Editor’s note: Fred Fleitz will discuss this article and his new book today, July 14, at noon Eastern time at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Click here to attend this lecture or to watch a livestream online.
Today, a year after President Obama announced his “legacy” nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), there is overwhelming evidence that the agreement is far worse than its critics believed. These concerns were recently exacerbated by a German intelligence report of efforts by Iran in 2015 to covertly acquire illicit nuclear technology from German companies. According to the report, “it is safe to expect” that Iran’s covert nuclear-procurement efforts are continuing.
The question now is how the next president should deal with the nuclear deal with Iran.
If Hillary Clinton wins the 2016 presidential election, I see no chance that she will tear up or renegotiate the Iran deal, since she owns it as much as President Obama does. Moreover, because of the divisive fight in Congress over the JCPOA last year, Clinton and the Democratic party are too invested in the nuclear deal to back away from it. Given how weak the JCPOA is and recent reports of Iranian cheating on the accord, I believe this means Iran would make substantial progress on its nuclear weapons program during a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Although Donald Trump has denounced the JCPOA as one of the worst international agreements ever negotiated, it is unclear how a Trump administration would deal with the Iran nuclear agreement. Trump has said he would try to negotiate a better agreement. Walid Phares, a top Trump foreign-policy adviser, reiterated this position in a recent Daily Caller interview in which he said Trump is “not going to get rid of an agreement that has the institutional signature of the United States.” According to Phares, Trump would renegotiate the agreement after consulting with his advisers and could send it back to Congress.
Other Republicans who have recommended that the next president not tear up the nuclear agreement include Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Rand Paul.
Newt Gingrich, another senior Trump adviser, takes a different view. Gingrich said in a July 10 Newsmax interview that he would advise Trump to tear up the nuclear agreement with Tehran on his first day in the White House. John Bolton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and many other Republicans share Gingrich’s position.
I give three reasons in my new book Obamabomb: A Dangerous and Growing National Security Fraud why the best course of action for the next president on the nuclear deal will be to terminate it on his or her first day in office.
1. The nuclear agreement is fatally flawed.
The most important reason to discard JCPOA is because it allows Iran to continue advancing its nuclear-weapons program while the agreement is in effect by enriching uranium and operating a plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor. Since the ill-advised U.S. concessions that led to this situation form the core of the agreement, terminating the deal and starting over makes more sense than trying to renegotiate it.
Since the ill-advised U.S. concessions that led to this situation form the core of the agreement, terminating the deal and starting over makes more sense than trying to renegotiate it.
The JCPOA shortens the timeline to an Iranian nuclear bomb, since it allows Iran to enrich uranium with 5,060 centrifuges and develop advanced centrifuges. President Obama admitted this when he told NPR in April 2015 that this timeline will shrink “almost down to zero” by “year 13, 14, 15” of the nuclear agreement.
Adding to concerns about the JCPOA’s provisions on uranium enrichment, the Institute for Science and International Security recently reported a covert Iranian attempt to acquire a material needed to make centrifuge parts without seeking the required permission from a JCPOA procurement working group. The Institute said this attempted purchase went far beyond Iran’s current needs and may have been an attempt to stockpile this material in the event Tehran decides to leave or disregard the JCPOA over the next few years.
Obama officials have claimed that the JCPOA blocks the plutonium route to an Iranian nuclear weapon because it requires that the core be removed from the under-construction Arak heavy-water reactor and further requires that this reactor be redesigned so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium. Not only are these claims misleading, recent developments raise new concerns about the Arak reactor.
According to the Arms Control Association, the redesigned Arak reactor will produce enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon every four years, or every two years if Iran reverses the reactor’s redesign and changes the way it is fueled. There are new concerns about the proliferation risks from a redesigned Arak reactor because China is rebuilding it and, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, the reconstruction of this reactor has been exempted from the JCPOA’s oversight process to monitor the procurement of nuclear-related technology and materials.
Verification of the nuclear agreement is very weak. IAEA inspections described by Obama officials as robust and intrusive are restricted to declared Iranian nuclear sites and procurement channels. Although there is a convoluted process to request IAEA access to non-declared nuclear sites, it is unlikely ever to be used because Iran has threatened to withdraw from the agreement if it is sanctioned for refusing to comply with such requests. Moreover, the Iranian parliament last October placed military facilities off-limits to the IAEA, without any public objections from the United States or the IAEA.
The Obama administration insists that the JCPOA is a good agreement and Iran is in full compliance. However, to reach this assessment, Obama officials have had to disregard (and dispute) reports of Iranian cheating and the reality that the agreement was negotiated almost entirely on Iran’s terms. These terms involved excluding from the agreement Iran’s missile program — which is widely considered to be a nuclear-weapons delivery system — and a 2015 IAEA investigation that found that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had continued until at least 2009.
