Iran Deal is a Lie
By Bret Stephens
New York Times
May 1, 2018
ďThe sanctions lifting will only occur as Iran takes the
steps agreed, including addressing possible military dimensions.Ē
That was State Department spokesman John Kirby in June
just as negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal were wrapping up. But
Tehran did not ďtake the steps agreed.Ē The deal was founded on a lie.
Two lies, actually. The first was Iranís declaration to
the International Atomic Energy Agency, prior to the implementation of the deal,
of the full extent of its past nuclear work. This was essential, both as a test
of Tehranís sincerity and as a benchmark for understanding just how close it
was to being able to assemble and deliver a nuclear warhead.
The second lie was the Obama administrationís promise
that it was serious about getting answers from Tehran. In a moment of candor,
then-Secretary of State John Kerry admitted ďwe are not fixated on Iran
specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or anotherĒ ó
but then he promised Congress that Iran would provide the accounting.
That was when the White House still feared that Congress
might block the deal. When it failed to do so, thanks to a Democratic
filibuster, the administration contented itself with a make-believe process in
which Iran pretended to make a full declaration and the rest of the world
pretended to believe it.
ďIranís answers and explanations for many of the
I.A.E.A.ís concerns were, at best, partial, but over all, obfuscating and
stonewalling,Ē David Albright and his colleagues at the nonpartisan Institute
for Science and International Security wrote
in December 2015. ďNeeded access to sites was either denied or tightly
controlled as to preclude adequate inspections.Ē
So much, then, for all the palaver about the deal providing
an unprecedented level of transparency for monitoring Iranian compliance. So
much, also, for the notion that Iran has honored its end of the bargain. It
didnít. This should render the agreement null and void.
Thatís the significance of Benjamin Netanyahuís show
and tell on Monday of what appears to be a gigantic cache of pilfered Iranian
documents detailing Tehranís nuclear work. The dealís defenders have
dismissed the Israeli prime ministerís presentation as a bunch of old news ó
just further proof that Iran once had a robust covert program to build a bomb.
They also insist Iran has complied with the terms of the agreement since it came
into force in January 2016.
Yet itís difficult to imagine that the I.A.E.A. can now
square Iranís 2015 declaration with what the Israelis have uncovered. Iranís
mendacity is no longer the informed supposition of proliferation experts such as
Mr. Albright. It is ó assuming the documents are authentic, as the U.S. has
confirmed ó a matter of fact that the I.A.E.A. chose to ignore when it gave
Iran a free pass under political pressure to move to implement the deal. If the
agency cares for its own credibility as a nuclear watchdog, it should decide
that Iranís past declaration was false and that Iranís retention of the
documents obtained by Israel, with all the nuclear know-how they contain, put it
in likely breach of the agreement.
As for Iranís current compliance, of course itís
complying. The deal gave Iran the best of all worlds. It weakened U.N.
restrictions on its right to develop, test and field ballistic missiles ó a
critical component for a nuclear weapons capability that the Iranians havenít
fully mastered. It lifted restrictions on Iranís oil exports and eased other
sanctions, pumping billions of dollars into a previously moribund economy. And
it allows Iran to produce all the nuclear fuel it wants come the end of the next
Yes, Iran is permanently enjoined from building a nuclear
weapon, even after the limitations on uranium enrichment expire. But why believe
this regime will be faithful to the deal at its end when it was faithless to it
at its beginning?
Netanyahuís revelations were plainly timed to influence
Donald Trumpís decision, expected later this month, on whether to stay in the
Iran deal. Trump is under pressure from the French, British and Germans to stay
in it, on the view that, if nothing else, the agreement has kept Iran from
racing toward a bomb.
But the deal now in place allows Iran to amble toward a
bomb, even as it uses the financial benefits of the agreement to fund (in the
face of domestic upheaval and at a steep cost to its own economy) its militancy
in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and especially in Syria. And Iranís own nuclear
history suggests the countryís leaders have always been cautious in the face
of credible American threats, which is one reason they shelved much of their
nuclear program in 2003 after the U.S. invaded Iraq.
ďWhen the Iranians fear American power, they either back
down or they stall,Ē says Mark Dubowitz, an expert on Iran sanctions at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies. ďWhen they donít fear American power,
they push forward. With Trump, the question is: Are they going to feel American
power, or American mush?Ē
I opposed the Iran deal, but immediately after it came into effect, I believed that we should honor it scrupulously and enforce it unsparingly. Mondayís news is that Iran didnít honor its end of the bargain and neither need the United States now. Punitive sanctions combined with a credible threat of military force should follow.