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National Security & Defense

More Indications of the Iran Nuclear Deal’s Dangerous Weakness

Recent news about the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) are just the latest indication that this agreement is weaker and much more dangerous than its critics believed.

The new revelations concern how the JCPOA omits language to halt Iran’s ballistic-missile program and how the deal has forced the International Atomic Energy Agency to dumb-down its reports on Iran’s nuclear program.

Last week Iran tested an unspecified number of ballistic missiles.  Written on some of the missiles were the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth.” Although Iran’s missile program is considered by most experts to be an effort to develop a nuclear weapons delivery system, these missile tests and two others which took place last all did not violate the JCPOA because missiles were left out of the text. 

Instead there is a vague provision calling on Iran not to test missiles in an annex to a July 2015 Security Council resolution which endorsed the JCPOA, Resolution 2231. This provision says: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for eight years or until the IAEA makes a certification that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, whichever comes first.

Resolution 2231’s missile language is much weaker than language in six previous Security Council resolutions that it replaced.  Russia pointed this out earlier this week by arguing that Iran’s recent missile tests do not violate Resolution 2231 because this resolution only “calls” on Iran not to test rather than barring them. Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin explained on March 13: “A ‘call’ is different from a ban so, legally, you cannot violate a call.  You can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call.”

The Iranian foreign minister took a similar view in a speech this week at the Australian National University in which he explained how he hoodwinked Western diplomats in negotiating language in Resolution 2231 that permitted Iran to conduct missile tests:

It doesn’t call upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads … it calls upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles that were ‘designed’ to be capable.

That word took me about seven months to negotiate, so everybody knew what it meant.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said this week that Iran’s missile tests “merit a Council response” and faulted Russia for blocking the Security Council from taking action. Don’t be fooled by Power’s statement. Her comment indicates the Obama administration wants to respond with a nonbinding Security Council presidential statement which requires unanimous support.  If the Obama administration was serious about taking action in the Council, it would table a resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran.

But this isn’t going to happen. The Obama administration will never back meaningful U.S. or UN missile sanctions against Iran because this could cause Tehran to withdraw from President Obama’s legacy nuclear deal.

There was even more disturbing news about the JCPOA last week when IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano explained why his recent reports on Iran’s compliance with the this agreement have been vague and contain little data: the JCPOA places limitations on what the IAEA is allowed to report. 

Because of the JCPOA, 17 IAEA resolutions have been rescinded.  Many of them contained mandates for IAEA inspections of Iran’s nuclear program.  They have been replaced by a new mandate to only inspect Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.  Moreover, since the IAEA voted in December to close the file on unresolved questions of nuclear weapons-related work by Iran, the IAEA will no longer be allowed to investigate these questions.

It also appears that even when the IAEA issues reports addressing issues on which it is allowed to report, the agency will provide less data and some issues will be excluded, including Iran’s efforts to develop advanced uranium centrifuges.

Olli Heinonen, a former senior IAEA official, said in a recent analysis “for years, Tehran has advocated for less-detailed IAEA safeguards reports, citing concerns ranging from confidentiality matters to IAEA inspection authorities under the comprehensive safeguards agreement.”  To convince Iran to agree to the JCPOA, Western states probably conceded this issue to Iran as part of another secret side deal that was withheld from the U.S. Congress.

So Iran will keep developing its nuclear weapons delivery system without violating the nuclear deal.  And if Iran does violate the deal, the IAEA will not tell us. 

These are just the latest reasons why the next president must tear up the fraudulent nuclear agreement with Iran on his first day in office.

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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