2. The Nuclear Agreement is Illegitimate
The next president also should reject the JCPOA because it is an illegitimate agreement that the Obama administration rammed through over the objections of Congress (and Israel), using a campaign of deception and stealth. Since Obama knew that Congress would never back such a dangerous agreement with a U.S. enemy, Congress was kept in the dark about the negotiations and the deal was deliberately not negotiated as a treaty, to prevent the Senate from holding a ratification vote. The administration also violated the law by denying Congress an account of secret side deals to the agreement. As much as I respect Walid Phares, I believe this was a scheme by the Obama administration to circumvent congressional oversight and Senate ratification, one that contradicts his position that the JCPOA has the institutional signature of the United States.
The Obama administration repeatedly misled the American people and Congress about the nuclear talks and the JCPOA. This included the White House’s Iran-deal “echo chamber,” as revealed in a May 5 New York Times profile of National Security Council adviser Ben Rhodes, which used false narratives to promote the nuclear deal and conducted a campaign to mislead and manipulate journalists. Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kans.) has called for an investigation of whether large payments to National Public Radio by one of the echo-chamber surrogates — the Ploughshares Fund — slanted NPR’s coverage of the nuclear deal and kept congressmen who opposed the agreement off the air.
Rhodes recently revealed that the JCPOA was front-loaded with incentives to Iran to make it difficult for a future president to tear up. This appears to be another scheme by the Obama White House to effectively make the JCPOA a binding agreement even though the only legitimate way to do this was to have it ratified as a treaty by the Senate.
Finally, Obama officials have argued the JCPOA should not be unilaterally terminated by the next president because it is a multilateral accord and such action would alienate America’s European allies. In fact, the nuclear agreement was almost entirely negotiated between the United States and Iran. The key U.S. concessions that led to the multilateral talks that produced the JCPOA were secretly offered to Iran in 2011 by then-senator John Kerry.
The JCPOA is an illegitimate deal between Barack Obama and Iranian supreme leader Khamenei that flouted congressional oversight. The next president does not need Europe’s permission to tear it up.
3. The Nuclear Agreement Has Increased the Regional and International Threat from Iran
Part of President Obama’s rationale for conducting nuclear talks with Iran was to bring Iran into the community of nations and improve U.S.–Iran relations. However, Iran’s belligerent behavior and hostility toward the United States have grown worse since the JCPOA was announced. The starkest example of this came in January, when Iran mistreated ten U.S. Navy sailors it briefly held prisoner after capturing them in the Persian Gulf.
Last fall, after Congress voted on the Iran deal, Iran conducted ballistic-missile tests, fired rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier, threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, increased its support to the Assad regime, was accused of arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, and was caught operating a “bomb factory” in Bahrain.
The Obama administration has been so active encouraging businesses and corporations to do business with Iran that it has been accused of acting as Iran’s ‘global lobbying shop.’
After most sanctions against Iran were lifted in January and it received $150 billion in sanctions relief for complying with the nuclear agreement, Iran tested more missiles, attempted to send boatloads of weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, sent troops to Syria, and pledged $70 million to the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad to conduct “jihad” against Israel.
Over the last few months, Iranian leaders have been pressuring the Obama administration for more concessions because they claim the JCPOA was not generous enough to Iran. At the same time, the Obama administration has been so active encouraging businesses and corporations to do business with Iran that it has been accused of acting as Iran’s “global lobbying shop.”
Tear Up This Deal
I concede that Donald Trump’s conditions for a meaningful nuclear agreement with Iran probably would be so tough that they would scuttle the agreement. If Trump insisted on this approach as president, his administration could follow these ten principles for a renegotiated nuclear agreement, as outlined in Obamabomb:
1. Iran must cease all uranium enrichment and uranium-enrichment research.
2. Iran cannot have a heavy-water reactor or a plant to produce heavy water.
3. Robust verification, including allowing “anytime, anywhere” inspections by IAEA inspectors of all declared and suspect nuclear sites.
4. Iran must fully and truthfully answer all questions about its prior nuclear-weapons-related work.
5. Iran must curtail and agree to limitations on its ballistic-missile program.
6. Lift sanctions in stages in response to Iranian compliance with the agreement.
7. Iran must agree to end its meddling in regional conflicts and its sponsorship of terror.
8. Threats by Iran to ships in the Persian Gulf, U.S. naval vessels, and American troops must cease.
9. Iran must cease its hostility toward Israel.
10. Iran must release all U.S. prisoners.
If Trump wins the 2016 presidential election, he should tear up the nuclear deal instead of trying to renegotiate, because a renegotiation would legitimize this fraudulent agreement. Terminating the JCPOA and starting over would signify that this agreement was an aberration by an incompetent U.S. president. It also would send a powerful message to the world that the Obama administration’s policies of American weakness and appeasement of Iran are over. A Trump administration could then begin talks with America’s European allies on a much stronger pact that actually addressed the nuclear and security threats posed by Iran.
Hillary Clinton as president would continue Barack Obama’s surrender to Iran’s nuclear program. A Trump presidency would certainly do better, preferably by tearing up the dangerous and illegitimate nuclear deal 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. Twitter @fredfleitz.