Naked is the Iranian Emperor?
By Shoshana Bryen
October 10, 2017
The clock appears to be ticking on the Joint Comprehensive
Plan of Action (JCPOA); more than some may think, less than others may hope.
Whatever President Donald Trump decides to do with the unsigned, unratified,
unagreed-upon text of the untreaty, it should be clear that the agreement did
not moderate Iran’s ambitions -- nuclear or otherwise -- and pretending will
not make it so.
The JCPOA was not designed to end Iran’s pursuit of
nuclear weapons capability.
One reason there is no agreed-upon text is that the sides
were negotiating different ends: the U.S. wanted to constrain Iran’s
enrichment and other nuclear weapons-related capabilities for a period of time
during which President Obama and others said/hoped Iran would become a
constructive regional player. Iran was negotiating the terms under which it
could continue to enrich uranium with an international imprimatur. Dealsupporters
acknowledge as much. Paul Pillar of Georgetown University recently
wrote, “If there were no JCPOA, then instead of Iran being free of some
restrictions on its nuclear activity 10 or 15 years from now, it would be free
from those same restrictions right now.”
It wasn’t presented that way, of course. President Obama
presented Congress and the American people with a binary choice -- the
JCPOA or war. The threat of war is so powerful that JCPOA supporters
still use it. Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote
last month, “If the Trump administration kills the deal with Iran…
[that] the rest of the international community is highly satisfied with,
it should forget about peacefully settling the nuclear standoff with North
Vaez threatens the United States with war in Asia, not for
attacking Iran, but for exposing the emperor’s nakedness.
How naked is Iran? For a country that was supposed to
moderate its international behavior in light of Western acceptance, money, and
trade, Iran has behaved more like a country determined to pursue its own ends
with little concern for the opinions of the West.
There is ample evidence of illicit missile trade with North
Korea. The infusion of Western money has allowed Iran to field proxy
Shiite militias in Iraq; Somali and Afghan mercenaries in Syria –
including children, according
to Human Rights Watch -- along with its Hizb’allah
allies; pursue its ballistic
missile program in defiance of UN sanctions; arm Houthi
rebels in Yemen in defiance of UN arms sanctions; plan billions inmilitary
equipment purchases; hold four
(or five) Americans without rights (or charges
in two cases); harass American
ships in the Persian Gulf; and generally deny its own people civil
liberties, including freedom from arbitrary
arrest or torture. Iran executed at least 567
people in 2016, making it one of the top three in the world.
Iran’s behaviors threaten large parts of the world and
many of its most vulnerable citizens even before the question of whether Iran is
actually making progress on its nuclear weapons capabilities now -- cheating on
the deal it never signed.
For understandable reasons, the IAEA is loath
to say it doesn’t have the access it should have to Iran’s military
sites to fully understand what the regime is doing. But remember two things:
shortly after the deal was agreed (though not signed) the IAEA made a separate
deal for Iran to inspect
its own facilities at Parchin and other military sites. And, the IAEA
does not certify Iran's compliance, as the inestimable and
indefatigable Mark Dubowitz at FDD reminds us:
The IAEA’s mandate with respect to the JCPOA primarily
entails monitoring and reporting on Tehran’s nuclear-related actions (or lack
thereof) pursuant to the JCPOA’s provisions. The determination of whether
Iranian conduct constitutes compliance with the JCPOA remains the prerogative of
the individual parties to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, the
United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran, with the high representative of the
European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.
The Trump administration has been busy setting the stage
for a new American policy. In May, there were 40 new sanctions connected to
Iranian missile and terrorism activities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps (IRGC) Quds Force -- including on Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds
Force, and on his brother, Sohrab Soleimani, for his role in running Teheran’s
notorious Evin prison. In July, Treasury designated 16 entities and individuals
for supporting “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.”
The State Department separately designated two organizations involved in
Iran’s ballistic missile program. The White House is presently considering IRGC
a terrorist organization.
Iran’s violations are clear. It remains to be seen how
our allies and our adversaries would react to an American decertification of
Iran under the JCPOA, or withdrawal from the deal in its entirety.
Vaez, having threatened the U.S. with war in Korea, is more
nebulous but no less adamant in threatening disaster. "The IAEA
has never had better access to Iran's military sites. If the Trump
administration loses this unprecedented access... it will soon wish for
Our allies are a mixed bag. Generally unwilling to support
President Trump, and very fond of the contracts Iran has been throwing their
way, they are nervous. Longtime analyst Dennis Ross points
out that France’s President Emmanuel Macron is seeking a
renegotiation of the agreement -- and he is not the only one, Democrats in
Congress are suggesting the same. Richard Goldberg, staff member to then-senator
Mark Kirk, believes allies will get
in line with American policy should more sweeping sanctions be called
Most important, however, is Iran’s response. While the
IRGC threatened missile
attacks on U.S. bases should the president sanction the Revolutionary
Guard, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made overtures to the countries of the P5+1
during the UN session in September, suggesting that Iran’s ballistic missile
program -- illegal and under UN sanction -- could
be discussed (modified? adhered to?). That is not the same as
discussing or adhering to the JCPOA, but suggests that Iran does not want to be
completely cut off from conversation with the West.
It is a dangerous moment. Iran has become more, not less,
threatening to global peace and security, and has no intention of transparency
in its nuclear programs. But that is as it has always been. The difference now
is that the American government is willing to say so.