After a recent surge in threatening behavior by Iran and reports that it may soon be given access to the U.S. financial system, the House Intelligence Committee opened an investigation into whether Obama officials misled Congress about the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive plan of Action, or JCPOA). The “historic” deal, they said, would help bring Iran into the “community of nations” and lead to improved relations between Iran and the United States.
While this congressional investigation is a welcome development, it is too little and too late to reverse the Obama administration’s policy of offering any and all concessions — including over $100 billion in sanctions relief — to get a nuclear agreement with Iran. Most members of Congress thought the JCPOA was a bad deal; the majority of them voted against it last fall. But many now realize that this agreement is in fact an enormous fraud that is undermining Middle East and international security.
Obama officials made several misleading statements about the JCPOA last July that have come back to haunt them. These will be the focus of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation.
Iran is not building long-range missiles to carry warheads full of dynamite or to fire monkeys into space.
Obama officials later clarified that although the JCPOA does not bar Iranian missile tests, existing U.N. and U.S. missile sanctions would remain in place. But this isn’t exactly true, either. After the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had taken certain steps to roll back its nuclear program (a certification the IAEA made in January this year), Resolution 2231 lifted previous Security Council missile sanctions and replaced them with much weaker language “calling” on Iran not to test missiles. According to diplomats cited by Reuters, this new formulation is not legally binding and cannot be enforced under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, which deals with sanctions and authorization of military force. The Obama administration made no mention of this in its briefings to Congress on the JCPOA.
For its part, Iran says it never agreed to missile restrictions in the JCPOA and claims its missile tests do not violate Security Council resolutions because they are not designed to carry nuclear warheads. This is absurd. Iran’s missile program is widely believed to be a delivery system for nuclear warheads. If Iran were telling the truth, it would be the only nation in history without a nuclear-weapons program that nonetheless developed missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers or more. Iran is not building long-range missiles to carry warheads full of dynamite or to fire monkeys into space.
Iran tested ballistic missiles last fall and last month. Written on the sides of some missiles recently launched were the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth.” Last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded to criticism of the missile tests by saying that Iran’s future is a world of missiles, not negotiations.
Congress knows there was at least one secret side deal to the JCPOA that was not briefed to Congress as required by the Corker-Cardin Act. One side deal allowed Iran to inspect itself for evidence of past nuclear-weapons-related work; it was discovered when Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) questioned IAEA officials about the JCPOA during a meeting in Vienna last July. Another secret side deal appears to require the IAEA to dumb down its reports on Iran’s nuclear program and its compliance with the JCPOA.
Congressional investigators are also troubled that contrary to administration claims that the JCPOA has the strongest verification provisions in history, the IAEA is unable to visit military facilities because the Iranian parliament approved an alternative version of the deal last October that put these facilities off-limits. The Obama administration has not publicly responded to the Iranian parliament’s action.
One of Congress’s newest concerns about the JCPOA stems from reports that the Obama administration is considering giving Iran at least partial access to the U.S. financial system. As Ilan Berman wrote last week on NRO, the administration may be about to violate promises it made to Congress last summer that it would not give Iran access to U.S. financial institutions or allow it to engage in off-shore dollar transactions with U.S. banks. If so, this would represent another concession to Iran and a sign that Congress cannot trust anything Obama officials have said about the JCPOA.
The House Intelligence Committee will also review a growing list of other belligerent actions by Iran contradicting the Obama administration’s claim that the JCPOA will help bring Iran into the community of nations. On March 29, for instance, the U.S. Navy intercepted an Iranian ship in the Persian Gulf that was transporting 1,500 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 200 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 21 .50-caliber machine guns that were probably en route to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Washington Post reported Monday that there have been at least two similar seizures over the last two months.
In addition, since the nuclear deal was announced, Iran has increased its support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, giving financial support and supplying Iranian and Hezbollah fighters. And last week, the U.S. indicted five Iranians for cyber attacks against U.S. banks, NASDAQ, and a New York dam.
Perhaps the most stunning indictment of Iran’s belligerent behavior since the JCPOA was announced was an unprecedented April 3, 2016, Wall Street Journal op-ed by United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al-Otaiba, in which he said:
Sadly, behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long known — hostile, expansionist, violent — is alive and well, and as dangerous as ever.
Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region must stop. Until it does, our hope for a new Iran should not cloud the reality that the old Iran is very much still with us — as dangerous and as disruptive as ever.
President Obama said at last week’s nuclear-security summit that Iran is following the “letter” but not the “spirit” of the JCPOA by complying with the terms of the deal but testing missiles, continuing to call for the destruction of Israel, and supporting terrorism. The House Intelligence Committee investigation indicates that Congress rejects this ludicrous statement and wants a full accounting of what the White House really agreed to in the JCPOA and whether the Obama administration deliberately misled lawmakers.The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation will not kill the JCPOA or lead to new sanctions against Iran. Its report might condemn Obama officials for misleading Congress, but these officials are certain to ignore the report. Nevertheless, this is an important investigation: If it exposes the JCPOA as a fraudulent agreement that has only exacerbated Iran’s destabilizing behavior, it will pave the way for a Republican president (if one is elected in November) to throw out the JCPOA entirely and begin the process of forging a better agreement with our European allies. The committee’s investigation also may give Americans a better understanding of what kind of legacy President Obama really earned from the JCPOA and his nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
— Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with 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.
Editor’s Note: Correction: There there will be no formal House Intelligence Committee report or hearings. See the author’s follow-up Corner post here.