Based on Iran's pattern of obstructionism, the impending renewal of the JCPOA "nuclear deal" does not inspire confidence that the Islamic Republic -- even if it verbally agrees, or this time signs a document -- will ever be in compliance. Pictured: The heavy water production facility at Arak, south of Tehran. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
The latest alteration before the Americans trying to revive the "nuclear weapons deal" -- known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- with Iran is the carefully staged election this month of Ebrahim Raisi to its presidency. A clerical hardliner known as "the Butcher," he is responsible for thousands of executions of oppositions leaders, torture and other "ongoing crimes against humanity."
Raisi's election, "engineered to guarantee his victory," looks suspiciously like a ploy by Iran's Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei to terrify the American negotiators into capitulating to Iran's demands even faster and more recklessly, to avoid negotiating with an opponent more uncompromising than whomever they are negotiating with at present. Upon his victory, Raisi immediately announced that he will not meet with US President Joe Biden, and that Iran's "ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias" were "nonnegotiable."
Negotiators at the Vienna-based talks on re-establishing the JCPOA have reportedly already drafted an agreement and returned to their respective capitals in the hopes of securing endorsement of the revived JCPOA. While some differences remain, the P5+1 nations (Iran and the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) will likely restore the JCPOA before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's term of office expires in mid-July.
Presumably, President Biden's negotiating team has agreed to substantially lifting the Trump administration's sanctions on Iran to win the support of Iran's hardline dominated regime.
The JCPOA is allegedly designed to prevent, or at least postpone, Iran's drive for a nuclear weapons capability along with the means to deliver them. Among the deal's many major drawbacks is that after it expires, Iran can enrich as much uranium to have as many nuclear weapons -- and the means to deliver them -- as it likes.
One significant question of a newly invigorated JCPOA is whether the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) will be granted complete access to known and suspected Iranian sites associated with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
The IAEA must also monitor the warehousing or dismantling of Iran's more advanced centrifuges, installed after then US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA in May 2018. During the agreement's term, the IAEA registered its dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic's lack of cooperation with inspectors. IAEA officials complained that Iran resisted attempts to monitor compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA will also be tasked with Iran's obligation to export or destroy highly enriched uranium beyond the amount permitted by the JCPOA.
It is likely that the newly negotiated JCPOA will be signed by the P5 +1 countries on or near the anniversary of its original approval by July 15, 2021. Iran, tellingly, never signed the original agreement.
Iran's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Araqchi, who heads the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna, only a month ago played down positive expectations. He suggested that there are some difficult issues still to be negotiated, but that the team is making headway nevertheless. Sina Azodi, an Iran specialist at the Atlantic Council, claimed on China Global Television Network (CGTN) that the negotiating team had already arrived at an agreed upon text of the JCPOA's redux. Ali Akbar Dareini, of Tehran's Center of Strategic Studies, echoed the regime leadership's apparent view: that the revival of the JCPOA deal is worth the Iranian agreement in exchange for the lifting of sanctions in order to improve the country's economy. The benefit that the West allegedly secures from the JCPOA is to forestall Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for ten to fifteen years – after which it is open season.
Dareini, author of Legitimate Deterrence, a book on Iran's nuclear program, has repeatedly warned that Iran's national defense plans are not on the table for discussion. Mohsen Milani, an Iranian scholar at the University of South Florida, agreed with Dareini that the US should not expect any future negotiations on missiles or regional policies.
Despite signs that the P5+1 negotiating team will subscribe to a re-constituted JCPOA "understanding," there seems to exist no trust that the Islamic Republic will comply with any agreement. The IAEA's catalogue of doubts regarding Iran's compliance with any nuclear safeguards is lengthy. Some of these instances of non-compliance by Iran include: exceeding the limits of installed centrifuges, imprecise recording of the amount of low enriched uranium, the establishment of unauthorized enrichment sites, and failure to declare exact amounts of imported uranium. In June 2020, the IAEA Board of Governors dispatched a formal resolution of complaint to Iran, calling upon Tehran to satisfy overdue requests regarding several undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.
Based on Iran's pattern of obstructionism, the impending renewal of the JCPOA does not inspire confidence that the Islamic Republic -- even if it verbally agrees, or this time signs a document -- will ever be in compliance.
Variables determining the worth of a renewed JCPOA include not only whether the IAEA will be able effectively to monitor the Islamic Republic's compliance with the terms of the agreement. Another variable might also include US lobbying with the other signers of the JCPOA to attempt to persuade Iran to discuss other security issues, such as Tehran's ballistic missile programs and support for sub-national terrorist groups. It is also sadly assumed, based on past patterns, that the US, in its eagerness to secure a deal -- any deal -- will back down when faced with any Iranian demand.
The US will also likely put pressure on Israel to refrain from "precipitous" attacks on Iran's nuclear weapons development infrastructure. Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that Israel's determination to frustrate Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power will not change. He stated – considering Iran's record of cheating -- that no agreement with Iran can be trusted. That Bennett lacks experience of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a given; and understanding the fragility of Bennett's eight-party coalition, Iran will doubtless soon test the new Israeli PM to determine if he possesses the same independent will both to resist US pressure and to defend Israel's vital interests as his predecessor Netanyahu did.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.