The Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, or JCPOA) reached an important milestone on October 18, a day designated by the agreement as “Adoption Day.” Under the JCPOA, this date was when all parties to the nuclear deal were to signify they are prepared to implement the agreement (including lifting most sanctions against Iran) on “Implementation Day” — a future date when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will certify Iran’s compliance with requirements to cut back its nuclear program. Iranian officials believe Implementation Day will occur by the end of the year. Obama officials have said it will be in about six months.
Although Adoption Day was intended to be an indication that the Iran deal is progressing, it has been overshadowed by growing signs that Iran intends to ignore important aspects of the deal and that the Obama administration is planning to look the other way.
These reports were wrong. The Majlis did not endorse the JCPOA. It approved its own amended version of the agreement that is drastically different, substantially limits Iran’s cooperation, and demands additional concessions.
The elimination of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Forbids the inspection of any military site and the interviewing of any officers.
Calls for strengthening Iran’s defenses, especially by developing its missile arsenal.
Says the redesign of the Arak heavy-water reactor and its conversion to run on enriched uranium “are conditional to separate deals.” This refers to a JCPOA provision to alter the design and fueling of the Arak reactor so it produces less plutonium. This provision is significant because it implies either that other agreements need to be negotiated to carry out this part of the JCPOA or that undisclosed side deals concerning the Arak reactor exist.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) assessed in an October 13, 2015 report that the Iranian parliament ratified “a nonexistent document,” not the JCPOA, because it called for sanctions against Iran to be cancelled and not to be reimposed. By contrast, the nuclear deal calls for sanctions to be suspended and to snap back in the event of Iranian noncompliance.
MEMRI also reported text in the Iranian parliament bill calling on the government to handle the rapid expansion of the country’s centrifuge program so that within two years, Iran’s enriched-uranium output will reach 190,000 SWUs (separate work units). This would equal about 25 to 28 times the output of the 9,000 centrifuges Iran currently is operating and contradicts Tehran’s JCPOA commitment to only operate 5,060 centrifuges for 10 years.
According to press reports, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a letter on October 21 “endorsing” the JCPOA that actually appears to endorse the Iranian parliament’s bill. In the letter, Khamenei demanded that the U.S. and the EU agree in writing that sanctions “are completely canceled” when Iran meets its obligations under the agreement. Khamenei also complained about “ambiguities” in the JCPOA and said any new sanctions against Iran would be a violation of the agreement.
On October 22, Iran tested the Emad, a long-range missile with a range of about 800 miles. According to Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, the Emad is Iran’s first long-range missile that can be precision-guided until it reaches its target. What is the likely target for this missile? Hint: Iran’s western border is about 650 miles from Jerusalem.
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A few days later, Iranian TV broadcast pictures of an underground tunnel storing medium- and long-range ballistic missiles. While the location was not provided, the broadcast said the facility is one of hundreds of underground missile bases scattered across the country.
On the surface, these developments look like Iranian noncompliance with the JCPOA, since they conflict with statements made by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that the nuclear agreement requires UN missile sanctions against Iran to remain in place for eight years.
No serious expert believes Iran’s missile program is defensive and not intended to carry nuclear weapons.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said on August 22 that Iran would not comply with the accord’s provisions on UN missile sanctions. According to the government-controlled Fars News Agency, Rouhani said: “We will purchase weapons from wherever we deem necessary and we are not waiting for anyone’s permission; if we deem necessary, we will sell our weapons and we will do this without paying attention to any resolution.”
However, on October 17, Iran modified its position when Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Zariz said the JCPOA has nothing to do with missile sanctions because it “made no mention of missiles.” While Zarif also conceded there are provisions concerning missile sanctions in a separate UN Security Council resolution (Resolution 2213 of July 20, 2015) that endorsed the nuclear deal, he claimed the missile tests had nothing to do with this resolution because it only barred missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Incredibly, as Andrew McCarthy explained at National Review on October 13, the Obama administration took a similar line. McCarthy said White House spokesman Josh Earnest believes the Iranian missile test was separate from the JCPOA because
(a) nuclear activities are somehow separate from activities involving ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons; (b) Security Resolution 2231 that implements the Iran deal is somehow separate from other Security Council resolutions that ban Iran’s ballistic missile activities even though Resolution 2231, too, bans Iran’s ballistic missile activities; and (c) Iran’s pattern of violating international law pertaining to ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons is somehow irrelevant to the administration’s level of confidence that it will adhere to its commitments regarding nuclear weapons development, notwithstanding that it has a history of flouting those commitments, too.
McCarthy noted Earnest said the Iranian missile test may have violated other UN Security Council resolutions. Another State Department spokesman said the U.S. will raise this issue with the UN Security Council.
