The nuclear deal concluded with Iran in Vienna on July 14 has been lauded for contributing to peace in the Middle East and denounced for starting a nuclear arms race in the region. Supporters have called it both a good deal and the “best deal under the circumstances”, i.e. a bad deal but … The White House has posted what amounts to an idiot’s guide to the agreement, explaining how the deal “achieves what we asked for: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and how it increases the time it would take Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon to “at least one year”. Opponents have called the agreement a “sell-out” and worse.
SEVEN REASONS WHY THE AGREEMENT IS A FRAUD
The following offers seven reasons why the nuclear agreement with Iran is a largely fraudulent document pretending to offer a long-term solution when its lifespan could in fact be very short, measured in months not years.
First, it’s not an agreement under international law.
The parties declared they had “concluded” their negotiations on July 14, but none of them signed anything. Not the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China or the European Union – and not the Islamic Republic of Iran. They didn’t even initial anything, the usual practice of negotiators accountable to higher authority at home. So none of the parties is legally bound in the way they would be had they signed an international treaty or convention. Further minimizing the authority of the “agreement” is that the parties chose not to write up what they had concluded in treaty format, instead describing it as a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), something more often found in an annex to a treaty.
Second, it’s entirely possible neither Iran nor the United States actually feels bound by the agreement.
Democratic states typically recognize a moral obligation to abide by any agreement they have entered into whatever the format, even a handshake. But historically this has not been the case for revolutionary states, for whom there is always a higher purpose to be served than keeping one’s word. Iran today is unquestionably one of the world’s foremost revolutionary regimes. There is little of the international status quo that it accepts.
In the case of the United States, Obama and Kerry have been negotiating in the knowledge they might not be able to deliver on any promises they make. Long ago, Congress put the administration on notice it intended to exercise its constitutional authority to “advise and consent” on any agreement reached with Iran. This might have been routine had the two sides consulted and worked out a consensus on what both could accept. As Obama chose to proceed unilaterally, he is in for a fight with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress which he has no assurance of winning. The only conclusion to draw is that the President places greater value on the kudos he receives for negotiating an agreement with Iran than on the agreement’s content or durability. Since he leaves office in 18 months, the price of his cynicism and recklessness will have to be paid by his successor.
Third, Iran and the United States have colluded in the fiction that the purpose of the agreement is to ensure “Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful”.
In the Preamble, Iran asserted that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons”. This assertion flies in the face of everything the world knows about the Iranian regime: its great power ambitions, its declared intention to destroy Israel, the comprehensive evidence contained in IAEA and other reports that Iran has had a nuclear weapons program since at least the late 1980s on which it has spent a vast amount of money, and the clandestine activities which have been uncovered over the years. It also begs the question: If Iran is to be believed, why did it take 13 years of negotiation and a 159-page “agreement” replete with technical details and timetables to tie down Iran’s commitments? When Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa and Ukraine all abandoned their nuclear weapons programs, it was good enough that the only assurances required of them were that each accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and agree to IAEA inspections. We didn’t worry about trusting any of them then, and we haven’t since.
Fourth, Iran now has an internationally approved path to nuclear weapons — and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.
Iran completely out-negotiated the United States. The contrast between the declared purpose of the negotiations and the outcome is striking. When the latest round of discussions on Iran’s nuclear program began, they were about ensuring Iran abided by six UN Security Council resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 whose central demand was the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. To compel Iran to comply, they provided for a series of progressively expansive sanctions.
In the event, the agreement concluded in Vienna requires only that Iran agree to “certain agreed limitations on uranium enrichment and uranium enrichment-related activities including certain limitations on specific research and development (R&D) for the first 8 years, to be followed by gradual evolution, at a reasonable pace, to the next stage of enrichment activities” (para 1). It also requires Iran to “begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz at up to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5060 IR-1 centrifuges. Excess centrifuges and enrichment-related infrastructure at Natanz will be stored under IAEA continuous monitoring” (para 2). In summary:
- not suspension just limitations,
- not forever only for eight years,
- not immediate reductions but beginning in ten years,
- not destruction of excess capacity but its storage at the original site.
While the main document makes no mention of it, in an annex Iran commits to not engaging in certain “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device”. In return for this promise, Iran receives relief from UN, US and EU sanctions which another annex mentions briefly includes EU sanctions restricting the import and export of “arms” itemized in the EU’s Common Military List. On this list are such items as mines, artillery, warships, military aircraft, rockets, and missiles, i.e. delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.
Fifth, Iran has been promised not only an immediate end to sanctions but also that there won’t be any in future.
While Iran is to “limit” for eight years and “begin phasing out” in ten years, the sanctions are to be lifted in something like 90 days. Under the agreement, the permanent members of the UN Security Council will “promptly” submit a resolution to the Security Council endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and adopt it “without delay”. The resolution is to take effect 90 days later and “will terminate all provisions of previous UN Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue”. In addition, the EU will terminate all its nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, and the United States “will cease the application” of its own sanctions. Remarkably, the parties promise that “There will be no new nuclear-related UN Security Council resolutions” and they agree to “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing” sanctions. All that’s required is that the IAEA verify Iran is implementing the minimal measures it has agreed to.
