Early this month U.S. and European negotiators said that after 16 months of talks they had finished a text restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Now, diplomats maintain, it is up to the Islamic Republic to take it or leave it—yet Iran still quibbles and Brussels and Washington keep “reviewing.”
Resuscitating what’s left of the Obama administration’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that temporarily limited parts of Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear warheads is a major aim of the Biden administration. Why?
President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran agreement—also involving the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China—in 2018. The White House cited weaknesses in the deal, among them short limits on some Iranian nuclear restrictions, failure to address Tehran’s ballistic missile program and the mullah’s subversion of pro-Western regional states. America then imposed economic sanctions that squeezed the Iranian economy.
Now, says International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi, Iran’s nuclear program is “moving ahead very, very fast” and Tehran is not transparent about it. Its boosted uranium enrichment to 60 percent, technically a short jump from bomb-grade 90 percent.
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 8 that “Iran’s nuclear advances in recent years mean that any revived deal will leave Iran much closer to being able to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb than originally envisaged under the 2015 deal. Some of the deal’s limits on Iran’s nuclear activities will start to expire in the next few years.”
A new JCPOA requires overlooking the essence of the Iranian regime, unchanged since its founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in 1979. It is a police state theocracy committed to spreading its version of Shi’ite Islamic imperialism abroad and ruthlessly quashing dissent at home. Its desire to drive the “Great Satan,” the United States, out of the Middle East and to destroy the “Little Satan,” Israel, is policy as well as rhetoric.
Diplomatically, Tehran hardly participated in the latest negotiations, not to mention their 2015 predecessor, in good faith. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency, charged with monitoring the country’s nuclear activities, reported last May that Tehran failed to explain plausibly the presence of uranium particles at three undeclared sites. The agency investigated based on a warehouse full of documents about Iran’s nuclear program seized by Israeli intelligence in 2018.
Iran Demands, Negotiators Ask
IAEA’s board of governors censured Iran in June for not providing credible answers about the origin of the uranium particles. But early this month, Iranian officials were still insisting that the IAEA simply close its three-year-old probe into the matter. Reportedly, Western diplomats will separate any new JPCOA from the IAEA-Iran dispute.
Further, this summer Iran turned off at least 27 of the atomic agency’s observation cameras at its nuclear facilities. Said IAEA chief Grossi, “there were lots of activities in terms of producing parts for more centrifuges that the IAEA is not in a position to confirm.” Centrifuges, limited by the 2015 JCPOA, are used to enrich nuclear material.
Iran apparently did drop its demand, as part of a new agreement, that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of sanctioned terrorist organizations. The IRGC is a pillar of the mullahs’ rule, a sort of military within the military and terrorism central for Iran and numerous surrogates and proxies. An EU diplomat said Tehran agreed to discuss delisting the Guard Corps separately with Washington later.
A new deal would unfreeze Iranian assets estimated at $131 billion and allow the regime to resume openly selling oil on world markets, potentially worth tens of billions of dollars more annually. Why enrich the mullahs? Iran among other things is:
*The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, long atop the State Department’s annual ranking, one that continues also to imprison America citizens on bogus charges;
*Chief agent of unrest in the Middle East directly and via surrogates including Yemen’s Houthis, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and aligned militias in Iraq and Syria;
*Responsible through the design and provision of IED’s—improvised explosive devices for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq; and
*Seeking to undermine America’s partners and allies and thwart U.S. national security interests from Saudi Arabia and Israel to the tri-border region of Latin America (Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina).
Terrorism, Iran’s Leading Export
In the latest talks, Iran refused to negotiate directly with the United States and the Biden administration acquiesced. It accepted other diplomats shuttling between the two delegations with “he-said, she-said” messages instead.
While that burlesque played, Iran sent agents first to kidnap Masih Alinejad—an American citizen and internationally-known campaigner for freedom in Iran, her native land—in New York. The FBI broke up the plot. This July, the bureau informed Alinejad it had arrested a would-be killer dispatched by Tehran to break into her Brooklyn home.
On August 10, the Justice Department said in a criminal complaint that a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps offered $300,000 for the assassination of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly was to be next. Iran allegedly sought to retaliate for the killing of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani, ordered by Trump. On August 12, a man if not sent by the regime then apparently inspired by Iran’s 1989 fatwa (religious ruling) decreeing death for Salman Rushdie, stabbed and seriously wounded the author at a public appearance. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has continued to speak highly of the fatwa while Iranian media has urged Rushdie’s murder.
The Biden administration asserts that a revived JCPOA would lead to negotiations later for a stronger agreement with Iran. By which time Tehran will have used some of the hundreds of billions of dollars in unfrozen additional assets and expanded, overt oil trade, to cross from a nuclear-threshold state to a nuclear weapons one, something the United States and Israel have said they would prevent. At which point, or more likely before, one or both will have to strike.
The European Union is still eager to renew trade with an Iran whose economy is dominated by the IRGC. With U.S. approval, it continues trying to entice Iran to agree.
One plausible answer to the question “Why?”—why did the United States in 2015 sign the JCPOA with Iran and in 2022 seek to renew a stunted version of it—becomes clearer: To obstruct an Israeli attack that Washington feared would spark a regional war when the White House has other foreign policy concerns—Russia, China, North Korea—bigger than Israel’s existential alarm over a nuclear Iran.
Karim Sadjapour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted recently in The New York Times that “William J. Burns, the director of the C.I.A., and one of the diplomatic architects of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, wrote that the agreement was spawned by ‘tough-minded diplomacy, backed up by the economic leverage of sanctions, the political leverage of an international consensus, and the military leverage of the potential use of force.’” Today, according to Sadjapour, diplomacy has not been tough-minded, sanctions are not enforced fully, international consensus is more difficult to obtain and Tehran appears convinced that President Biden has no interest in another military conflict in the Middle East.
Promoting the first JCPOA, the Obama administration reassured that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Right if insincere, then. Right now.