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July 14, 2015 6:35 pm

Dershowitz: Does This Deal Prevent Iran From Developing a Nuclear Weapon?

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna. Photo: State Dept.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna. Photo: State Dept.

Does the proposed deal with Iran actually prevent the Mullahs from ever developing a nuclear weapon? Or does it merely delay them for a period of years? That is the key question that has not yet been clearly answered.

In his statement on the deal, President Obama seemed to suggest that Iran will never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. He said that this “long-term deal with Iran… will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He then repeated this assurance: “because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon.” These seemingly categorical statements were intended to assure the world that President Obama would keep his earlier promise that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

But is that what the deal itself does? Or, as stated by its critics, does it actually assure that Iran will be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal after a short delay of several years? That is the key question that the Obama administration has refused to answer directly. It must do so before Congress can be asked to buy a pig in a poke for the American people.

There is an enormous difference between a deal that merely delays Iran’s development of a nuclear arsenal for a period of years and a deal that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear arsenal. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and many other critics of this deal describe it as merely a delay, while the Obama administration seems to be suggesting by its rhetoric that the deal will prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The devil is not so much in the details as in the broad outlines of this deal and its understanding by the parties. Does it or does it not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons after a relatively short moratorium? Iran certainly seems to believe that it does, Israel certainly believes that it does, and many in Congress-both Republicans and Democrats– seem to believe that it does. But the President seems to be telling the American public and the world that these critics are wrong: that Iran will never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon under this deal.

Yet, just a few months ago, he seemed more cautious and candid in discussing his “fear” that “in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” He also said that we have assurances of a yearlong breakout time “for at least well over a decade,” implying that after that indeterminate time frame, the assurances will no longer be in place.

Obama’s statement, despite its confusing and ambiguous context, has raised deep concerns among critics of the deal. Moreover, the text of the deal includes time frames of 8 years, 10 years and 15 years, which also generates confusion at a time when clarity is essential.

So which is it? Congress has a right to know, and so do the American people. Is it a postponement for an uncertain number of years – 8, 10, 13, 14, 15 – of Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon? Or is it an assurance that “Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon?”

The Obama administration insists that this is not a “treaty,” but rather a “deal.” A deal is a contract, and for a contract to be valid there must be a “meeting of the minds.” But has there been a meeting of the minds over the central issue of whether this deal allows Iran to develop a nuclear weapon after a moratorium whose precise time frame is unclear? And if there has been a meeting of the minds over this issue, what exactly is it?

Certainly the words of the Iranians are not the same as the words of President Obama. Whose words accurately represent the meaning of the contract we are being asked to sign?

The time has now come to be crystal clear about the meaning of this deal. If it is intended to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons, the President must say so in the clearest of terms and he must get the Iranians to express agreement with that interpretation. Ambiguity may be a virtue at the beginning of a negotiation, but it is a vice in interpreting and implementing a deal with such high stakes.

Recall that President Bill Clinton made similar assurances with regard to North Korea back in 1994 – as the chart below shows. But within a few short years of signing a deal that he assured us would require the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program, that country tested its first nuclear weapon. It now has a nuclear arsenal. How can we be sure that Iran will not act in a similar fashion?

The deal with Iran has been aptly characterized as a “leap of faith,” “a bet” and a “roll of the dice” by David Sanger in a news analysis for the New York Times. The gamble is that by the time the most restrictive provisions of the deal expire, Iran will be a different country with more reasonable leaders. But can the world and especially the nations most at risk from an Iranian nuclear arsenal, depend on faith, bets and dice, when they know that the last time the nuclear dice were rolled, they came up snake-eyes for America and its allies when North Korea ended up with nuclear weapons.

The burden of persuasion is now on the Obama administration to demonstrate that President Obama was accurately describing the deal when he said that it will “prevent” Iran from “obtaining a nuclear weapon.” It is a heavy burden that will be – and should be – difficult to satisfy.

Chart Comparing Statements of President Obama on Iran and President Clinton on North Korea.

Chart Comparing Statements of President Obama on Iran and President Clinton on North Korea.

Alan Dershowitz is Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Law School and author of Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

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  • zadimel

    Do people really believe that Israel will accept an Iranian production of a single nuclear weapon? The continuous threats against the USA and Israel by the leaders of the Iranian government may be accepted by the former but not by the latter. If a threat is imminent against the Jewish State, one can guarantee that Israel will launch the first,second,third, and so on nuclear strikes against the military and launch bases from which the Iranians hope to destroy their Israeli/Jewish enemy.Israel has the necessary vehicles and 200 to 400 nuclear weapons from which to cripple any active threats against the country.

  • Avi

    Its not only about delay or not. Its also about:
    1. The $150 Billion which will go for arms and to terrorist killers
    2. Iranian continued hegemony in Middle East
    3. 24 days after “knock Knock” to open the door then goes to a “council” that Iran is on
    4. The huge armament of the Middle East this will spur by countries terrified of Iran
    Obama is getting what he wanted. Iranian influence and power.
    In the end, who knows Iran better? Westerners or Middle Easterners? I read the Hebrew sites and the Arabic sites. This “achievement” is the devil’s work. Everyone in M.E., not just Israel is scared and arming to the teeth.

