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Foster Announces Support For Iran Nuclear Agreement

Sep 8, 2015
Press Release

Foster press conference

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Congressman Bill Foster, Richard Garwin

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) announced his support for the Iran nuclear agreement. Foster, the only physicist in Congress, was a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for over 20 years.

Foster announced his support for the agreement at a press conference with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Richard Garwin, a physicist who helped develop the first hydrogen bomb.

Video of the press conference is available here. 

Foster’s full remarks are below:

Thank you all for coming today.

I’m Bill Foster, and I have the honor of representing Illinois’ 11th Congressional District.

First, I would like to thank Secretary Moniz.

I have had the honor of knowing Ernie for nearly two decades and have been incredibly impressed by the work he has done during his tenure as the Secretary of Energy, especially in the role he has played in developing and championing the Iranian nuclear agreement.

As the only physicist remaining in Congress – in fact, the only Ph.D. Scientist of any kind – I have felt a special responsibility to perform due diligence on the technical components of the proposed nuclear agreement. 

At this point I am up to, I think, my 15th briefing on this subject, many of which were lengthy individual classified briefings by the technical experts who supported the negotiating team.

I have to mention that a number of those experts are at Argonne National Laboratory, which I’m proud to represent, and other labs throughout the country.

We should all be proud, and grateful, for those who have spent much or all of their careers “behind the wall” at the reactor and weapons labs and intelligence agencies throughout our country.

At times like this, to those who have spent their careers making our country safer and minimizing the risks of nuclear war:  Thank you.

I would also like to thank Dick Garwin, one of the 29 Scientists and Engineers who recently spoke out in support of the proposed nuclear agreement, for his legendary contributions to nuclear weapons and technology, the design and construction of the world’s first Hydrogen bomb, in national technical intelligence, and in nuclear nonproliferation.

I am here today to add my name to that list of 29 scientists and engineers who have endorsed the deal and the growing number of members of Congress who will be voting in favor of it.

I would like to begin by echoing the sentiments of Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar in stating that no arms control deal is ever perfect, and that our overriding objective must be to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But after carefully weighing all the options and possible outcomes, I do believe that voting for this deal will make it less likely that Iran will develop nuclear weapons.

And voting against this deal, with no better options in sight, makes the potential for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon more likely.

My support for this agreement is determined not by trust, but by science.

The benefits of this agreement, in terms of the limitations that it places on the Iranian nuclear program in the short and medium term, are well known:

• The limits on enrichment capacity,

• The 300kg limit on inventories of Low-enriched Uranium, which represents a 98% reduction and places a fundamental limit on the breakout time,

• The ban on reprocessing and plutonium separation,

• The redesign and rebuilding of the Arak heavy-water reactor to make it useless for producing large amounts of weapons-grade Plutonium,

• The strengthening of the inspection regime, including end-to-end monitoring of the nuclear supply chain, and

• The prohibition on Pu or U metallurgy, even for conventional purposes, which is a significant constraint on clandestine weaponization programs.

In return, after a number of years of verified good behavior, Iran will be constrained only by its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty with Additional Protocol.

This emphasizes the absolute importance of significantly strengthening the NPT, so that its strengthened terms are binding in perpetuity, not only to Iran but on its neighbors in the Mideast and around the world.

This must be the work of the world over the coming decade.

I would like to emphasize that there are four technical points that have led me to support this deal.

The first point regards the claims that “Iran gets to be in charge of inspecting itself” in the investigation of Past Military Dimensions of its weaponization activities. 

This is simply not true. 

The investigations will be carried out by a team of IAEA inspectors, using equipment and sampling kits prepared by the IAEA, with samples being sent to the international Network of Analytical Laboratories, of which a number of U.S. laboratories are members.

I urge any of my colleagues who harbor doubts about this inspection regime to avail themselves of classified briefings on the details. 

What I can say publicly is that our technical experts have full confidence in the technical inspection capabilities of the IAEA.

The second technical point regards the 24-day inspection delay, which has been a source of major concern for many.

Under the proposed agreement, Iran’s declared nuclear facilities will be available for anytime, anywhere inspection. 

However, for undeclared facilities, including military facilities, Iran has the opportunity to contest what is normally a 24-hour inspection regime under the Nonproliferation Treaty and Additional Protocol, for a period of up to 24 days.

This is clearly not ideal.  It is a negotiated number.

However, when I looked closely looking at the many steps that must be taken to produce and test a nuclear weapon, the ability to detect activities in a window of 24 days vs. 24 hours has limited operational significance.

There will be more discussion of this in the longer policy statement that I will be releasing later this week.

Third, I believe the 1-year breakout time to be an accurate estimate.

This is the reaction time that the world community will have for a diplomatic, economic, and military response should Iran decide to resume its nuclear weapons program.

And the President has put in place elements to take military action if necessary.  

Because of the importance of this issue, I have spent a great deal of effort personally vetting the Administration’s claim of a roughly a 1-year breakout time under this agreement. 

It is complex because there are many possible paths to the fissile material needed for a weapon, and each of these must be examined.

At the end of many hours of classified briefings, I support this estimate.

The fourth technical point regards the weaponization timeline. 

This is the time needed by Iran from the point it possesses a significant quantity of nuclear material, and the time that it takes to assemble and test a nuclear weapon.

Unfortunately, Iran has made significant progress towards weaponization, including such items as the multipoint initiation system for implosion devices referred to in the IAEA November 2011 report.

Moreover, if Iran breaks out of the agreement, it will resume weaponization activities during the same year that it takes to accumulate fissile material for a first weapon.

Therefore, I concur with the assessment that in the context of a 1-year breakout effort, the additional time for weaponization will be small.

However, after the end of this agreement, when the breakout time to obtain fissile material is reduced, the weaponization activities become the dominant factor in the timeline.

This underscores the importance of maintaining maximum visibility into all aspects of Iranian nuclear capability, and again, of significantly strengthening the NPT+AP for Iran and all other nuclear threshold countries.

The last point I would like to make is economic and diplomatic, rather than technical.

As a businessman as well as a scientist, I simply do not believe there will be leverage available within the P5+1 coalition to obtain a better deal.

If we do walk away from this deal, there is little hope of getting Iran and the P5+1 coalition back to table at all.

There is no reason to expect that the Europeans, Russia, China and others would agree to additional multilateral sanctions after having just approved of this agreement.

Under that scenario, Iran could attempt to increase its leverage by resuming HEU enrichment, and the multilateral sanctions regime would collapse.

And if Iran walks away, there is no guarantee of any inspections at all.

This is, in my view, is the worst-case scenario for the security of the United States and Israel.

We did not negotiate this deal alone.

But if we walk away, we walk away alone.

And last, but not least, I am supporting this deal because I believe that it sets us on the path to the most secure future for the United States, for Israel, and for the world.

Under this agreement, the world will have increased visibility into the Iranian nuclear program under a robust monitoring system.

However this is not the end, but just the beginning of our work.

If we really want to get serious about stopping nuclear activities in Iran, the Mideast and around the world, we must take this opportunity to strengthen the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, including key enforcement and inspection provisions.

With that, I would like to introduce the distinguished Energy Secretary, Ernie Moniz.