The U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz advocated for the role of science in securing the nuclear deal with Iran during a lecture at the Institute of Politics on Thursday.
Moniz focused particularly on the importance of scientific understanding in diplomacy to “solve humanity’s big issues.” As a physicist, his scientific knowledge and perspective was instrumental to the negotiating of the nuclear deal with Iran, he said.
According to Moniz, his leadership at the Department of Energy has allowed him to leverage scientific understanding when dealing with public policy issues.
“The Department of Energy is fundamentally a science organization,” he said. “It is really about bringing science and technology together on important issues.”
One of the key roles of the Department of Energy is that of maintaining the security of America's nuclear weapons arsenal. Thus, a large part of his role during the negotiations with Iran was to create mechanisms that ensured “Iran substantially roll[ed] back its nuclear enterprise...in return for economic sanctions relief,” Moniz said.
In order for the agreements to be successful, Moniz said it was necessary that a “set of objectives and needs on both sides that [did] not exclude solutions [be found].”
Ultimately, a common desire for reconciliation by all governments involved resulted in the deal, which includes a “set of unique verification materials” for American benefit, he said.
“We have surveillance by the IAEA of the manufacturing of centrifuge parts for 20 years,” Moniz said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, an international organization that reports to the United Nations, “and we have the first ever surveillance of the Iranian supply channel for 25 years.”
Iran, the European Union, and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed to an international framework last year to remove heavy international sanctions on Iran in exchange for reforms and monitoring of the country’s nuclear energy program. Countries including the U.S. initially placed sanctions following concerns that Iran’s uranium enrichment program could allow it to develop a nuclear weapon.
Graham T. Allison, the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School and the event moderator, praised Moniz’s commitment to the negotiations with Iran.
“What if no agreement had been reached? What would we have been talking about today?” Allison asked. “It would be most likely about [a] third war in the Middle East.”
Several student attendees said they found Moniz’s work inspiring.
“I study engineering here at Harvard, and I’ve done about seven years of energy research, so that’s why this is something that I really care about,” Eesha Khare ’17 said. “And so Ernest Moniz is someone who is such an inspiring person for me.”
Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, a postdoctoral fellow, said he appreciated Moniz’s work, noting also the importance of the years of behind-the-scenes diplomatic work that was required to build up a workable relationship with the Iranian government.
“Moniz really benefited from the work of his predecessors and the rapport they built up with the Iranians was crucial [to the deal],” he said.