Home inSight The Perils of Not Listening to Iran

The Perils of Not Listening to Iran

Shoshana Bryen
SOURCEGatestone Institute
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right).

Supporters of President Obama’s Iran deal (JCPOA) are starting to worry — but that is because they believed him when his lips moved. They heard “snapback sanctions” and pretended those were an actual “thing.” They are not, and never were. They heard Treasury Secretary Jack Lew say the U.S. would never allow Iran access to dollar trading because of the corruption of the Iranian banking system and Iranian support for terrorism — and they wanted to believe him. And sanctions? The administration said that sanctions related to non-nuclear Iranian behavior — support for terrorism, ballistic missile development, and more — would be retained.

Supporters believed Secretary Kerry when he said sanctions on Iran would be lifted only by a “tiny portion,” which would be “very limited, temporary and reversible… So believe me, when I say this relief is limited and reversible, I mean it.” They all but heard him stamp his loafer.

The mistake was not just listening to the administration say whatever it was Democrats in Congress wanted to hear, while knowing full well that once the train left the station it would never, ever come back. The bigger mistake was not listening to Iran. The Iranians have been clear and consistent about their understanding of the JCPOA.

Days before Congress failed to block the JCPOA, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, outlined Iran’s red lines.

  • To block “infiltration” of “Iran’s defense and security affairs under the pretext of nuclear supervision and inspection… Iranian military officials are not allowed to let the foreigners go through the country’s security-defense shield and fence.”
  • “Iran’s military officials are not at all allowed to stop the country’s defense development and progress on the pretext of supervision and inspection and the country’s defense development and capabilities should not be harmed in the talks.”
  • “Our support for our brothers in the resistance [Hezbollah, Assad, Yemeni Houthis, Hamas, Shiites in Iraq] in different places should not be undermined.”
  • A final deal should be a “comprehensive one envisaging the right for Iran to rapidly reverse its measures in case the opposite side refrains from holding up its end of the bargain.”
  • “Iran’s national security necessitates guaranteed irreversibility of the sanctions removal and this is no issue for bargaining, trade, or compromise.”
  • “Implementation… should totally depend on the approval of the country’s legal and official authorities and the start time for the implementation of undertakings should first be approved by the relevant bodies.”
  • Iran would not be limited in transferring its nuclear know-how to other countries of its choosing.

The Iranians deliberately and openly conflated what the Administration claimed would be limited sanctions relief related to specific Iranian actions on the nuclear program with the larger issues of sanctions for other Iranian behavior. The Iranians were confident that the Americans could be counted on not to collapse the whole discussion over violations along the edges. Their model was American behavior in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” The Palestinians violate agreements and understandings with impunity because they know the Administration is more firmly wedded to the process than the specific issues on the table.

The Iranian firing of a missile within 1500 yards of U.S. aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in December, and the kidnapping and photographing of a U.S. Navy ship and crew (the photographs were a violation of the Geneva Convention) were test cases. Other than an apparent temper tantrum by Secretary Kerry, there was no American response. Oh, actually, there was. Mr. Kerry absolved his friend, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, of responsibility, noting, “it was clear” that the footage did not come from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He blamed the Iranian military, as if they do not work together.

Iran’s announcement that it would pay $7,000 to each family of Palestinian terrorists killed by Israel “to enable the Palestinian people to stay in their land and confront the occupier,” elicited the disclosure that Mr. Kerry was “extremely disturbed.”

Iran’s ballistic missile test in November, in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, prompted U.S. Ambassador to the UNSamantha Power to say, “The U.S. is conducting a serious review of the reported incident,” and if the reports were confirmed, the Obama administration would bring the issue to the UN and “seek appropriate action.”

By February, however — after yet another ballistic missile test, in which the missiles carried explicit threats to Israel, Mr. Kerry said he was prepared to let the matter drop. “We’ve already let them know how disappointed we are.”
Responding to Senator Lindsay Graham’s suggestion that Congress might increase sanctions against Iran, Mr. Kerry replied, “I wouldn’t welcome [that] at this time given the fact that we’ve given them a warning and if they decide to do another launch then I think there’s a rationale.”Iran’s firing of a missile within 1500 yards of a U.S. aircraft carrier in December, and its kidnapping and photographing of a U.S. Navy crew were test cases. Other than an apparent temper tantrum by Secretary of State John Kerry, there was no American response, except that Kerry absolved his friend Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of responsibility.

Kerry may not have to wait long.

Just this week, Iranian Deputy Chief of Staff Brig-Gen Maassoud Jazzayeri was quoted by the FARS News Agency reiterating, “The White House should know that defense capacities and missile power, specially at the present juncture where plots and threats are galore, is among the Iranian nation’s red lines and a backup for the country’s national security and we don’t allow anyone to violate it.”

Now, he is believable.

Congress is beginning to breathe fire, but it is not yet clear what it can or will do in the face of the Obama Administration’s executive actions. Last week, angry congressmen were reduced to threatening to “name and shame” American companies that do business with Iran because they cannot figure out how to stem the tide of the Obama Administration’s indulgence of Iranian provocations. Embarrassing American companies for Congress’s failure to halt the Iran deal is not even close to good enough.