National Security & Defense

The Dangerous Fantasy behind Obama’s Iran Deal

(White House/Flickr)

On January 16, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran had satisfied the conditions necessary to achieve a lifting of most international sanctions under its nuclear deal with the Obama administration. In exchange for reducing its number of operational uranium-enrichment centrifuges, sending most of its enriched uranium out of the country, and removing the core of a plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor, Iran received approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief, and the United States returned $400 million in Iranian funds it seized in 1979, plus $1.3 billion in interest. The same day, Iran released five Americans it had held prisoner in exchange for the release of seven Iranian criminals held by the United States.

The White House and its supporters did victory laps, arguing that Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and its willingness to swap prisoners had proven the wisdom of the president’s Iran policy. But there are many reasons to believe that these developments, far from strengthening American national security, are actually dangerous wins for Iran.

Before all else, it should be noted that American officials had to relax certain requirements of the deal so Iran could receive sanctions relief in the first place. Language barring the testing of ballistic missiles was removed from the agreement’s text and buried in the annex to a UN Security Council resolution. The U.S. also dropped a stipulation that Iran resolve questions about its past nuclear activities, choosing to address those questions in a secret side deal between the IAEA and Iran. As a result, even though Iran conducted two ballistic-missile tests last fall and did not fully cooperate with an IAEA investigation into its nuclear history, the IAEA was able to certify that Tehran met the Implementation Day requirements to have sanctions lifted because these issues had been dropped from the agreement.

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The steps Iran did take to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of sanctions are limited and easily reversible. Since Iran will continue enriching uranium and developing advanced centrifuges, they’ll continue to get closer to a nuclear weapon while the deal remains in effect. And although Tehran sent most of its enriched uranium out of the country, in return it received an equivalent amount of uranium ore from Kazakhstan, which can be converted into enriched uranium in a few months.

What’s more, the nuclear deal had weak verification provisions to begin with, and the Iranian parliament made them even weaker last October when it ratified an amended version of the deal that calls for Israel’s nuclear-weapons program to be dismantled, requires that sanctions be canceled rather than suspended, and forbids the IAEA from inspecting military installations or interviewing Iranian military officers and scientists. The United States, its European allies, and the IAEA have ignored the Iranian Parliament’s action, and it had no bearing on the lifting of sanctions, but there’s good reason to believe that Iran’s conception of the deal’s terms is quite different from that of its Western partners.

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And indeed, though the Obama administration has ignored it, Iran’s belligerence abroad has continued unabated since the nuclear agreement was announced last July. In the last six months, Tehran has stepped up support for the genocidal Assad regime, fired rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier, and captured and humiliated U.S. sailors. It seems more than likely that the $100 billion-plus the regime received in sanctions relief will go toward its continued efforts to destabilize the Middle East, sponsor terrorism, and inch closer to a nuclear warhead.

#share#There also are growing questions about the prisoner exchange. The five U.S. citizens released by Iran, several of them brutally mistreated while behind bars, were arrested because they are Americans, and thus made good bargaining chips in Iran’s efforts to influence U.S. policy. Iran is still holding at least two other American citizens hostage, and an Iranian official has claimed that the $1.7 billion payment the country received, supposedly a return of its frozen funds plus interest, was actually ransom for the five Americans’ release. (House Republicans plan to investigate this claim.) By contrast, the seven Iranians released by the United States, most of them dual citizens, were convicted of sending technology with military applications to Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. 14 other Iranians accused of similar crimes were removed from an INTERPOL wanted list at the same time.

So how can the White House justify such a lopsided deal?

Legendary national-security expert Richard Perle said it best in a recent interview with Secure Freedom Radio:

Their concept is that the terms of the agreement and the likely consequences if the Iranians choose to do what they are able to do under the agreement don’t matter because this agreement is somehow going to magically transform an Iranian regime that regards the United States as the great Satan and engages us through the subvention of terrorism in many places throughout the world. . . . And so for people who hold this view — and I believe the president is among them — the details of the agreement and the consequences of the agreement are of no significance. They are making an enormous and I think an improvident bet. This bet is that this agreement, which satisfies what the Iranians are looking for, will somehow lead the Iranians to become our friends. In this they are certainly mistaken.

That’s the utter absurdity of the Iran deal in a nutshell: Its details don’t matter, because it is meant only to transform Iran into an American ally, against all reason. Because Obama knows he could never sell such a utopian plan to the American people and the U.S. Congress, his administration used the mostly incoherent agreement as a pretext.

#related#But giving Iran everything it wanted in a nuclear agreement won’t lead it to rejoin the community of civilized nations and become a friend of the U.S. All indications from Tehran say the opposite: the regime’s character remains unchanged, and if anything it has become a more influential and destabilizing actor in the Middle East since it signed the nuclear deal. As a result, America’s friends and allies in the region are increasingly worried about a growing threat to their security and U.S. credibility has been further diminished.

Here’s hoping Obama’s successor can repair the damage.

— 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. Twitter @fredfleitz.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.


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