The Corner

National Security & Defense

A Trip Down Memory Lane: In 2015 the Obama Administration Said the Iran Deal Wasn’t Even a ‘Signed Document’

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry at a meeting in China in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

How easy we forget. On November 19, 2015, the State Department sent a letter to then-Representative Mike Pompeo that severely undercuts the notion that the Iran deal represents any form of binding American commitment. It turns out that the Obama administration not only acknowledged that the deal wasn’t a treaty (obvious enough), but it also admitted that it wasn’t “an executive agreement” or even a “signed document.” Here are the key paragraphs:

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document. The JCPOA reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China), and the European Union. As you know, the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems in negotiations that culminate in political commitments.

The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose — and ramp up — our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.

You can read the entire letter here.

The Iran deal was no sacred American commitment. This was the action of one administration, working with allies and other nations who were fully aware of American domestic skepticism and fully aware of the nature of the “political commitment” they were making.

As our Joel Gehrke reported in 2015, “President Obama didn’t require Iranian leaders to sign the nuclear deal.” In short, there was nothing truly binding about this deal. From its inception it existed only so long it was politically or strategically expedient for the relevant parties. The only thing truly concrete that came out of the JCPOA was the substantial financial benefit to the world’s most dangerous jihadist state.

Finally, let’s not forget that one of the justifications for the deal was the entirely faith-based belief that it could represent a turning point in American-Iranian relations, one that would ultimately lead to Iran “fully rejoin[ing] the community of nations.” That didn’t happen. Instead, Iran doubled down on jihad and doubled-down on its efforts to directly threaten Israel from bases in Syria. A foundational premise of the agreement went up in the choking smoke Middle Eastern war.

The Iran deal wasn’t binding then, and it’s not binding now. It wasn’t a true “agreement” then, and it isn’t now. America can’t break its word when it never made a promise.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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