National Security & Defense

Iran Is Not Complying with the Nuclear Deal

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (Photo: Faisal Mahmood/Pool/via Reuters)
And the U.S. should say so.

Per the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, the Trump administration is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the July 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and that this agreement is in the national-security interests of the United States. The next certification is due on July 17, 2017.

It is crucial that the Trump administration, in the next JCPOA certification statement, correct the gross error it made in April, when it certified that Iran was complying with this agreement and that the JCPOA is in the national-security interests of our country. Unfortunately, the administration reportedly might make this same mistake again.

The April certification went against Mr. Trump’s accurate statements during the presidential campaign that the JCPOA was one of the worst agreements ever negotiated and that there was clear evidence of Iran’s failing to meet its obligations under the agreement as well as cheating. Although many Trump officials opposed the April certification — and this decision to certify appeared to irritate President Trump — State Department careerists succeeded in convincing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to agree to certify anyway. Press reports yesterday indicated that President Trump will grudgingly agree to certify Iranian compliance again but could change his mind.

Senators Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Ted Cruz (R., Texas), David Perdue (R., Ga.), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) made it clear in a July 11 letter to Secretary Tillerson that they do not want this to happen again and cited four ways Iran is not complying with the nuclear agreement:

One. Operating more advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges than is permitted and announcing the capability to initiate mass production of centrifuges. (Although I agree with this concern, the U.S. should not have agreed to let Iran enrich any uranium while the JCPOA is in effect, never mind enrich it with advanced centrifuges. This is one of the JCPOA’s most serious flaws.)

Two. Exceeding limits on production and storage of heavy water, a substance needed to operate plutonium-producing heavy-water nuclear reactors. (Again, I agree, but the U.S. should not have agreed to a pact that allows Iran to produce heavy water or operate a heavy-water reactor.)

Three. Covertly procuring nuclear and missile technology outside of JCPOA-approved channels. There’s direct evidence of this, from German intelligence reports.

Four. Refusing to allow IAEA inspectors access to nuclear-research and military facilities.

Incredibly, a State Department official said at a recent Washington lunch I attended that the department is trying to determine whether Iran is in “material breach” of the JCPOA, not whether it is in full compliance. This means that the State Department is well aware that Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal, but is trying to find ways to discount these violations. This kind of diplomatic hairsplitting seems to violate the Iran Nuclear Review Act, which mandated that the administration certify whether Iran is or is not in compliance with the JCPOA.

Many in the foreign-policy establishment, and some Republican experts, have promoted a similar dodge by arguing that the Trump administration “strictly enforce” the JCPOA instead of withdrawing from it or substantially renegotiating it. This course of action would validate the Obama administration’s dangerous concessions to Iran on uranium enrichment, heavy water, and other issues. In addition, under the JCPOA, U.N. sanctions can be “snapped back” only in the event of “significant non-performance” by Iran, and a vote by a majority of the agreement’s parties (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran). I believe there is zero chance the British, French, and Germans would ever vote with the Trump administration to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran through the JCPOA process, regardless of the seriousness of Iran’s violations of the pact.

The four senators said in their letter that even if we ignore Iran’s violations of the JCPOA, continuation of the current policy “would be tantamount to rewarding Iran’s belligerence,” noting that Iran continues to wage a campaign of regional aggression, sponsor international terrorism, develop ballistic missiles, and oppress the Iranian people. I would add to this the fact that the JCPOA lifts sanctions from Iranian terrorists and terrorist entities.

The letter also claims that, regardless of whether every Iranian violation of the JCPOA can be chronicled, the senators doubt whether the U.S. could, under current arrangements, determine with high confidence that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has ceased. One reason for this is the exemptions, in secret side deals to the JCPOA, that have not been made available to Congress as required by the Iran Nuclear Review Act. The Trump administration should release these side deals immediately. (Click here to read my September 30, 2016, NRO Corner piece listing known JCPOA side deals.)

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s 90-day review of U.S. Iran policy, which was supposed to be completed this month, might not be finished for a few months. The recent reports that the administration will certify Iranian compliance over the next few days might be occasioned by the expectation that a final decision will occur after the policy review is issued, and in the next certification decision in October.

If these reports are true, this is preposterous. The case to declare that Iran is in noncompliance with the JCPOA is not a close call. It is outrageous that pressure from the foreign-policy establishment and European officials might convince the Trump administration to continue to prop up this fraudulent agreement. I am also worried that, because the Trump administration has not filled any government posts that deal with this issue, these certification decisions indicate that pro-JCPOA government careerists placed in key national-security jobs by the Obama administration have seized control of the review process to protect the JCPOA, regardless of strong evidence of Iranian noncompliance and cheating.

I therefore urge senior Trump officials to take control of the JCPOA process and fulfill Mr. Trump’s campaign promises regarding this dangerous agreement. This should include:

One. Informing Congress this month that Iran has violated the JCPOA and that this agreement, as currently structured, is not in the national-security interests of the United States.

Two. Issuing the Iran-policy review ASAP with a conclusion that the United States cannot be a party to a nuclear agreement that allows Iran to enrich uranium and operate a heavy-water reactor, fails to require any-time, any-place inspections, does not require Tehran to resolve all outstanding questions about its past nuclear-weapons work, fails to include a halt to Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and does not require Iran to cease its belligerent behavior and sponsorship of terrorism. As a result, the review should call for the JCPOA to be terminated or substantially renegotiated.

The Trump administration should make an honest declaration that Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal.

Three. Filling national-security jobs across the government, especially Senate-confirmable positions that deal with controversial issues such as the JCPOA. The president cannot fully implement his foreign-policy agenda until his people are in place in the bureaucracies of State, the Pentagon, and other agencies. There also should be a house-cleaning at State, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to reassign partisan careerists placed in sensitive jobs by the Obama administration who have been working against — and in many cases leaking — to undermine the Trump administration.

An honest declaration by the Trump administration that Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal and that this agreement is not in the national-security interests of the United States will do more than fulfill one of the president’s top campaign promises. It also would be a major step toward Mr. Trump’s assuming control of U.S. foreign policy from pro-Obama careerists and reversing President Obama’s disastrous policies. This must be followed by an aggressive effort by the White House to fill vacant political national-security jobs as soon as possible.


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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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