  • Genghis (Max) Cohen

    I have been “moderated” out of existence by Algemeiner. I feel as excommunicated as was Baruch Spinoza, and just as betrayed. Had Spinoza been the leader of the Jewish community rather than its castoff, the HOLOCAUST would not have happened.

    • el elx

      @genghis: so you transcend time, place, persons?
      You are omniscient, omnipresent, all-knowing?
      You are god? Who knew!!

  • MartyNYC

    Netanyahu displayed his expertise in Middle East affairs
    when he was outspoken in his urging the United States to
    attack Iraq. A disaster for which most of the supporters
    apologized. The exception has been th AIPAC neocons such as
    Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Netanyahu and the same gang that are
    desperate to get us into another more bloody disaster.

    • MartyNYC Natanyahu did not urge US to attack Iraq.
      Bush did it all on his, and Israel had absolutely
      no input in it.If you don’t like Natanyuhu say so,
      but do not make up stories.

  • MartyNYC

    Netanyahu displayed his expertise in Middle East affairs
    when he was outspoken in his urging the United States to
    attack Iraq. A disater for which most of the supporters
    apologized. The exception has been th AIPAC neocons such as
    Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Netanyahu and the same gang that are
    desperate to get us into another more bloody disaster.

    • zadimel

      MartyNYC: Netanyahu in 2002,when he was out of office and before Congress,did urge the US to attack Iraq. However, the government of Israel held that the greater enemy was Iran – not Iraq – and conveyed that message to the US government. But the Republicans were not listening. Bush wanted his war against Iraq, which became the longest war in American history.

  • marc grossman

    Professor Dershowitz
    Is it possible to petition the SCOTUS that the “deal”: is really a Treaty and therefore subject to Senate ratification as per Constitution?

  • Mike

    Please tell us a little about the reported 200+ atomic devices that Israel possesses. Could we sent inspectors to review this deal?

    • el elx

      How do you know this? and don’t tell me “it’s common knowledge!” lest you damn yourself as an ignoramus as well as a liar!

    • Unlike Iran, Israel never signed the NPT so they aren’t obligated to disclose anything. And Israel’s nuclear weapons, assuming they have any, have ony been uswe as a deterrent against genocide.

      I realize this bothers you, Mike, The nerve of those Jews defending themselves!

      Also, Israel, as a western democracy is no threat to the US or EU..they’re not fascist, millenarian fruitcakes like your friends in Iran.

    • yuri pelham

      If Israel has nuclear weapons, it poses no more threat to civilization than those of France or Britain. The same cannot be said for Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran when it gets one.

  • Yale

    There almost appear to be two nuclear deals with Iran, the one Obama claims he got and the one to which Kerry agreed. If Obama doesn’t know the difference, he is unfit to serve as president. If he does, and continues to deny that Kerry’s version will prevail, then he is trying to fool us, again.

    It is up to prominent Democrats, like Mr. Dershowitz, to apply pressure on Democrats in the Senate and House to vote “No” on this shipwreck of a deal. Republican opposition will mean nothing if enough Democrats decide to vote “their president, right or wrong.” Coming from people who rejected “our country, right or wrong,” this should be an eye-opener for Americans who actually care what their representatives do.

    • Max Cohen

      Is Barack Obama part of a delusional minority which genuinely believes that the mystic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, despite constantly urging Iranians to chant “death to America and death to Israel,” and who denies UN access to real nuclear inspection, and who will fund missiles to bombard democracies by lifting sanctions; is this the Supreme Leader which Prof. Dershowitz suspects that Obama doubts may constitute a threat to go nuclear?

      • el elx

        yep, and the delusional minority has another name; P5+1.

        • Avi

          The P5+1 aren’t delusional. They all want to make money. Germany with technology and banking; Russia with missile defense; China with trains and bridges, etc. They could give a damn about a few million Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Delusional implies you care, if anyone cared there wouldn’t be 220,000 dead in Syria and 7 million refugees. As the commentary to Derech Hashem says: Mankind is a mirror of what is occuring at this point in history.

    • He knows the difference. The deal Obama got is exactly the one he got.

  • Comparing Chamberlain to Obama in the two respective
    appeasement deals is really to totally misrepresent

    At least, he was an honorable man, he had good intentions (though we know where such intentions lead); while Obama has no such mantle
    of honor and certainly not intentions good for Israel, America, the world.

    The last time appeasement of this kind led to 50 million dead; this time, it could be the demise of the world as we know it.

    I wonder what Obama said in his phone call to Bibi. I doubt if it were a message of assurance; more likely another and far more serious threat.

    Bibi must now do what he should have done once Obama diverted the shipment of bunker buster bombs from Israel to
    Diego Rivera.

    The criticism of military action only delaying an Iranian nuclear breakout by six months or a year is simply defying logic. So, a first strike, a minimal delay; how about another strike and another until all the Iranian nuclear facilities are damaged (perhaps only on the surface, precluding entrance or egress by workers) and finally destroyed.