I agree with McCarthy but I would add that this controversy is a product of the Obama administration’s irresponsible decision to separate Iran’s missile program from the nuclear talks. A nuclear-weapons program is assumed to have three legs: nuclear-fuel production, warhead development, and a delivery system. No serious expert believes Iran’s missile program is defensive and not intended to carry nuclear weapons. Moreover, the IAEA reported in 2010 and 2011 that it had information suggesting that Iran was developing nuclear missile warheads.
This investigation into what is formally known as the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program is crucial to establishing a baseline to verify the JCPOA. I wrote several National Review articles over the last few months, including here and here, on how the Obama administration originally claimed the PMD issue would be addressed in the JCPOA but later dropped this issue due to Iranian objections. I also wrote that U.S. diplomats probably arranged to sidestep the PMD issue and hide it from Congress by asking IAEA officials to take this issue up in secret side deals between Iran and the IAEA.
The IAEA is investigating PMD issues in eleven areas that suggest covert Iranian nuclear weapons activities. These include nuclear-detonator development, work to manufacture a device for the core of a nuclear weapon, research to determine how to mount a nuclear payload into a missile delivery system, and covert efforts to procure uranium and nuclear technology.
Most of the controversy over this issue to date has concerned the secret side deals that allowed Iranians to collect soil samples and swipes as part of the IAEA investigation. Per this arrangement, Iranians collected samples at Iran’s Parchin military base during the weekend of September 18 without the presence of IAEA personnel. Iranians reportedly were to collect samples at other facilities as part of the PMD investigation.
The use of Iranians to collect environmental samples led to charges by critics of the nuclear deal that Iran was inspecting itself and that the PMD investigation would be a whitewash. Such concerns have intensified in recent weeks because of the speed with which the IAEA is moving to resolve these complex issues that have been pending for a decade. Probably to force the conclusion of this investigation, Supreme Leader Khamenei stated in his letter today that Iran will delay reconfiguring the Arak heavy-water reactor and sending enriched uranium out of the country until the IAEA’s PMD file is closed.
The IAEA issued a statement on October 15 that Iran had provided sufficient cooperation for it to issue a report by a December 15, 2015, deadline with its final assessment on outstanding PMD issues. In light of Iran’s continuing insistence that it never pursued nuclear weapons and the rushed investigation, the IAEA’s report may only conclude it found no evidence of Iranian weapons-related work instead of stating that these concerns have been disproved.
Such an inconclusive PMD report presumably would have been unacceptable even for the Obama administration as recently as six months ago. However, in an October 17 column, Associated Press reporter George Jahn quoted unnamed diplomats who said the U.S. is prepared to accept a vaguer IAEA report on this issue than it would normally demand because seeking further clarity from Iran would jeopardize the larger agreement.
Obama officials are now playing down the importance of the IAEA PMD investigation and have said that the nuclear deal and sanctions relief will go forward regardless of its outcome.
Further alarming JCPOA critics, Obama officials are now playing down the importance of the IAEA PMD investigation and have said that the nuclear deal and sanctions relief will go forward regardless of its outcome. An October 19, 2015, Wall Street Journal article noted that Kerry and other U.S. officials had previously said sanctions would not be lifted unless Iran substantively cooperated with the PMD investigation.
Meanwhile, as the JCPOA moves forward, Iranian behavior has grown worse in other ways. Iran reportedly has sent hundreds of troops and Hezbollah fighters to Syria over the past few weeks to prop up the Assad regime. On October 11, an Iranian court convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian of espionage. Iran continues to imprison three other innocent Americans.
So with Obama officials claiming this week that the JCPOA’s Adoption Day indicated progress and the willingness of all parties to implement the agreement, the truth is that Iran is already violating it and has an entirely different view of the deal from what Obama’s officials have claimed. I am sure Obama’s officials are aware of this, but they are so desperate for the JCPOA to succeed that they are ignoring these violations and finding ways to explain them away, including by contradicting earlier claims that missile sanctions and the PMD issue were part of the nuclear deal.The amended version of the JCPOA passed by the Iranian parliament is a crucial part of this puzzle. At least one organization in Washington is working to translate this document. Congress must demand the U.S. Intelligence Community translate it ASAP and post online so Congress can consider further action on the nuclear deal.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said in March 2010 that “we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what’s in it. . . . ” This comment is ironic given how Congress is now learning what was really agreed to in the JCPOA after it survived a congressional review last month as well as a January 2014 comment by National Security staffer Ben Rhodes that the Obama administration viewed the Iran deal as its second term Obamacare.
The deceptions used to pass Obamacare did severe damage to America’s health-care system and caused costs to skyrocket. The deceptions used to sell the nuclear deal with Iran may do far more damage to American interests by providing cover that Iran likely will use to try to become a regional hegemon while continuing its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
— Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs for the Center for Security Policy. He followed the Iranian nuclear issue for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee during his 25-year government career. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.