For those of us who are elected officials, few votes will be more consequential than whether to approve or disapprove the nuclear agreement President Obama has reached with Iran. Yet the president expects Congress to cast this vote without the administration’s fully disclosing the contents of the deal to the American people. This is unacceptable and plainly violates the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act—a law the president signed only weeks ago.
During a recent trip to Vienna to meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the organization charged with verifying Iran’s compliance, we learned that certain elements of this deal are—and will remain—secret. According to the IAEA, those involved with the negotiations, including the Obama administration, agreed to allow Iran to forge the secret side deals with the IAEA on two issues.
The first governs the IAEA’s inspection of the Parchin military complex, the facility long suspected as the site of Iran’s long-range ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons development. The second addresses what—if anything—Iran will be required to disclose about the past military dimensions of its nuclear program.
Yet the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act specifically says that Congress must receive all nuclear agreement documents, including any related to agreements “entered into or made between Iran and any other parties.” It expressly includes “side agreements.” This requirement is not strictly limited to agreements to which the U.S. is a signatory. This law passed in May, well before the nuclear negotiations ended. The Obama administration should have held firm in negotiations to obtain what was necessary for Congress to review the agreement. Iran, not the U.S., should have conceded on this point.
Weaponization lies at the heart of our dispute with Iran and is central to determining whether this deal is acceptable. Inspections of Parchin are necessary to ensure that Iran is adhering to its end of the agreement. Without knowing this baseline, inspectors cannot properly evaluate Iran’s compliance. It’s like beginning a diet without knowing your starting weight. That the administration would accept side agreements on these critical issues—and ask the U.S. Congress to do the same—is irresponsible.
The response from the administration to questions about the side deals has brought little reassurance. At first the administration refrained from acknowledging their existence. Unable to sustain that position, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on July 22 during a White House press briefing that the administration “knows” the “content” of the arrangements and would brief Congress on it.
Yet the same day Secretary of State John Kerry, in a closed-door briefing with members of Congress, said he had not read the side deals. And on July 29 when pressed in a Senate hearing, Mr. Kerry admitted that a member of his negotiating team “may” have read the arrangements but he was not sure.
That person, Undersecretary of State and lead negotiator Wendy Sherman, on July 30 said in an interview on MSNBC, “I saw the pieces of paper but wasn’t allowed to keep them. All of the members of the P5+1 did in Vienna, and so did some of my experts who certainly understand this even better than I do.”
A game of nuclear telephone and hearsay is simply not good enough, not for a decision as grave as this one. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act says Congress must have full access to all nuclear-agreement documents—not unverifiable accounts from Ms. Sherman or others of what may or may not be in the secret side deals.How else can Congress, in good conscience, vote on the overall deal?
On July 30 we sent a letter to the Obama administration asking for a “complete and thorough assessment of the separate arrangements” and the names of anyone who has reviewed them. Iran’s ayatollahs have access to the side agreements. The American people’s representatives in the U.S. Congress should too.
When he announced his nuclear deal with Iran on July 14, President Obama said, “This deal is not built on trust, it is built on verification.” Those words are hollow unless Congress receives the full text of all documents related to the nuclear agreement.