do you explain to the general public that this Deal is not the same thing as a treaty? Especially if it gets a one-third positive vote; that sounds like the two-thirds vote needed to ratify a treaty. 

International law. The Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties provides a hierarchy of agreements. This Deal is not a ratified treaty, it is not an unratified treaty, it is not an executive-legislative agreement; it is the lowest form of international handshake. 

Q&A Part 2

But appearances matter. We are the good guys and we feel we must follow international law. You can be sure that Iran will violate this agreement, or not, based on whether it’s in its interest or whether they think they will get caught. No one around the Ayatollah will say “Oh, that would be in violation of international law.” But the good guys are constrained by international law. And if it appears in the mind of the publics in the United States and countries around the world that we are bound to this agreement, it will be more difficult for us to view ourselves as free to take action. 

Sam Yebri, President of 30 Years After, the Iranian Jewish-American civic group host of the event, addresses the community's perspectives on empowering and enriching the mullahs under the proposed inspections regimen.

History of Sanctions

Now a little brief history of our use of sanctions against Iran. In 1996 we passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which we enforced against Libya. We stopped Libya’s program. We never applied it against Iran. Not in the tail end of the Clinton Administration, not a day during the entire George W. Bush Administration, not at the beginning of the Obama Administration. You think I’m crazy, because I just said George W. Bush violated U.S. law to avoid sanctioning Iran. But the law didn’t impose sanctions on Iran. The law mandated sanctions on the multinational oil companies that did business with Iran. American presidents have been reluctant -- as a matter of fact they’ve refused -- to sanction international oil companies, in part because of their connections there, and in part because their foreign governments regarded it as offensive. Only as the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb grew near have we gotten other countries on our side. 

Now when I got to Congress in 1997 I went on the record after a few months and said the Iranian nuclear program was the number one threat to American national security. It has been my number one issue for 19 years. Many of you think that under this yarmulke I am afflicted with male-pattern baldness. This is not the case. This is what happens from banging my head into every wall in Washington trying to pass additional sanctions legislation and getting them to enforce the sanctions we already have. Some of you are aware that although I continue to have this hair loss, it hasn’t increased since about 2012, because that’s when we finally got effective sanctions. Three administrations fought Congress. We finally passed banking sanctions, and to the credit of this Administration, although they opposed them, once we passed them, they enforced them. We put some real pressure on Iran. We’ve used what turns out to be the most effective economic lever of the United States, our indispensable position with regard to the international banking system, and the fact that international transactions have to go through our system. 

Continuing with that history, 21 months ago we entered into an agreement to negotiate an agreement. During that time we had the preliminary Joint Plan of Action, which was the first time we even slowed Iran’s efforts to accumulate fissile material. (Actually, we did one other thing and that was the CIA and Mossad had a computer virus that slowed them down for about a year, but that’s not something we can repeat.) 

During these 21 months, the Administration put more time and effort and gave a higher priority to stopping Iran’s nuclear program -- not only more than any Administration before it, they actually put more time and effort into this than any other international issue. More time than the Ukraine, more effort than stopping ISIS, a higher priority than the big Asian trade deal. As a Jew and supporter of Israel, I’m appreciative of the prioritization and the time and the effort that the Administration has put in. They’ve been willing to impose sanctions that other administrations have not, and as I said they enforced the sanctions that they once opposed. And they brought us a deal.

Examination of the Deal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So let’s take a look at the deal. It is the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good and the bad are particularly pronounced in the first year or two; next decade it gets ugly. And I realize this is a controversial deal, and there are very few things everyone agrees on. But everybody agrees that the deal is at least better in the first year or two, and worse next decade. 

The Good. A lot of people hate this deal so much they don’t even acknowledge there is some good in it. Iran has to give up 97% of its current stockpile of low enriched uranium and it has to decommission 2/3 of its centrifuges. Its current stockpile of low enriched uranium is enough to create roughly 10 bombs if they convert it from low enriched to highly enriched uranium. And their centrifuge arrays are sufficient to enrich enough uranium for about one bomb every four months. Getting rid of those stockpiles and decommissioning those centrifuges is no small thing, and we can verify what happens to the stockpile and centrifuges. 

