U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed in August that Iran has “numerous undeclared [nuclear] sites that have not been inspected,” the first time the U.S. government has officially accused Iran of actively hiding parts of its nuclear program since the deal was enacted.
That is a big accusation, but it received very little attention. Peculiarly, the claim did not appear in her later remarks on September 5 to the American Enterprise Institute.
Iranian Opposition Group Reports Secret Nuke Work
The National Council of Resistance in Iran, a group that wants to replace the current regime with a secular democracy, publicly released detailed information about Iran’s alleged covert nuclear activities in April.
NCRI says that the newly-identified site is inside the Parchin military base, the place that Iran has been most resistant to granting outside access. It is known that Iran worked on the high explosives necessary for a nuclear weapon’s “trigger” at Parchin.
NCRI says that the effort was simply moved from one location within Parchin to another because the regime believes there is an “extremely low” chance of the IAEA inspectors entering the area.
The opposition group obviously has a political agenda, but it has a strong track record and it would want to avoid a self-inflicted wound by being caught in a lie.
A nuclear expert with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Frank Pabian, said in 2010 that NCRI is “right about 90 percent of the time.” In 2002, NCRI accurately revealed two secret nuclear sites; the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak.
The NCRI’s claim about activity in Parchin is substantiated by satellite imagery that discovered suspicious activity at Parchin in July 2015. Scientists assessed that “these activities could be related to refurbishment or clean-up prior to any IAEA inspection or the taking of environmental samples.”
Earlier in February 2015, NCRI identified an alleged secret uranium enrichment site that has been operating since 2008. The revelation happened as the U.S. and Iran came close to agreeing to the nuclear deal.
Iran Refuses Access to Military Sites
The U.S. government is publicly stating that the inspectors should have broad access to Iranian military sites suspected of housing nuclear activity. The inspectors have not visited a single one since the JCPOA went into effect.
However, the IAEA may only request access if it believes it has adequate evidence of nuclear work at a specific site. Under the deal, which has the official name of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the IAEA does not have the authority to inspect sites on a whim. And if it does request a visit, Iran can delay for up to 24 days or even longer without facing consequences.
As of now, the U.S. is not reported to have provided such intelligence to the IAEA or to have requested a specific inspection.
A quote from an anonymous IAEA official indicates that agency personnel want to prevent the Trump Administration from finding a pretext for abandoning the deal. An unidentified official said, “If they want to bring down the deal, they will. We just don’t want to give them an excuse to.”
By raising the issue of access to military sites, the U.S. has pushed Iran to unequivocally state that it will deny access to military sites altogether.
The Institute for Science and International Security’s analysis of the latest IAEA report is highly critical of the agency’s last report for omitting crucial details. The institute is considered one of the most reputable organizations on nuclear issues in the world.
It says that access to military sites is essential for verification, and that “it is likely that some of the conditions in Section T [of the JCPOA] are not currently being met and may in fact be violated by Iran.” Section T addresses dual-use equipment that can be used for pursuing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s refusal to grant access to any military sites means that Iran is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, an act that does not violate the JCPOA per se but does make Iran fall short of the standards set by Congress for continuing the deal.
The significance of Iran’s refusal to grant access to military sites can only be understood when the complicated arrangement is grasped.
Two Agreements: The JCPOA & Corker-Cardin
The continuation of the nuclear deal (the JCPOA) requires Iranian compliance with two sets of the standards:
The first is obviously the JCPOA itself.
The second is the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, also known as the Corker-Cardin bill which was passed under the Obama Administration so that Congress would could approve or reject U.S. participation in the deal. Iran must meet standards beyond the deal for congressional approval to continue.
The Corker-Cardin bill requires the administration to certify that Iran is meeting the following four benchmarks:
- Iran is fully implementing the agreement,
- Iran has not committed a material breach of the agreement,
- Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program, and
- Suspension of sanctions against Iran is appropriate and proportionate to measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and vital to U.S. national security interests.
