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Scientists Write Letter To Obama Praising Iran Nuclear Deal


Twenty-nine prominent American scientists have written a letter to President Obama praising the Iran nuclear deal. They call its terms stringent. Congress is expected to disapprove the Iran deal, and the president is hoping to find enough members of the House or the Senate to sustain his veto of Congress' disapproval. Well, having lost the support of New York Democratic senator Chuck Schumer last week, the president's battle for hearts and minds on Capitol Hill is getting tougher, and the scientists' letter is likely to be cited in support of the Iran deal. Joining us is one of its authors, physicist Richard Garwin. Thanks for talking with us once again.

RICHARD GARWIN: Glad to be with you.

SIEGEL: The objective of the Iran talks was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Does the agreement achieve that, or does it defer for several years their ability to develop a weapon?

GARWIN: Well, I think it's a good step and will be in support of security of the United States and Israel and our European partners.

SIEGEL: For 10 years, for 15 years or for longer than that?

GARWIN: Well, for as long as Iran doesn't want to develop nuclear weapons. You know, Iran, at any time, could abandon the agreement, and then they would be years away from having a nuclear weapon, but they would be doing it out in the open rather than secretly. And that would provoke response from most of the world, certainly from the United States and Israel.

SIEGEL: Senator Schumer, in his explanation for his opposition, wrote that - and I'm quoting now - "after 10 to 15 years, Iran would be a nuclear threshold state. With the blessing of the world community, Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer, to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today." And he wrote this. "If Iran's true intent is to get a nuclear weapon under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience."

GARWIN: Well, 10 or 15 years is not nothing. We will have the same options in preventing the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran at that time as we have now. And that's plenty of time for them to see that nuclear weapons are not in their interest. Now, for what it's worth, the ayatollah Khomeini has proclaimed that nuclear weapons are counter to the Islamic religion. And that's something, but we don't take that on trust. We have verification, and we have tools for intervention if all else fails.

SIEGEL: The group of scientists, Dr. Garwin, who signed your letter are often people who, like you, have advised the government or worked with the government on nuclear weapons and arms control. As we once talked about here, you actually, as a very young man, designed the first H-bomb. But are these essentially scientific questions, or are they political judgments? That is, either we choose to have a diplomatic channel with Iran or we choose to confront them with threats of isolation, if not force.

GARWIN: Well, we like to believe that technical and scientific facts underlie political judgments. If you believe that we will be blind to our own intelligence, that we will not respond to evidence in the future, then I still don't believe you would reject this agreement.

SIEGEL: Dr. Garwin, one other question. Is it technologically feasible? And given where there is uranium and how one comes by it or what bombs are on the market, could they do it?

GARWIN: They could not do it covertly. All of their uranium mining, processing, enriching is all covered. They could have a totally covert site, but people have to go back and forth from their normal lives to that site. And if they're enriching uranium, then there will be traces of enriched uranium elsewhere in the country. Verification of this agreement is airtight. Iran could, at some time in the future, reject the agreement and push to acquire a nuclear weapon. We would have more warning - far more warning - than if we didn't have such an agreement.

SIEGEL: Physicist Richard Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus, thank you very much for talking with us today.

GARWIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.