Sometime later today, the Trump administration will officially certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. But it will do it in a way that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that it doesn’t believe Iran is actually doing anything but acting in daily violation of the agreement.
The rub is that under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) it is left to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to vet Iranian compliance and, absent a negative report, the administration has to either abrogate the agreement arbitrarily or it has to begrudgingly recertify Iran as being in compliance.
This is what (according to BuzzFeed, so it may or may not be true) the administration is instructing all spokesmen on the subject to say (just to give a flavor):
· Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to US interests and to regional stability.
· The full range of Iran’s malign activities extends well beyond the nuclear threat and includes:
· Ballistic missile development and proliferation;
· Support to terrorism and militancy;
· Complicity in the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people;
· Unrelenting hostility to Israel;
· Consistently threatening freedom of navigation, especially in the strategically vital Persian Gulf;
· Cyber-attacks against the U.S., Israel, and America’s allies and partners in the Gulf;
· Grievous human rights abuses; and
· Arbitrary detention of foreigners, including U.S. citizens, on specious charges and without due process.
· These Iranian activities severely undermine the stated goal of the JCPOA nuclear deal: to contribute to “regional and international peace and security.”
· Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit of that agreement.
There is more at the link along with some good Q&A responses.
The administration is going to take advantage of today’s re-certification to impose sanctions on several entities or individuals associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program, with supporting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and with Iranian terrorism in general:
As part of the effort to combat Iran’s activities, the Trump administration is expected to announce an additional package of sanctions that includes 16 Iranian entities and individuals found to be supporting Tehran’s illicit and criminal activities in the region. This includes seven entities and five individuals found to be supporting the Iranian military and criminal organizations.
Sanctions also have been leveled on three networks designated as supporting Iran’s military procurement and another two organizations supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The sanctions are causing a lot of angst in Tehran for two reasons. First, the UN lifted sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program when the JCPOA was finally approved in the Corker-led surrender of advise and consent by the US Senate, so, technically, the United States is in violation of the JCPOA (more on that below) by ratcheting up sanctions on that activity. Secondly, the noose is being drawn tight about the IRGC and the Iranians are afraid of the US eventually labeling the IRGC as a terrorist group and declaring a blue light special on its multi-billion dollar business interests outside of Iran. That realization prompted the head of the IRGC to issue a direct threat against US interests in the Middle East:
A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned the United States on Monday that if it designated the group a terrorist organization and applied new sanctions its action could be perilous for U.S. forces in the region.
“Counting the Revolutionary Guards the same as terrorist groups and applying similar sanctions to the Revolutionary Guards is a big risk for America and its bases and forces deployed in the region,” said Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri, according to Sepah News, an official news site of the Guards.
He did not give details on what form of risk he foresaw for U.S. forces and bases.
It doesn’t take a genius to imagine what he was hinting at. The Iranians illegally detained two US Navy warships in the Persian Gulf, they blew up Khobar Towers and the support group for the Saudi National Guard, they were behind numerous kidnappings of US citizens in Lebanon (including CIA station chief Bill Buckley and the head of our UN military observer group, USMC Colonel Rich Higgins), and the bombing of the Beirut Marine barracks. The presence of US special forces and conventional troops in Syria and Iraq provides plenty of targets at a low level of effort. If they want to exercise some initiative, there are numerous US installations in the region.
There are also clear signs that the administration is completely disregarding the JCPOA as signed by Obama. For instance, part of the JCPOA is a virtual gag order on the United States government. One of the secret side agreements to the JCPOA (I don’t know why the administration hasn’t made these public) requires the US government to refrain from any criticism of the JCPOA. We know that because the Iranians told us:
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 20, 2017
Another breach on our part took place during the G20 meeting. According to the undeclared lobbying group for the mullahs, the National Iranian American Council:
First, it is now clear that the Trump administration intends to flout the full scope of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA so as to limit promised business ties with Iran. For instance, a White House press briefing revealed that President Trump spent his time at last week’s G-20 Summit urging nations to stop doing business with Iran. Trump’s directive to world leaders is the latest in a string of evidence that the U.S. is acting in material non-compliance with its express obligations under the JCPOA. These obligations include not just the formal lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, but also express commitments to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran…” and “from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of [the] JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.”
Considering, too, that the U.S. has the positive obligation to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy,” Trump’s private urging to foreign countries to withdraw business ties with Iran puts the U.S. in irrefutable breach of the JCPOA. No one can any longer remain agnostic or in denial as to this basic fact.
The JCPOA has turned out to be about as bad as I had imagined. It has done nothing to moderate Iran’s foreign policy and has given it a perpetual public relations cloak. The administration obviously thinks it is fraudulent but can’t walk away from it, absent an IAEA finding, without taking a major diplomatic hit. The Iranians would be idiots to leave the deal because it is a cash cow for their economy and a clear route to developing a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, we are stuck with it for the foreseeable future.