Last week, I wrote about a disclosure from IAEA chief Yukio Amano that definitively clarified the toothlessness of the 2015 “nuclear deal” with Iran.
For one of the three components of a nuclear weapons program, Amano admitted that his agency doesn’t have a way of verifying Iran’s activities, and indeed is being discouraged by Russia from attempting any such verification.
The component in question is developing a nuclear warhead. Specifically, the IAEA is unable to monitor Iran’s activities to develop a nuclear detonation device: i.e., the mechanism that would trigger a nuclear warhead upon delivery.
For a “deal” that, in the words of the Obama administration, was supposed to “prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” this deficiency is certainly a – well, a deal-breaker. It makes no sense to monitor Iran’s uranium enrichment for 10 years, while ignoring completely the possibility that she is continuing work that appeared – as early as 2007 – to be related to detonating a warhead.
This is especially true given that Iran has continued developing and testing ballistic missiles, in defiance of the JCPOA’s intent.
As of now, the only component of a nuclear weapons capability that is under some form of monitoring in Iran is uranium enrichment. Neither missile development nor warhead development is under monitoring. Clearly, moreover, in light of Iran’s defiant missile launches and the disorderly reaction to them by the other JCPOA parties, there is no agreement among the parties on how much “tooth” the deal was really supposed to have regarding them.
So Amano’s disclosure that there is no method or plan for monitoring warhead development, and that he would need basic guidance and a political decision before there could be any, has to be decisive at this point.
The JCPOA is not meeting the intent for which it was sold to the American people. It literally can’t. Certifying Iran’s “compliance” at this point would be like certifying a college student for a degree because he never attended all the required courses – and therefore, you didn’t have the opportunity to gain any adverse information on his performance.
As I pointed out last week, the revelation from Amano in September indicates a way ahead. The U.S. should pursue a dispute resolution under the JCPOA on the matter of monitoring nuclear warhead development, for which the JCPOA’s “Section T” contains the relevant criteria and performance factors.
To ensure that this isn’t just an open-ended paper chase, President Trump needs to decertify Iran’s compliance in his quarterly report to Congress, and make the continuation of any sanctions waivers contingent – at the very least – on resolving the Section T monitoring issue. The next report to Congress is due on 15 October.
The “deal” itself is evidently a bad one, in that it cannot do what America intended for it to do. But simply “blowing up” the deal at the outset is not the best option. The JCPOA contains the provisions necessary to work systematically within its framework to revisit and improve it.
Iran isn’t likely to withdraw her cooperation with IAEA (although some will raise that specter). The formal cooperation is how Iran retains leverage over some parties to the JCPOA (e.g., the EU-3), and divides them from others to gain advantage for herself. For Iran, JCPOA “compliance” is negotiation by other means. The continuing process of negotiation, with the limitations and stasis it imposes on others, is advantageous for Iran, and she won’t put herself on the wrong side of it lightly.
Nor should we expect Iran to do more in other ways than continue her current policy of baiting and harassing U.S. forces in the region. The overarching status quo in the Middle East is how Iran is achieving her goals, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Provoking game-changing responses from the United States is not in Iran’s interest, and Tehran isn’t likely to attempt it.
If Trump is going to pursue this course, he should review the entire JCPOA and determine what other parts of it need strengthening. In fact, he should review all American national interests as they relate to Iran, and make sure what we’re getting out of the JCPOA comports with them. It’s well past time to clear the decks on this, and only the president can get it done.
Given these previously made points, it’s encouraging to see the report from Adam Kredo this week that Trump intends to decertify Iran in his next report to Congress. This is what Trump has to do, to put bite in any U.S. demand to resolve issues with the JCPOA.
It’s further good news that he will announce the decertification with a major foreign policy speech on 12 October. The media are already spinning this as a blame-fest directed at Iran.
Mr Trump is expected to give a major foreign policy speech on October 12, in which he will blame Iran for fuelling terrorism and causing instability throughout the Middle East. The speech is said to mark a shift to a more confrontational policy towards Tehran.
But based on his pattern so far, I expect the president to actually outline U.S. interests as the frame for our policy on Iran and the region, and paint in broad strokes how that will prompt us to modify priorities or policies. (With the media, you can’t fix stupid, but you don’t have to let your brain be polluted by their embedded themes either.)
These are positive signs. The alternative to continuing to lie to Congress and the people, by using specious reasoning to certify Iran under the JCPOA, is not having a big blow-up with Iran (or anyone else). The alternative is negotiating a better JCPOA.
Getting to a “deal” that would actually prevent a radical Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will require a full-court press with all the elements of national power. As with Reagan and the arms reduction agreement with the former Soviet Union, it will probably require a decisive change in the nature of the Iranian regime, one that only the Iranian people themselves can undertake. But the way to encourage that process starts with exactly what it looks like President Trump intends to do: standing up for U.S. priorities and intentions, and calling a bad deal what it is.