Iran Deal Can’t Be Enforced
By John Bolton
Wall Street Journal
February 5, 2017
Iran’s continued missile testing on Saturday has given
President Trump one more reason to tear up his predecessor’s deal with the
regime in Tehran. After Iran’s Jan. 29 ballistic-missile launch, the Trump
administration responded with new sanctions and tough talk. But these alone
won’t have a material effect on Tehran or its decades-long effort to acquire
deliverable nuclear weapons.
The real issue is whether America will abrogate Barack
Obama’s deal with Iran, recognizing it as a strategic debacle, a result of the
last president’s misguided worldview and diplomatic malpractice. Terminating
the agreement would underline that Iran is already violating it, clearly intends
to continue pursuing nuclear arms, works closely with North Korea in seeking
deliverable nuclear weapons, and continues to support international terrorism
and provocative military actions. Escaping from the Serbonian Bog that Obama’s
negotiations created would restore the resolute leadership and moral clarity the
U.S. has lacked for eight years.
But those who supported the Iran deal, along with even many
who had opposed it, argue against abrogation. Instead they say that America
should “strictly enforce” the deal’s terms and hope that Iran pulls out.
This would be a mistake for two reasons. First, the strategic miscalculations
embodied in the deal endanger the U.S. and its allies, not least by lending
legitimacy to the ayatollahs, the world’s central bankers for terrorism.
Second, “strictly enforcing” the deal is as likely to
succeed as nailing Jell-O to a wall. Not only does the entire agreement reflect
appeasement, but President Obama’s diplomacy produced weak, ambiguous and
confusing language in many specific provisions. These drafting failures created
huge loopholes, and Iran is now driving its missile and nuclear programs
straight through them.
Take Tehran’s recent ballistic-missile tests. The Trump
administration sees them as violating the deal. Iran disagrees. Let’s see what
“strict enforcement” would really mean, bearing in mind that the misbegotten
deal is 104 pages long, consisting of Security Council Resolution 2231 and two
attachments: Annex A, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the main nuclear
deal, known by the acronym JCPOA); and Annex B, covering other matters including
Annex B isn’t actually an agreement. Iran is not a party
to it. Instead it is a statement by the Security Council’s five permanent
members and Germany, intended to “improve transparency” and “create an
atmosphere conducive” to implementing the deal. The key paragraph of Annex B
says: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic
missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for eight
Note the language I’ve italicized. Iran is not forbidden
from engaging in all ballistic-missile activity, merely “called upon” to do
so. The range of proscribed activity is distinctly limited, applying only to
missiles “designed to be capable” of carrying nuclear weapons.
Implementation is left to the Security Council.
The loopholes are larger than the activity supposedly
barred. Iran simply denies that its missiles are “designed” for nuclear
payloads—because, after all, it does not have a nuclear-weapons program. This
is a palpable lie, but both the JCPOA and a unanimous Security Council accepted
it. Resolution 2231 includes a paragraph: “Welcoming Iran’s reaffirmation in
the JCPOA that it will under no circumstances ever seek, develop or acquire any
nuclear weapons.” The ayatollahs have been doing precisely that ever since
their 1979 revolution.
Finally, Resolution 2231 itself also merely “calls
upon” Iran to comply with Annex B’s ballistic-missile limits, even as the
same sentence says that all states “shall comply” with other provisions.
When the Security Council wants to “prohibit” or “demand” or even
“decide,” it knows how to say so. It did not here.
The upshot is very simple: Iran can’t violate the
ballistic-missile language because it has reaffirmed that it doesn’t have a
nuclear-weapons program. Really, what could go wrong?
These are weasel words of the highest order, coupled with
flat-out misrepresentation by Iran and willful blindness by the United States.
The Jell-O will not stick to the wall. The deal cannot be “strictly
enforced.” And this is only one example of the slippery language found
throughout the deal.
Pentagon sources have said that the missile Iran recently
tested failed while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. This is telling. If
the missile program were, as Iran claims, only for launching weather and
communications satellites, there would be no need to test re-entry vehicles. The
goal would be to put satellites in orbit and keep them there. But nuclear
warheads obviously have to re-enter the atmosphere to reach their targets. The
recent tests provide even more evidence of what Iran’s ballistic-missile
program has always been about, namely supplying delivery vehicles for nuclear
Time always works on the side of nuclear proliferators, and
the Iran deal is providing the ayatollahs with protective camouflage. Every day
Washington lets pass without ripping the deal up is a day of danger for America
and its friends. We proceed slowly at our peril.