Importantly, the Corker-Cardin bill also requires Iranian compliance with agreements “related” to the nuclear deal. That would include the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, which is referenced seven times in the JCPOA’s section on nuclear-related measures. Iran’s blanket refusal to grant access to military sites is a statement that it will not comply with the Additional Protocol.
“With Iran rejecting IAEA access to military sites, President Trump would now be lying to Congress and the American people if he recertifies Iranian compliance in October,” said Omri Ceren, the Israel Project’s senior adviser monitoring the deal, to the Clarion Project.
U.N. Ambassador Haley also said the U.S. has “devastating evidence of Iranian violations” of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which arguably qualifies as a JCPOA-related agreement. It prohibits ballistic missile testing and arming of terrorists that Iran is clearly engaged in.
Let’s review again where we are at for those who understandably find this confusing.
- If the U.S. has sufficient evidence that Iran is conducting nuclear work at undisclosed sites, then Iran is in violation of the JCPOA itself.
- The U.S. must then present this evidence to the IAEA, which—if convinced—will request an inspection that, according to Iran’s public statements, the regime will reject.
- If access is denied past 24 days, the U.N. might declare Iran in violation of the JCPOA and then might reimpose sanctions, effectively ending the deal.
- What is more likely to happen is that the Trump Administration will declare that Iran is not meeting the standards of the Corker-Cardin arrangement—the standards that must be met for Congress to authorize continued U.S. participation in the deal.
The Trump Administration has twice certified that Iran is meeting these standards, as is required every 90 days. Haley’s comments indicate that certification is unlikely in October.
The Trump Administration can declare Iran in violation of “related agreements” and/or state that the suspension of sanctions on Iran is no longer believed to be in America’s national security interests (the fourth benchmark).
So, does that mean the nuclear deal with Iran is probably over in October? Not necessarily.
The Next Step
As Haley explains, if President Trump does not certify that these benchmarks are being met, then Congress has a 60-day period to decide whether to re-impose sanctions that were lifted under the deal.
“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in the U.S. national security interest,” Haley said.
On the surface, it seems that killing the deal would be a no-brainer.
Haley pointed out that, because of the sanctions imposed on Iran prior to the deal, the Iranian GDP fell by over 4 percent. Two years after the deal, it grew by almost 5 percent. The deal is likely saving the Iranian regime and its ideology of Shiite Islamic Revolution as Western businesses flock to set up contracts.
Over the long-term, the agreement disarms the West more than it disarms the Iranian regime, resulting in an Iran on steroids. Its nuclear infrastructure remains, enabling the regime to quickly produce an arsenal of nuclear bombs.
In fact, last February, four top experts declared Iran a “nuclear missile state.”
The Iranian regime can match its words of “Death to America” with action by launching an apocalyptic Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) strike, an option advocated in its military manuals and one that its military has been rehearsing since at least 2008.
But, as Haley understands:
“The truth is, the Iran deal has so many flaws that it’s tempting to leave it. But the deal was constructed in a way that makes leaving it less attractive. It gave Iran what it wanted up-front, in exchange for temporary promises to deliver what we want. That’s not good.”
The deal has left us in a difficult position.
Even if the deal is scrapped, Iran has already greatly benefited from the influx of income. The lucrative international business contracts made in the wake of the agreement make it questionable whether the international community will partake in future sanctions, especially if the U.S. is seen as the party responsible for the deal’s collapse.
Iran may move quickly ahead in developing a nuclear arsenal while the U.S. is still heavily engaged in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Proponents of the deal will point out that at least it restricts what Iran does with its declared facilities. Yet, provoking Western action as a pretext for overtly making nukes may have been a part of Iran’s script all along.
If the deal isn’t scrapped, then the Iranian regime gets stronger by the day.
The regime is already increasing spending on ballistic missiles, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Qods Force responsible for supporting terrorists and extremist militias, drone development and expanding its military footprint in the region. Meetings with North Korean officials appear to be on the uptick, as are links with terrorist groups like the Taliban, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition , the regime continues to maintain its relationship with Al-Qaeda.
Whether President Trump certifies Iranian compliance or not—and whether Congress scraps the deal or not—we are headed for an increasingly bumpy road ahead.