Nonproliferation Expert: Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Will Be a Historic Blunder,’ ‘Strategic Mistake’

Patrick Goodenough | June 11, 2015 | 4:14am EDT
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Robert Joseph, then undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, photographed in 2006. (Photo: State Department)

( – The emerging nuclear agreement with Iran would be a “historic blunder” that eclipses other foreign policy debacles in recent decades, a former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“In my view, if there is an agreement along the lines that has been described by the White House and by the Iranian leadership, I believe it will represent perhaps the single greatest strategic mistake in the national security area in the past 35-plus years of my career,” said Ambassador Robert Joseph.

“And this includes some real blunders,” he continued, citing the Carter administration’s botched attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980; the 1994 “Agreed Framework” nuclear deal with North Korea; the Obama administration’s attempted Russian “reset” in 2009; and the 2013 Syrian chemical weapons “red line debacle.”

Joseph, a nonproliferation expert who held numerous Department of Defense posts and was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2005-2007, is senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy. He was testifying at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

He told the panel that a “bad” agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – due to be finalized by June 30, “will result in a less stable and more dangerous world.”

“There’s no doubt that some will describe the agreement as historic,” Joseph said. “You can expect that from the White House. You can expect that from the New York Times. And it will be historic; it will be a historic blunder.”

The hearing was focused on Iran’s ballistic missiles program, an issue which the P5+1 agreed to keep off the agenda at the nuclear talks.

Joseph said this sent a bad signal to other would-be proliferators.

“Because missiles are excluded at Iran’s insistence, the message to other rogue states will be that we are not serious about imposing costs for missile proliferation,” he said. “This could be a further incentive for those states seeking weapons of mass destruction to acquire ballistic missiles as a means of delivery.”

Joseph recommended to Congress that if a nuclear deal is reached with Iran, “vote on it, and reject it if it’s a bad agreement.”

“I think the metrics are clear. Just ask yourself: Does the agreement deny Iran a nuclear weapons capability? Does the agreement extend the breakout time in a meaningful way? Is the agreement verifiable? Is there a phased relief from sanctions and are there guaranteed ‘snapback’ provisions? And I think for each of these questions, the answer is clearly no.”

Also taking part in the hearing, Prof. David Cooper of the U.S. Naval War College – testifying in his personal capacity – raised concerns about what Iran’s missile activity said about its intentions.

He observed that there is a close correlation between nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“At this moment Iran is the only country in the world that says it has no nuclear weapons ambitions, and yet has fielded an intermediate-range ballistic missile,” he said.

Another witness, former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn told the panel that Iranian missiles already “cover most all of the Middle East, and the next generation will include ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] capable of attacking the American homeland.”

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called the decision to limit the talks with Iran to “just the nuclear profile,” and to exclude other activities such as Iran’s ballistic missile program, was “perhaps the biggest failure of these negotiations.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the problem with excluding missiles from the talks was that “ballistic missiles are the most reliable way to deliver nuclear warheads.”

“Ballistic missiles are not a separate and secondary issue, but part and parcel of Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure,” he said. “That’s why Congress has targeted Iran’s missile program with sanctions right alongside its nuclear program.”

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