07:29 - Source: CNN
Energy Secretary: Iran deal is long-term
CNN —  

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Wednesday defended the nuclear agreement with Iran he helped broker, asserting that the deal is an improvement on the status quo and that it will keep Iran from a nuclear weapon in the long-term.

While critics have pounced on the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran after the 10 to 15 years of restrictions expire, Moniz insisted that the deal would stand the test of time.

“The deal is not a 10-year deal or a 15-year deal or a 20-year deal, it’s a long-term deal that has various phases,” Moniz said. “Make no mistake about it, forever this agreement would have stronger restrictions on Iran than would be the case if we had no agreement.”

Moniz’s assurances come as critics like Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas are slamming the deal as a string of concessions that have taken the U.S. far from its original demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and halt its enrichment activities altogether.

Cotton insisted Wednesday morning that the deal would be a boon – rather than a roadblock – to Iran’s nuclear program, granting Iran billions of dollars in economic sanctions relief and allowing the country to develop more effective centrifuges to enrich uranium, “mastering the process to develop nuclear weapons.”

Cotton called the 10 years of intense restrictions “the blink of an eye in the eyes of a nation.”

“We were the weakest link in these negotiations,” Cotton said.

But Moniz insisted that the U.S. has “bought considerable time to respond” to any potential Iranian violation by extending Iran’s breakout time from the current two to three months to keeping Iran at least a year away from developing enough weapons-grade nuclear material for a bomb.

Critics contend that the economic relief from sanctions will be a boon to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism around the world – with billions of dollars flowing in, more funds will make their way to terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups Iran supports.

But Moniz said addressing the nuclear issue could facilitate problem-solving on a wide range of issues pitting the U.S. against Iran.

“Our deal is not based upon an assumption as to how they will spend their funds, it’s based on the idea that all of our issues will be dealt more easily if we are confident in their not having a nuclear weapon,” he said.

But Iran did work in a non-nuclear issue into the final push to reach a deal – successfully wrapping a U.N.-imposed arms embargo that will come undone in eight years.

Russia, a top arms supplier of Iran, in the final days backed Iran’s bid to topple the arms embargo, and Moniz noted on Wednesday that the U.S. and its five international negotiating partners did not unanimously agree on that point.

But he pointed out that the arms embargo was initially set to come down once Iran came to the negotiating table – negotiations that have finally come to a head.