    How much better than trusting a terrorist nation which keeps repeating, “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

    Giving them 150 billion dollars is the sheerest folly of all.

    Any congressman who fails to vote against this existential threat should be sent packing.

    Obama’s threat to veto any defeating of this vile deal is
    proof positive (if there ever was any previous doubt) that he is a dictator, the worst president in our nation’s history. Carter must be smiling.

    • Chamberlain was NOT an honorable man. The White Paper of 1939 doomed millions of Jews to death by the Nazis by cutting off all Jewish migration the Palestine and taking away their legal refuge when they were desperate to flee on the eve of the Holocaust.

      And as his private papers reveal, he was an anti-Semite.

      Chamberlain and Britain were complicit in the death toll of the Holocaust. And this occurred after Kristalnacht and the Nuremberg laws, so the excuse can’t be made they weren’t aware of what Hitler had in store for the Jews.

    • yuri pelham

      Agree mostly, except George Bush, the creator of ISIS, is the worst; for he was unable to accomplish any success in the fight against terrorism, just the opposite.Obama knows what he is doing, and in terms of meeting his agenda, he has prevailed. His agenda has to do with his legacy not the welfare or safety of the US much less Israel. Let us see how Chuck Schumer handles this.

  • Thanks to Dr. Dershowitz for confirming that Obama has followed the same path as Clinton in providing a rogue state with nuclear weapons.

    However, I dispute the notion that Iran might honor a moratorium of any length in developing its nuclear weapons capability, as $18 billion in sanctions relief will provide them with all the cash needed to purchase what they need from Russia and China.

    Audrey Clement, Ph.D.

  • Larry Andrews

    Mr. Dershowitz continues to show an ignorance that is puzzling. If this agreement was a “treaty”, then it would require approval by two-thirds of the United States Senate. Instead, this “deal” is an “executive agreement” and does not require congressional approval.
    During President Obama’s terms this is what has occurred in the Middle East. Libya is in complete chaos. Iraq is in complete chaos. Syria is in complete chaos. Yemen is in complete chaos. After six years in office, President Obama recently stated that he does NOT have an Iraq strategy. But, President Obama wants us to believe that he does have a strategy to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Actions speak louder than words”. Based upon President Obama’s actions, what would you believe??!! This is a catastrophic agreement which absolutely needs to be rejected by the American people.

  • Jeff Sims

    The other common theme is that Wendy Sherman negotiated the failed North Korean agreement and has now most likely failed at the Iran one as well.

  • Frederik Pedersen

    How will the US and EU react the day Iran has nuclear bombs? Will they take action or will they leave it to Israel to handle the dangerous situation?

    • el elx

      We should worry about this problem a hell of a lot more than we are…
      Will the P5+1 try to STOP our Israeli planes from bombing the iranian sites?
      Will The Boastful Brits and the Filthy Frrench, not to mention the pusillanimous potus sell advanced weaponry to the Iranians.? They can, after 5 years; my bet is they will do it earlier.
      Will the Americans share Iron Dome with the Mullahs? Oh! Yes!

      This deal has brought Israel much much closer to D-Day; and the P5+1 will not escape the consequences of their betrayal. They will have to choose sides!

  • Wayne J. Scott

    It appears that Iran is being more truthful than Obama to the American people that this deal gives them the nukes and their going to use them on America and Israel.

  • If you impeach Obama, you can also impeach Clinton, then they’ll have company. Two liars to comfort each other.

  • Pastor CJ

    Alan is highly intellegent, but Israel knows Iran has had nukes for years. PAST TENSE!
    All the talks are merely theatre.

    noanoa, Imama 0bama is not naive, he is EVIL. His very purpose in usurping power in USA was to destroy it.
    0bama may be nephilim.

  • When Obama says jump, Dershowitz says how high? He proved it in 2008 & 2012. He has zero credibility when it comes to criticizing Obama.

    • el elx

      Hey! Don’t you believe in “evolving”.? Your pusillanimos potus has evolved on EVERYTHING from gay marriage to Iranian nukes. Surely you can allow Alan one “evolution”!
      Oh! wait! Some evolution is good; some bad…depending on how you feel about the animal who is evolving!
      Got it!

  • harri

    is anything about this deal NOT a lie? NOT designed to destroy America and Israel? who is Obama? who is he?

    • yuri pelham

      Alan has been a most vociferous and effective defender of Israel.

  • noanoa

    Very true.

    I say impeach & imprison Obama, he’s a naive Narcissist empty shell of an incompetent president.

    • harri

      if he is impeached his “executive orders” stand and have to be dismantled one by one tying up the courts for 60 years. is he guilty of treason? if so, arrest trial etc dismantle all laws passed. right? any constitutional lawyers out there?

    • theo

      Obama has made a choice and it shows : he sees greater advantages in an alliance with Iran than with Israel
      He will find that the cost of allying with a terrorist state will be far higher than he anticipated