Iran is already in flagrant violation of its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions referenced in the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed on July 14, 2015, by Iran, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is making excuses for Iran. It is still on track to reward Iran soon with the freeing up of over $100 billion in frozen assets and the lifting of economic sanctions.
First, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was not able to complete the full investigation of Iran’s suspected past work on a nuclear explosive device, which was supposed to be a precondition for moving forward with implementation of the JCPOA’s terms. Even with the limited information it was provided, including samplings and photographs taken as a result of Iran’s own self-inspection, the agency concluded that, at least through 2009, Iran had conducted such activities. The agency also stated in its report that Iran had appeared to cover its tracks at its Parchin military site:
“Since the Agency’s first request to Iran for access to the particular location of interest to it at the Parchin site in February 2012, extensive activities have taken place at this location. These activities, observed through commercial satellite imagery, appeared to show, inter alia, shrouding of the main building, the removal/replacement or refurbishment of its external wall structures, removal and replacement of part of the roof, and large amounts of liquid run-off emanating from the building…The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.”
Despite the unanswered questions and even some evidence of a cover-up, the Obama administration and its negotiating partners closed the book on the IAEA’s investigation of Iran’s past nuclear arms related activities. Whatever may have happened in the past is ancient history, according to the thinking of the Obama administration. It is time, Secretary of State John Kerry said, for the IAEA to “turn its focus now to the full implementation and verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).” Yet if the “JCPOA cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon,” as the White House claims on its website, why is the Obama administration interpreting the JCPOA in a way that would not apply it to cutting off Iran’s pathway to the delivery of a nuclear weapon?
Whitewashing Iran’s past nuclear arms related work has been followed by utter inaction in the face of Iran’s current launching of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran reportedly launched such missiles both in October and last month. Indeed, Iran is not even trying to hide what it has done. It claims that it will do whatever it wants in connection with its missile program, irrespective of existing Security Council resolutions prohibiting such activities. After the October launch, for example, Iran’s Defense Minister declared, “We don’t ask permission from anyone.”
An investigation of the first missile test launch was undertaken by the Security Council’s Iran Sanctions Committee at the request of the United States and its Western allies. Following a briefing on December 15th by the Chair of the Iran Sanctions Committee criticizing Iran’s action as representing a clear violation of existing Security Council prohibitions, members of the Security Council blathered but took no concrete measures to enforce its resolutions.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who is presiding over the Security Council this month, complained that “instead of an effective, timely response, the Security Council has dithered.” She added that “we have seen a troubling tendency to look the other way when these measures have been willfully violated in recent months.”
Ambassador Power is right, but she should be taking her complaint to her bosses, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. They have used twisted logic to draw a distinction between enrichment and production of nuclear materials for use in developing a bomb on the one hand, which the JCPOA covers, and missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads on the other hand, which the administration argues is not covered by the JCPOA. Kerry has actually gone so far as to agree with Iran’s position that the JCPOA does not prohibit Iran from test firing its missiles, even though the JCPOA itself and the Security Council resolution that adopted the JCPOA(Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015)) refer explicitly to pre-existing Security Council prohibitions still applicable to Iran’s missile program. Those missile-related embargo resolutions are terminable upon certain conditions set forth in the JCPOA, but remain in effect until those conditions are met.
“The issue of ballistic missiles is addressed by the provisions of the new United Nations Security Council Resolution [UNSCR], which do not constitute provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Kerry wrote in a letter to Senator Marco Rubio quoted by the Washington Free Beacon. “Since the Security Council has called upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, any such activity would be inconsistent with the UNSCR and a serious matter for the Security Council to review,” Kerry added.
In defense of his and Iran’s position that the missile tests do not constitute a breach of the JCPOA per se, Kerry is presumably relying on a footnote buried in Annex V of the JCPOA, stating: “The provisions of this Resolution do not constitute provisions of this JCPOA.” This means, according to Kerry, that no matter how many times Iran fires its missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons, such action will not stop the gravy train of economic relief the JCPOA provides to Iran from rolling along. Let the Security Council worry about it, says Kerry, while Iran continues to openly defy its existing resolutions.
Regrettably, as Ambassador Power observed, the Security Council has “dithered.” Relying on it to take any meaningful action against Iran regarding its missile launchings is doomed to fail so long as Russia (and possibly China) are ready to use their veto power. Obama and Kerry were willing to take that gamble in order to keep Iran from abandoning the deal. They crafted the deceptive strategy of using Security Council Resolution 2231 adopting the JCPOA to supposedly give the JCPOA the force of international law, while at the same time contending that the pre-existing UN Security Council missile program prohibitions referenced in that same resolution and the JCPOA itself have nothing to do with the JCPOA. They have done so by drawing an artificial line between stages of the end to end nuclear weaponization program cycle to suit Iran’s demands. The uranium enrichment/plutonium stage for production of nuclear fuel usable to develop a nuclear bomb was separated out from the development of a missile capable of delivering it for the purposes of JCPOA implementation and enforcement, even though Iran itself had insisted on introducing the subject of its missile program into the final negotiations of the JCPOA.
It is the first stage of the nuclear weaponization program cycle where Iran has made the most concessions. It is obligated to sharply reduce the number of centrifuges it will have running and to get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium supply, which will be subject to verification by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Reportedly, Iran is proceeding along this path, earning a gold star in Kerry’s book. Iran also must convert its Arak heavy water facility that was originally designed to produce plutonium. But Iran is playing a shell game. Iran has a long pattern of using negotiations to suspend certain nuclear-related activities on which it has achieved sufficient technical competence for its purposes, while continuing to work unimpeded on the next stages of the nuclear weaponization cycle where it needs to develop further technical competence.
Iran has already mastered the technology and operationalization of uranium enrichment sufficient to make enough nuclear fuel suitable for producing a nuclear bomb. Moreover, it will still be permitted to conduct further advanced research and development in this sphere during the term of the JCPOA. The focus of the Obama administration and its negotiating partners on limiting Iran’s activities in the enrichment stage is fighting yesterday’s battle. What Iran cares most about now is perfecting the technology of delivering a nuclear weapon fitted onto a missile that has been tested and proven to launch successfully.
Iran's testing of ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons calls into serious question Iran's intentions going forward in complying with the JCPOA overall. Iran is offering specious legalistic justifications, with John Kerry’s support, for walling off its nuclear capable missile testing and development work from JCPOA implementation and enforcement. This ruse demonstrate once and for all how fatally flawed Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is proving to be.