News Event: Experts tell the press their views of the Iran Framework Agreement

By | April 16, 2015


Former UN Ambassador, Princeton’s Frank Von Hippel Among Those Applauding Framework, While Highlighting the “Devils in the Details” to be Resolved.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 16, 2015 — While agreeing that the framework agreement imposing limitations on the Iranian nuclear program is a positive and major step forward, a panel of leading science and security experts convened by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cautioned today that a measure now moving through Congress will do little to addressa wide range of technical issues that must be resolved in the coming months.

 S. 615, which passed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously on Wednesday, imposes a cooling off period of 30-60 days before sanctions on Iran can be lifted. During the cooling off period, Congress will either pass a joint resolution of approval or disapproval, or fail to act at all. If Congress fails to act, the President can lift sanctions. A U.S. House committee is set to hold a hearing on the topic on April 22nd.

Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1989-1992), India (1992-1993), and Russia (1993-1996), said:Overall, this is a good agreement and better than many expected. An early review of the State Department list of the central points of the agreement shows a variety of positive limitations on enrichment levels and quantity, low-enriched uranium stocks, the Arak reactor, and reprocessing, as well as broad International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) authorities for access to Iranian nuclear facilities, including any suspected covert facilities. Sanctions relief is timed to Iranian compliance, limited to actions involving the Iran nuclear program, and subject to a snap-back for UN sanctions in the event of unresolved disputes concerning Iranian compliance. On balance the duration limits assure the one-year breakout standard applies for 10 years, some limitations for 15, and some inspections for a longer period, and even permanently. Devils are in the details, and further careful study will be required. But on the face of it, the arrangements look like a good exchange of sensible limitations on Iran's nuclear efforts and sanctions relief that is quite extensive, but designed to kick in as the IAEA certifies compliance by Tehran.

Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, said: Some of the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program will phase out after 10 years. It is therefore important that we use those years to create a stronger nonproliferation regime in the Middle East.  One concern is that other countries in the region—notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—will declare that they too have ‘inalienable rights’ to uranium enrichment programs. They probably believe, as I do, that, even if Iran does not want a nuclear bomb, it does want the option of going for a bomb if the United States ever decides to try to achieve ‘regime change’ in Teheran by force. And other countries in the region may want to position themselves to acquire nuclear weapons quickly if Iran does. So we need to build in additional constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that will reassure its neighbors in the time frame beyond 10 years, when the constraints on the size of Iran’s enrichment program are relaxed.

Sharon Squassoni, senior fellow and director, Proliferation Prevention Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, said: “While we would like to think that another Iran won't happen, Saudi hints that they will acquire the same capabilities as Iran suggest otherwise. Saudi Arabia would not have to violate its safeguards agreement to do that. In fact, Saudi Arabia could produce HEU under safeguards quite legally, even if it had no civilian use for the material. And, thanks to previous gaps in the nonproliferation regime, supplier restraints would not prohibit Pakistan, which is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, from supplying Saudi Arabia with the dual use equipment it would need to produce HEU. It is time to face up to the fact that we need limits on sensitive capabilities like enrichment and reprocessing—limits that don't just apply to the ‘newcomer’states, but to all countries. Only a principled, non-discriminatory approach holds the prospect for success.

R. Scott Kemp, assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, MIT, and an affiliate of Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security and of Harvard's Project on Managing the Atom, said: The extent of research allowed could be more carefully specified: Will research on laser enrichment or other isotope separation and isotope breeding techniques be allowed at sites other than Fordow? Also, the mechanism by which Iran will maintain its low-enriched uranium inventory below 300 kilograms needs to be specified. The parameters for the redesign of the Arak reactor are already well in hand, but arrangements for exporting spent fuel will be difficult to negotiate. Principles for the long-term enrichment plan beyond 15 years need to be resolved. Many of these outstanding areas are also issues for other emerging nuclear-power countries.The excellent work of the negotiating teams lays the groundwork not only for a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear issue, but can also help address the connection between nuclear power and nuclear proliferation more generally.

Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “The Middle East is at an extremely sensitive moment in the development of regional nuclear programs with states like Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates well underway in developing civilian nuclear energy programs. How thick the P5+1 builds the wall between Iran’s military and civilian energy programs will have lasting consequences for the decisions these countries and others like Saudi Arabia will make. The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

Bronson also serves as adjunct professor for global energy, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Previously, shewas vice president and senior fellow, global energy, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and also senior fellow and director, Middle East studies, Council on Foreign Relations.

To read related commentary from those participating in this news conference and other experts, go to the “The experts on the Iranian framework agreement” webpage of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 


Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists subsequently created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 using  the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 16 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.

CONTACT:  Patrick Mitchell, (703) 276-3266, or [email protected].

EDITOR’S NOTE:  A streaming audio replay of this news event will be available as of 4 p.m. CDT/5 p.m. EDT/1800 GMT on April 16, 2015 at

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