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Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin May 11, 2016
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 11, 2016

Deal allows Iran to produce nuclear weapon, U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff says

Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff lobbed a bombshell against his Democratic opponents and the White House: President Barack Obama’s deal with Iran actually allows that country to build a nuclear weapon.  

The Manatee County Republican criticized the president’s negotiation skills and berated U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy for backing the deal. Grayson and Murphy are squaring off in the Democratic primary, while Beruff faces a packed GOP field.

"Both Congressman Grayson and Congressman Murphy supported President Obama’s disastrous deal, which allows Iran to produce a nuclear weapon," Beruff said in a May 5, 2016, news release.

Beruff’s argument gave us pause, since the idea of the Iran nuclear agreement was ostensibly made to prevent the country from building a nuke. When we rechecked the terms of the deal for this fact-check, we found that was still the case.

The deal’s terms

The deal, which was struck in July 2015, essentially lifts international economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the nation agreeing to curb nuclear technologies and allowing nuclear-weapons inspections for 10 to 25 years.

A sticking point for critics is that while Iran has to give up 97 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile and most of its centrifuges that could enrich more, that capability is not gone entirely. Iran can have a reduced number of operating centrifuges for 10 years, but research and development on advanced centrifuges will be limited. Uranium enrichment is supposed to be kept at levels unsuitable for weapons use for the next 15 years. Iran also can no longer produce plutonium, the other element that could create a bomb.  

To make sure Iran is doing what it agreed to do, international inspectors will monitor known nuclear sites for those 15 years. They also can enter an undeclared site suspected of nuclear use, although Iran could take up to 24 days to allow inspectors into such sites. There’s been plenty of debate about how verifiable such activity can be.

Surveillance of centrifuge production areas is slated to last 20 years, and uranium mills and mines will be monitored for 25 years. Iran also has to stick to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that it signed in 1974, thereby no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. It must follow further international treaties, as well. Theoretically, Iran must abide by those treaties for good, even after the 25-year inspection time limit passes.

Several experts have told PolitiFact over the last few months that as long as Iran adheres to the terms of the agreement, they cannot build a nuclear weapon. Opponents (like Beruff) say that all this does is delay a bomb, not prevent it.

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"The deal legitimatizes Iran’s nuclear program," Beruff campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said in an email. "It allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium and to ramp up enrichment down the road, while also giving the country access to tens of billions of dollars."

Hartline further said that reported missile tests in March 2016 (which Iran has denied happening) prove that Iran will undoubtedly cheat on the deal.

Some experts have said it’s reasonable to suspect Iran could disregard the agreement and again pursue a weapon. But even if the United States had won tougher terms, any agreement only works if the country follows the guidelines. Not coming to an agreement at all would have let Iran’s militarized nuclear progress continue unabated.

A key mechanism of the agreement is that it lengthened Iran’s "breakout time" — how long it would take Iran to produce a nuclear weapon if it returned to building one. While some estimates put that time at two to three months before the deal, the breakout time is generally considered to be about a year under the terms of the deal.

"It does not have the uranium enrichment capacity to produce enough bomb-grade material," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "It would take over a year. We would detect any attempt to do that within weeks, if not days."

Richard Nephew, a research scholar and program director for economic statecraft, sanctions and energy markets at Columbia University, told PolitiFact last year that the deal definitely impedes Iran’s nuclear program.

"Fifteen years of restrictions and upwards of 20 years of enhanced inspections will hardly facilitate an Iranian nuclear weapon," he said.

Our ruling

Beruff said Obama’s deal "allows Iran to produce a nuclear weapon." He makes it sound as if the agreement formally blesses Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. But it doesn’t.

The terms of the deal expressly forbid pursuing a militarized nuclear program. There are limits on uranium enrichment and facility uses, and Iran must agree to inspections. It also must abide by terms of international treaties to not seek weapons even after the deal’s guidelines end.

To develop nuclear weapons, Iran would have to either break the terms of the agreement or else wait it out and start building one anew once the deal’s provisions have expired (which would be counter to the provisions of treaties that predated this deal). Either way, that doesn’t sound like an agreement that "allows Iran to produce a nuclear weapon."

We rate the statement False.

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