The Bad. Iran gets its hands on at least $56 billion of its own money (others estimate the amount is much higher). Now there are reports that it’s a larger sum. These are the briefings we get from the Treasury Department; $56 billion is a lot of money. What’s Iran going to do with it? First, they’re going to help their own people. They’ve made a lot of promises. They are dancing in the streets. They’ve got to come through to some degree. Second, graft and corruption. This is the Iranian government we’re talking about. Third, they’re going to kill a lot of Sunni Muslims, some of whom deserve it, most of whom do not. Iran has done more to kill ISIS fighters than we have, and they will do even more as this deal goes through. And Iran is also the mainstay of the Assad regime in Syria, which is killing thousands of innocent people every month. They will kill Sunni Muslims. And what’s left over will be used for terrorism against Americans and Jews. And it’s not just the $56 billion they get up front. Iran will be increasing its oil sales; once they get going, we’re talking about another $20 billion a year that they would not have otherwise had. 

So the deal is good and bad. You could make an argument that that balances out and that we should accept the good with the bad in the first two years. But then next decade it gets ugly. 

The Ugly. 13 to 15 years from now, Iran under this agreement is allowed to have as many centrifuges as it wants and has a perfect excuse to have well over 100,000 centrifuges; remember this deal initially limits them to about 6,000. This President will sleep well during the rest of his term because Iran will have only 6,000 centrifuges, and they’re only IR-1 centrifuges. But a future President is going to be asked to try to get to sleep knowing Iran has 100,000 centrifuges and they’re not the IR-1’s, they’re the IR-8’s which are ten times more efficient. So you’re talking about more than ten times the number, and more than ten times the efficiency. And Iran has a near perfect excuse to have a 100,000 IR-8s, as I said that’s what you need to electrify a city or two. In addition, Iran will have no limits on having a heavy water reactor or a reprocessing facility. And I won’t go into the details here, but anybody who’s focused on nonproliferation goes crazy if you hear about a country doing either one of those things -- reprocessing or building heavy water reactors.[3] 

Breakout and Sneak-Out

So, Iran will be in a position next decade for “sneak-out” and “breakout.” “Sneak-out” is the ability of Iran to get enough fissile material for a weapon without the international community knowing that it’s in violation of its international agreements. I think that next decade (and it may be very late next decade), Iran will have such a large industrial facility that it will be very difficult to prevent them from sneaking out. It’s very hard if a man is allowed to plant a forest to prevent him from stealing one tree. The other issue is breakout. Breakout is a critical term in this whole debate. The President’s argument is he’s taking Iran from a 4-month breakout to a 12-month breakout, and he is in fact accomplishing that for at least several years. 

What is “breakout”? Breakout is the amount of time between when Iran kicks out the inspectors, goes rogue, to the point at which they have enough material for a nuclear weapon. Under the Deal during its first two years, breakout time is lengthened to at least 12 months. But 15 years from now, breakout time will be measured in days. If you have a hundred thousand centrifuges, IR-8s, you can go from uranium ore to fissile material rather quickly. 

The Mediocre: The Inspection Regime

So we’ve discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now: the mediocre. That’s how I would describe the inspection regime. It’s not porous, it’s not blind, but it’s not what you’d want it to be. First, the proponents tell you, you get 24/7 inspection. Yes, of the declared facilities. So with Natanz, Fordow[4], the IAEA will be in there 24/7. 

But what really worries most people is the undeclared sites. If we have a rumor that Iran is violating the deal at a particular location, what do we do? It’s not 24/7, it’s a 24-day process. First, we have to lay all our cards on the table. Why do we think we’ve got probable cause? Now in doing that, we reveal what we know, and implicitly reveal our sources, our methods. This might result in the execution of our informant. So we’ll be reluctant to even come forward. 

If we do come forward, there’s a 24-day appeals process. You can clean up a lot of stuff in 24 days. I think I can clean my garage in 24 days. When it comes to most of the work Iran would do, they could clean it up. But the most important work that they would do involves using uranium which would leave a radioactive signature. And if we go through the process, if we get the inspection, we’ll be able to catch them if they use uranium that will leave a trace at an undeclared site. In addition, we do get monitoring of their uranium mining and milling process which is important looking at the front end. 

The Side Deal: Exposing Past Weaponization Research

The next part of the inspection deal has gotten way more attention perhaps than it deserves -- the so-called “side deal” on inspections at a place called Parchin. This side deal is between the IAEA and Iran and governs a part of the process for how the IAEA, which is the UN agency that enforces nuclear deals, is going to be able to write a report by December about Iran’s previous work on weaponization, on turning enriched uranium into a bomb. No American has a copy of this side deal and no member of Congress can read it; this drives us crazy. Everyone knows that Iran conducted weaponization research in a particular building at their large military base at Parchin. While I have not been allowed to read the document, I have had its contents described to me in-depth in the secret basement room of the Rayburn Building by the Under Secretary of State, perhaps the only American who has read the side deal. I’ll tell you the side deal is not terrible, but it’s not what it should be. But the side deal relates only to how the IAEA is going to write a report on Iran’s past activities. I could write that report now. It’s going to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt for all sane people, that Iran has worked on weaponization in violation of its international agreements and its own Supreme Leader’s fatwas. But the report will contain a few weasel words. If you love the Iranian regime you can grab onto one of those words and say, “I think they didn’t do anything wrong.” So while the report has in-effect already been written, the process for gathering the information for the report is subject to a side deal. Congress doesn’t get to read this side deal, but we already know what’s in the report. 

