Conservatives in the U.S. Senate are attempting to block a White House program to buy spent heavy water from Iran, saying the purchases would encourage the Iranians to expand their nuclear program.
Under the deal President Obama reached last year with Tehran, the U.S. Department of Energy would buy 32 metric tons of heavy water, which is a crucial component in producing nuclear energy — and nuclear weapons.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced an amendment to the year’s first appropriations bill that would have stopped the sales, but Democrats stymied the effort last week. A White House spokesman ridiculed Cotton, saying the senator “couldn’t differentiate heavy water from sparkling water.”
Moving beyond childish jabs, conservatives see problems with the policy and the troubling precedent it sets.
“To purchase excess—when Iran is still producing it—is simply to incentivize Iran’s nuclear industry,” said Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “At this point, party loyalty is trumping national security. This is a no-brainer; it should not be a political football. Rather, the Democrats should be furious that Obama puts them in this position and takes their support for granted.”
Rubin said that the only alternative to get the Obama administration to take notice is to legislate. However, Rubin said the heavy water issue is but one of many ill-conceived concessions that Obama has allowed under the deal.
“It simply emboldens Iran to believe that it is in the driver’s seat and that the Obama administration is desperate,” Rubin said. “And, indeed, with Obama and Kerry repeatedly caving to Iranian demands, Tehran would be right to think so.”
Tzvi Kahn, a senior policy analyst with the Foreign Policy Initiative, said the United States should not be spending taxpayer dollars to purchase Iran’s heavy water. He said that the nuclear agreement, which limits Iran’s stockpile of heavy water to 130 metric tons during the first few years of the accord, allows the regime to sell its heavy water on the international market but doesn’t require any country to buy it. Should Tehran prove unable to find a buyer, it could dispose of its excess heavy water on its own by blending it down.
“Thus, by purchasing the heavy water, the United States not only gives money to a terrorist regime, but also encourages other nations to buy Iran’s excess heavy water as well for the lifetime of the deal, thereby enabling Tehran to preserve a key capability necessary for the development of a plutonium bomb,” Kahn said. “Thus, when restrictions on heavy water development expire in 15 years (or if Iran opts to violate or abandon the nuclear deal sooner), Iran will be better positioned to quickly develop such a weapon.”
Kahn said the $8.6 million purchase might also offer Iran a pathway to the U.S. financial system, which the Obama administration previously claimed it wouldn’t allow.
To date, Kahn said U.S. officials have refused to say whether they paid for the heavy water with dollars, thereby raising questions about whether America has given Iran an additional unwarranted concession. Kahn said he believes that the Obama administration has taken this route because it fears that defying Iran would lead the regime to abandon the nuclear deal.
“The Obama Administration is desperate to preserve its signature foreign policy achievement. Iran has ruthlessly exploited this desperation by demanding the heavy water purchase,” he said. “Ironically, however, the purchase is likely to facilitate the very outcome that the administration seeks to prevent.”
Cotton has circulated a petition calling for citizens to oppose the purchase of heavy water.
“We must hold our ground and demand that the United States of America take a stand to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program ceases to exist,” Cotton said in a statement to supporters. “The United States has no obligation to help them. We certainly have no obligation to buy their heavy water, and we should refuse to let United States taxpayers subsidize Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program … Iran should not, and will not, have a nuclear weapon on my watch. As long as I am a United States Senator, I will do anything and everything in my power to prevent Iran’s nuclear program from progressing.”
Cross-posted from Opportunity Lives.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for Edward Conard, Bain Capital founding partner and American Enterprise Institute scholar. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.