President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, announcing the signing of the Iran-nuclear agreement on July 14, 2015. (White House photo)
The United States and its five negotiating partners (Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany) reached an agreement July 14th on the final terms of a deal with Iran, under which Iran would curb its nuclear program for a period of time in return for sanctions relief.
The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or JCPOA for short), will go into effect on what is called “Adoption Day” - the date 90 days after the endorsement of the JCPOA by the UN Security Council, or such earlier date as may be determined by mutual consent of the JCPOA participants. The Security Council is expected to act within days to endorse the deal.
During his victory lap announcing that a final deal had been reached with Iran, President Obama warned that he would veto any congressional legislation blocking his legacy foreign policy achievement. The president declared that the agreement was "built on verification," not trust. In this regard, Obama claimed that international inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities to ensure Iran is fulfilling its commitments. “[Inspectors] will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain – its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility, and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities,” he said. “This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones.”
A so-called “fact sheet” issued by the White House assures the public that “Iran won’t garner any new sanctions relief until the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] confirms that Iran has followed through with its end of the deal.” If Iran violates the deal, any lifted sanctions can be snapped “back in place,” according to the White House.
Looking down the road long after he has left office, Obama said that “I have no doubt 10 or 15 years from now the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program. For this reason I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal.” He added that "no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East."
As is so often the case, President Obama is misleading the American people. The fact is there will be no 24/7 "anywhere, anytime" inspections allowed of undeclared suspicious sites. The fine print of the final JCPOA agreement provides Iran with the means to delay any inspections of undeclared suspected sites requested by the IAEA. Iran is empowered to raise objections to inspections of suspected sites, which would then have to be assessed by a commission that includes Iran itself as a member. Iran will thus have opportunities to exploit the mechanisms for international verification inspections, allowing it to rotate its covert nuclear arms activities from secret site to secret site during a protracted dispute resolution process:
If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA cannot be verified after the implementation of the alternative arrangements agreed by Iran and the IAEA, or if the two sides are unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA’s original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA's concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed 7 days, and Iran would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days.
Russia and China (who are sympathetic to Iran’s positions on a number of issues, including sanctions relief) and Iran itself will be members of the Joint Commission, along with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union. Masters at deception, the Iranian regime will be able to play for time and conduct a shell game, while the inspectors struggle to catch up and the Joint Commission tries to reach some sort of resolution. Undisclosed underground sites can easily hide work on developing nuclear warhead technologies, for example.
Sanctions relief will not be linked solely to verifiable proof of Iran’s compliance with each of its specific commitments, such as reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium, de-commissioning thousands of its centrifuges, and redesigning its Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor so it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium. An estimated $100 billion in frozen assets could be made available to Iran reasonably soon, with no restrictions on Iran’s spending to sponsor more global terrorism. The money can be used to buy conventional arms including missiles, since the JCPOA contemplates the removal of sanctions on the import and export of conventional arms. And again, one needs to look at the fine print. Buried in the JCPOA text is a provision that would appear to allow for the removal of certain sanctions 8 years after the JCPOA goes into effect (Adoption Day) or the date on which the Director General of the IAEA submits a report stating that the IAEA has reached the “Broader Conclusion” that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, whichever is earlier. This means Iran can obtain sanctions relief even if it does not prove to the IAEA’s satisfaction that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful as Iran has claimed all along that it is.
There is also some confusion as to whether sanctions will be lifted against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Maj. General Qasem Soleimani, who has American blood on his hands. The Obama administration is saying no at least as to non-nuclear related sanctions, but the Iranians are claiming that under the terms of the agreement “Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani will be taken off sanctions lists.”
In any event, once the unraveling of the sanctions regime begins to take place, it will be practically impossible to put the genie back into the bottle with some sort of “snap back.” Russia and China, eyeing lucrative arms deals, can be expected to take Iran’s side against any snap back. France, protecting its business interests in Iran developed after the lifting of sanctions, would most likely be reluctant to reverse course absent compelling evidence of widespread violations that present an imminent threat.
Longer term, the deal as presently structured will put our children and grandchildren under the threat of an Iranian nuclear mushroom cloud even if Iran were to abide by the temporary restrictions in place for the next decade or so. Iran will be able to reach a breakout time (the time it would take to amass enough nuclear material to produce a nuclear bomb) of near zero after the expiration of those restrictions, because its core nuclear enrichment infrastructure and research program to develop advanced centrifuges will not have been dismantled. Obama admitted last April that Iran could have near zero breakout time starting in Year 13 when Iran would have “advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly.” However, he said nothing about this overhang in his praise of the final deal.
As for President Obama’s claim that "no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East," a bad deal will inevitably set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And based on the details we know so far, the negotiated JCPOA is a bad deal that Congress should overwhelmingly reject. Despite Obama’s pro-forma calls of reassurance to the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia after the deal was announced, Obama has pivoted away from them towards a policy of rapprochement with the Iranian regime. He has done so against the drumbeat of continued cries by Iran’s leaders for "Death to America" and their holding of four Americans hostage.