What Should One Congressman Do?

So good, bad, and ugly: what do we do? What now? The press is all over me, “Sherman, is it a good deal, is it a bad deal? What grade do you give the president? Could somebody else have gotten a better deal?” These are questions for historians. We don’t vote in Congress on what grade to give the President. What’s done is done. The question is what do we do now. 

Then there are foreign policy writers who say “well, now that the deal is signed, what should America do?” And they fantasize that they themselves are in control of all of American foreign policy. Well that’s an interesting fantasy. The fact is no one person is in control of all of American foreign policy, least of all the scholars who write these articles. The President is in the major position to control American foreign policy. And I’ll tell you a secret. He loves this deal. I spent an hour with him one-on-one earlier this month. I can judge the feelings of the person I’m talking to. President Obama loves this Deal. He would have accepted a lesser deal. He will do everything possible to defend it, and he will do everything possible to implement it. 

So the question is not what should America do, it’s what should Congress do. What should Congress do in a world where the President loves the deal and the rest of the world is supportive of the deal as well. 

But I’m not all of Congress. The real question is: what should Sherman do within Congress? Well what does Congress look like right now? 55% to 65% of Congress is opposed to this deal and ready to vote against it. That means all the Republicans, and a smattering of beleaguered Democrats. There are those who think that maybe you could get to 67.7% of each house, enough to override the certain veto. I don’t think so. 

So then what is the long term and short term effect of what one Congressman does, knowing that we’re in that 55% to 65% range. 

First, let’s examine what happens if Congress votes with the President or votes with his critics. Well, here’s an area rarely where both sides are pretty much in agreement. You ask the President, what happens if you win? “If I win, I, President Obama will carry out this deal, down to the letter, and future presidents will be free to do what they do because after all, as much as I love this deal, it’s not legally binding on my successors.” So, the President wins, the President says we do the deal for a year and a half, and then maybe we do something else. But what happens if the President loses? You talk to the strongest opponents of this, especially AIPAC, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, that is the central organizer of opposition, and they will say, if Congress votes against this overwhelmingly, beyond our wildest hopes, it will still go into effect, pretty much, for the first year and a half, maybe two years, because Iran will get what it expects and needs in the first couple of years, and in order to do that, Iran will do what they’ve agreed to do upfront. Why? Because from Iran’s standpoint, this is mostly a deal between them and Europe. Most of the benefits come from Europe, and the Iranians have to make the Europeans happy to get those benefits. 

The key term defined in the Agreement is “implementation day.” In order to reach that day, Iran has to deliver. They have to decommission their centrifuges and give up their stockpile. And only then the European sanctions relief begins. 

So either way, you’re going to get the good and the bad. My objective is to prevent the ugly. That is to say to make sure that as we approach year 10 and year 15, and hopefully long before, American Presidents must demand that this deal be modified. It doesn’t sound reasonable to say we want to shred the deal, put it in a wood chipper, or something like that. Want to sound reasonable? We just want to extend the safeguards contained in the deal. After all, Iran expects sanctions relief to continue, well how about requiring that the inspections and the limitations continue as well? 

Preventing the Deal From Being Viewed as a Binding Treaty

One of the threats to that outcome, one of the impediments, would be a belief among the American people: that we sign the deal, Congress voted on the deal, we agreed to the deal, we have no right to blow up the deal, unless we can prove that Iran is cheating on the deal. My fear and expectation is that Iran will at least appear to be in compliance. 

So I spent weeks trying to get a vote on what’s called Concurrent Resolution: we would have only one vote, we show the world that Congress isn’t behind this deal, and then we stop. I tried to persuade my fellow skeptics to offer only one Concurrent Resolution, which would not go to the President for signature or veto. This would simply express the opinion of the majority on Congress that the agreement is not approved by Congress and is therefore non-binding on the American people or future administrations. After three fruitless weeks, I joined the other skeptics in supporting what’s called the “Joint Resolution of Disapproval,” which we will vote on next month. It involves two votes. A Resolution of Disapproval will pass the House, it will probably pass the Senate, it will go to the President’s desk, he will veto it, and in all likelihood, in the second vote, the veto will be sustained. If that happens, the headline will be “Proponents of Iran Deal Win Crucial Victory in Congress”, the picture will be the proponents in the White House opening the champagne. Then we skeptics need to go to the American people and say: 

What the proponents were celebrating is that they got 34% of the support in one of the two houses of Congress. Contrary to that picture, Congress voted against this deal, it is not binding on the American people, we are not legally, diplomatically or morally bound by this deal. Future Presidents are legally free to act before this deal gets ugly.