Sixth, the IAEA is only allowed to monitor what Iran has agreed to.
Under the agreement, Iran will allow the IAEA “to monitor the implementation of the voluntary measures for their respective durations”, i.e. to monitor only what Iran has explicitly undertaken to do in the agreement. The agreement provides for a long-term IAEA presence in Iran and “a reliable mechanism to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns”, but the access regime described in an annex doesn’t provide for any more inspection than the IAEA has ever had. Moreover, it stipulates up front that requests for access “will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities”.
Iran commits to “provisionally apply” the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, which grants IAEA inspectors “expanded” rights of access to the Iranian nuclear fuel cycle. For the most part, however, inspections remain limited to “declared” nuclear sites with scope only to collect environmental samples beyond declared locations — provided access is granted. Iran agrees to proceed with ratifying the Additional Protocol – in eight years. In brief, the IAEA’s inspection regime is not likely to be any more successful in uncovering “undeclared” nuclear activities than it was during all the years Iran was operating secret sites — some very large scale — such as those uncovered at Arak, Parchin, Natanz, and most recently at Fordow near the holy city of Qom. It is nonsense, then, to believe the world would receive any kind of notice, let alone the fanciful one-year claimed by Washington, should Iran decide to “break out”, assemble the pieces of its nuclear program, and detonate a nuclear weapon – just as the world has been surprised by every other instance of nuclear proliferation in the last 40 years.
Seventh, Iran can count on breaching the agreement with impunity … with a little help from its friends.
The agreement’s “dispute resolution” mechanism is all process and no substance. When an issue of “compliance” arises, it is to be referred to the Joint Commission established to oversee implementation of the agreement. If the Joint Commission can’t “resolve” the issue in 15 days, it is to be referred to foreign ministers who would have another 15 days to discuss it. The issue could also be considered by a three-member “advisory board”, comprised of one representative from each side and one “independent” member. This board too would have 15 days to deliberate and then offer a “non-binding opinion” — which would be referred back to the Joint Commission for another five days of discussion. If there is still a problem after that, “a party can treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments”. A party could also choose to “notify” the UN Security Council which would have 30 days to vote on a resolution “to continue the sanctions lifting”, i.e. the sanctions would stay off. If such a resolution is not adopted within 30 days, “the provisions of the old UN Security Council resolutions would be re-imposed”, i.e. the sanctions would come back on. But there is a caveat to this contorted arrangement: “unless the UN Security Council decides otherwise”.
Doing the math: 15 days + 15 days + 15 days + 5 days + 30 days = zero action. So much for the hand-on-the-heart assurances that, if Iran were to violate the agreement, the sanctions would “snap back”.
WHERE TO NOW?
This is where things get really weird.
On July 19, the White House sent the Iran nuclear deal to Congress for approval. Congress has 60 days to review it (it will be in summer recess from August 10 to September 7) and a further 12 days to vote on a joint Senate/House resolution to approve it or not. If Congress fails to approve, the President can be counted on to exercise the veto he has threatened, in which case Congress would have ten days to come up with a two-thirds majority in each chamber to override the veto. If the override fails, the United States would be committed to the agreement. If the override succeeds, the United States would be in the anomalous situation of having made international commitments which it will be prevented by domestic law from implementing.
To add to the weirdness. Just days after the nuclear agreement was concluded, the United States submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council endorsing the agreement (as the agreement provided for). Then, early Monday morning July 20, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution, with the US obviously voting in favour. So now the United States could find itself in a potentially still more anomalous situation of being prevented by domestic law from implementing an agreement which it is required by international law to implement.
Where this will all lead is difficult to predict. Fiasco is not out of the question. If the Obama administration can’t secure the authority for the US to fulfill its commitments under the agreement, Iran itself could choose to renounce the agreement on the quite reasonable grounds the US has reneged and not lifted its sanctions. There is also potential for disagreement among the Iranian leaders. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator described the Security Council resolution as an “unprecedented achievement in Iran’s history”, which it certainly is, but he works for the President, Hassan Rouhani. Meanwhile, the commander of the Republican Guard, who works for the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denounced the agreement for crossing Khamenei’s “red line” that IAEA inspectors not be allowed access to military installations (in fact they won’t). If it comes to a showdown, the Supreme Leader always wins.
Alternatively, the Iranian leadership could decide that ridding Iran of the UN and EU sanctions would be an acceptable half-loaf. Whether the other parties to the agreement would go along is unknown, but most could be expected to. Russia and China would likely relish the strategic defeat Washington would suffer. Germany, maybe also France and certainly the European Union, would see the commercial benefits from having the sanctions lifted. In fact, the Vice Chancellor of Germany, who is also minister for economics and energy, left for Tehran just five days after the “Plan of Action” was concluded.
FOR FURTHER READING
- Text of of the Iran nuclear deal
- White House explanation
- UN Security Council resolution 2231
- Statement by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader