Q: Will the decertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran nuclear agreement by US President Donald Trump pave the way to fixing it?
Respondents: Michael Rubin, Emily B. Landau, Barbara Slavin, Behnam Ben Taleblu, Paulina Izewicz, Raphael Ofek
Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Washington DC
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a flawed agreement. It shredded non-proliferation precedent: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held South Africa to a far greater standard in 1991 when it came in from the cold and, in 2003, the international community required the physical dismantling of Libya’s covert program. In contrast, Iran maintains an industrial-scale enrichment infrastructure upon which controls will sunset.
Beyond the sunset clauses, limits on inspection, ambiguity with regard to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and a structure that rewarded Iran upfront instead of calibrating sanctions relief to compliance, the JCPOA ignores the possibility that Iranian engineers might work on military aspects of a nuclear program abroad in North Korea.
“Trump violates international treaty!” “Trump tears up pact signed by world powers!”
These were some of the headlines that pretended to report US President Donald Trump’s move on the “Iran nuclear deal” last week. Some in the Western media even claimed that the move would complicate the task of curbing North Korea as Pyongyang might conclude that reaching any deal with the world powers, as Iran did, is useless.
But what is it exactly that Trump has done?
Before answering that question let’s deal with another question. Is Obama’s Iran “deal” a treaty?
The answer is: no.
It is, as Tehran says, “a roadmap” in which Iran promises to take some steps in exchange for “big powers” reciprocating by taking some steps of their own.
Even then, the “roadmap” or “wish-list” as former US Secretary of State John Kerry described it, does not have an authoritative text; it comes in five different versions, three in Persian and two in English, with many differences.
The “wish-list” hasn’t been signed by anyone.
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The evidence is mounting that Iran is not only violating the spirit of the no-nukes deal, but that it is also violating its letter. The prologue to the deal explicitly states: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” This reaffirmation has no sunset provision: it is supposed to be forever.
Yet German officials have concluded that Iran has not given up on its goal to produce nuclear weapons that can be mounted on rockets. According to Der Tagesspiegel, a Berlin newspaper:
“Despite the nuclear agreement [reached with world powers in July 2015], Iran has not given up its illegal activities in Germany. The mullah regime also made efforts this year to obtain material from [German] firms for its nuclear program and the construction of missiles, said security sources.”
Frank Jansen, a prominent journalist, has reported that the “Revolutionary Guards want to continue the nuclear program at all costs.”
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On today’s BBC TV Daily Politics show I took on the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who supports the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, maintains that it is working and claims that Iran is not in breach of any of its provisions.
I did not agree… and I asked him why he had turned into such a cheerleader for the Iranian regime. You can watch the exchange here.
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You have to hand it to the Iranians. They don’t play around. Just hours after President Donald Trump gave his speech outlining the contours of a new US policy toward Iran, senior Iranian officials were on the ground in Iraq and Syria not only humiliating the US, but altering the strategic balance in Iran’s favor.
Last Friday Trump said that from now on, the nuclear deal his predecessor Barack Obama concluded with the Iranian regime would be viewed in the overall context of Iran’s many forms of aggression. Iran’s support and direction of terrorism, its subversion of neighboring regimes, regional aggression, weapons proliferation, development of ballistic missiles and harassment of maritime traffic will no longer be dealt with in isolation from Iran’s nuclear program.
Trump pledged that it will henceforth be US policy to ensure that Iran is made to pay a price for all its aggressive actions, including its breaches of the nuclear deal.
Among other things, Trump singled out Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps for its role in sponsoring and engaging terrorism. He came within a hair’s breadth of defining the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. But words to one side and actions to the other.
On Saturday morning, Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who commands the Qods Force, responsible for the IRGC’s international terrorist operations, landed in Iraq’s Kurdish city of Kirkuk.
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Last July, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) military commander and chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, warned that “putting the Revolutionary Guard in the terrorist lists with terrorist groups can be very costly to the United States and its military bases and forces in the region.” IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on October 8th that “if the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.” The next day the Iranian regime warned of a “crushing” response if the United States were to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. President Trump has called the Iranian regime’s bluff with his announcement last week that he would do just that.
Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization and imposing new sanctions for its aggressive actions in the region is not a restoration of the sanctions lifted by the Obama administration as part of its disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. If Iran insists it can do what it wants militarily in terms of missile launches, support of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and arms transfers without violating the nuclear deal, then the United States can certainly act to curb such activities through financial pressure. The U.S. can impose sanctions against the Iranian regime’s principal instrument for projecting aggressive, destabilizing force outside of its borders without violating the nuclear deal. The Iranian regime does not see it that way, however.
With the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions making available billions of dollars to Iran’s leaders to further finance the IRGC’s exploits in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere, the regime is furious that the Trump administration is tightening the financial screws again, even if for reasons not directly related to Iran’s compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal. Thus, it is threatening U.S. forces and bases in the region. A couple of seemingly unrelated events this past week point to Iran’s positioning itself for more aggressive military actions that could place U.S. forces in harm’s way.
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During his first press conference after taking office in January 1981, US President Ronald Reagan called détente a “one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims.” Echoing this remark while addressing reporters later the same day, Secretary of State Alexander Haig said that the Soviets were the source of much support for international terrorism, especially in Latin and Central America.
The following day, both Reagan and Haig were criticized for their remarks, with members of the media describing the president’s words as “reminiscent of the chilliest days of the Cold War,” and appalled that the administration’s top diplomat was accusing the Russians of backing terrorist activities.
Nearly four decades later, in spite of the successful defeat of the Soviet empire, the White House is still frowned upon when it adopts a tough stance towards America’s enemies. Today’s outrage is directed at President Donald Trump’s warnings about — and to — North Korea and Iran. The Washington Post called his recent “fire and fury” threats to Pyongyang a “rhetorical grenade,” for example, echoing top Democrats’ attacks on his remarks for being “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
Critics of Trump’s attitude towards Tehran go equally far, describing his opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the nuclear deal with Iran — as “rushing headlong into war.”
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President Trump will address U.S. policy toward Iran on Thursday, doubtless focusing on his decision regarding Barack Obama’s badly flawed nuclear deal. Key officials are now briefing Congress, the press and foreign governments about the speech, cautioning that the final product is, in fact, not yet final. The preponderant media speculation is that Trump’s senior advisers are positioning him to make a serious mistake, based on their flawed advice. Wishful thinking about Iran’s mullahs, near-religious faith in the power of pieces of paper, and a retreat from executive authority are hallmarks of the impending crash.
In short, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal is poised to become the Trump-Obama deal. The media report that the president will not withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but instead, under the misbegotten Corker-Cardin legislation, will “decertify” that it is in America’s national interest. Congress may then reimpose sanctions, or try somehow to “fix” the deal. Curiously, most of the suggested “fixes” involve repairing Corker-Cardin rather than the JCPOA directly.
Sure, give Congress the lead on Iran. What could go wrong? Whatever the problem with Iran, Congress is not the answer. No president should surrender what the Constitution vests uniquely in him: dominant power to set America’s foreign policy. In the iconic Federalist Number 70, Alexander Hamilton wrote insightfully that “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch” characterize unitary executive power, and most certainly not the legislative branch. President Trump risks not only forfeiting his leading national-security role, but paralysis, or worse, in the House and Senate.
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“Cut, and cut cleanly,” Sen. Paul Laxalt advised Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, urging the Philippine president to resign and flee Manila because of widespread civil unrest. The Nevada Republican, Ronald Reagan’s best friend in Congress, knew what his president wanted, and he made the point with customary Western directness.
President Trump could profitably follow Mr. Laxalt’s advice today regarding Barack Obama’s 2015 deal with Iran. The ayatollahs are using Mr. Obama’s handiwork to legitimize their terrorist state, facilitate (and conceal) their continuing nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, and acquire valuable resources from gullible negotiating partners.
Mr. Trump’s real decision is whether to fulfill his campaign promise to extricate America from this strategic debacle. Last month at the United Nations General Assembly, he lacerated the deal as an “embarrassment,” “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
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