So in conclusion, the deal is good and bad in the first year; no matter what we do, it’s probably going to be followed by the parties for the first two years. The deal gets ugly next decade. My job is to do all I can to prevent Americans from believing that this deal is morally binding on future administrations. That’s why I will join other skeptics and vote for the Joint Resolution of Disapproval. But our work does not end with the votes this Fall. 

The Months to Come

Many of you have been worried about Iran for a long time. Win, lose or draw, this thing doesn’t stop. We will be having to work the American people and the world for a long time to say that if the world is safe when Iran has only 6,000 IR-1s, then let’s keep the world safe. If the world is safe when they only have 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium as their entire stockpile, let’s keep the world safe. And the idea that Iran bargained for and is entitled to a giant nuclear forest, well they didn’t. They bargained for a handshake deal that will last as long as this administration. 

The North Korea Danger

Now I’ll go into one other thing very briefly. There is one part of this deal, one issue that wouldn’t have been solved even if the Iranians had signed the deal proposed by Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi’s deal would have gotten rid of all of Iran’s centrifuges and its plutonium producing reactors. But there’s one other place to look. I am the chief Democrat on the Asia subcommittee, and I look to North Korea. North Korea was told by America they couldn’t have a nuclear weapon; they went and got one anyway. They think they made the right decision because Gaddafi’s people are dead, Saddam Hussain is dead, and Pyongyang’s leaders are still alive, except to the extent they kill each other. 

North Korea now has roughly a dozen nuclear weapons. They need roughly a dozen nuclear weapons to protect themselves from us. They’re going to be creating enough fissile material for roughly four additional nuclear weapons every year. I don’t think they’re going to put the 13th bomb up on Ebay, but they may conduct a transaction with Iran. 

This is not unprecedented. North Korea has already done extensive nuclear business with Iran and Syria. Most of you are aware that in 2007 Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar. That was a North Korean-style reactor. The open sources speculate that Syria, or more likely, Iran, paid North Korea roughly (nobody really knows) a billion dollars for help with that reactor, not for any fissile material nor for a bomb itself. This is because last decade North Korea had a very limited supply of fissile material and completed nuclear weapons. They wanted to hold on to their own bombs back then when they didn’t have enough to deter us. North Korea only gave the instruction manual -- okay there were a few component kits, whatever, but basically an instruction manual. So you’ve got to wonder, now that North Korea is soon reaching a point where they have more than enough fissile material than they absolutely need, and now that Iran can spend a lot more than a billion dollars at the North Korean store, what happens? 

I got considerable attention from the administration over the last two or three weeks, and the one thing I have put all my effort into is to try to get increased intelligence of what is happening between Tehran and Pyongyang, and that will be an issue we will have to continue to focus on. Because it’s not just about what goes on in Parchin, Natanz, Fordow, and the hidden sites, it’s also whether one country will sell fissile material, or a completed bomb, to another country. 

Iran’s Non-Nuclear Wrongdoing

As we focus on Iran’s nuclear program, we cannot ignore Iran’s support for the brutally murderous regime in Syria that is killing thousands of people every month. Nor can we ignore their support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and Hamas and the Houthi rebels. Nor can we forget about the four American hostages Iran is holding. No matter what the status of the nuclear Agreement, Congress must adopt sanctions designed to force Iran to change its “non-nuclear” behavior—to stop supporting Assad and terrorist groups, and to free the American hostages. Next month I will introduce legislation to impose sanctions on Iran designed to change its non-nuclear behavior. 

Under the Deal, it is clear that Congress can impose additional sanctions designed to change Iran’s behavior in areas other than nuclear research. The bill I submit will not use a feigned concern for Iran’s non-nuclear activities to simply re-enact the old sanctions abated under the Nuclear Deal. Rather, it will contain new sanctions and be targeted to specific non-nuclear behavior. 


I look forward to working with you in the months to come to force Iran to release our hostages and stop support for terrorists and murderous regimes. 

And I look forward to working with you in the years to come to force changes in this Deal before it gets ugly. 

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