At the home of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank whose scholars helped make the case for the devastating war with Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the case for Trump to kill an agreement that is effectively forestalling both a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran.
In so doing, Haley relied on a host of lies, distortions and obfuscations to paint an Iran that is cheating on its nuclear commitments and terrorizing the world. Lest the U.S. once again repeat the mistakes that led the U.S. to war with Iraq, it is worth rebutting several of these lies:
“Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”
The IAEA, in its eighth report since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect, once again affirmed that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitments last week. Yet, Haley falsely asserted that Iran has been caught in “multiple violations” since the accord went into effect.
Her evidence centers around Iran exceeding a “limit” on heavy water on two separate occasions in 2016. Unfortunately for her accusation, there is no hard limit mandated by the JCPOA – which indicates that Iran shall export its excess heavy water, and that Iran’s needs are estimated to be 130 metric tons. Thus, there is no violation on heavy water, and Iran continues to abide by the provisions of the JCPOA – including notably on uranium enrichment and inspector access.
“There are hundreds of undeclared sites that have suspicious activity that they (the IAEA) haven’t looked at.”
In the question and answer portion of the event, Haley asserted that there were not one or two suspicious sites that the IAEA can’t access – but hundreds! Of course, the U.S. intelligence community likely monitors dozens if not hundreds of non-nuclear sites in an attempt to detect any potential covert Iranian nuclear activities. Yet the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, stated in July that “Based on the evidence that’s been presented by the intelligence community, it appears that Iran is in compliance with the rules that were laid out in the JCPOA.” Hence, there is no indication of Iranian cheating and no need for the IAEA to knock on the door of hundreds of “suspicious” sites, as Haley suggests.
If there is solid evidence that a few of those suspicious sites that Haley cited are harboring covert nuclear activities, the U.S. can present the evidence for those suspicions to the IAEA and press them to investigate. Critically, however, Haley declined to do so at her meeting with the IAEA last month. According to a U.S. official, “Ambassador Haley did not ask the IAEA to inspect any specific sites, nor did she provide the IAEA with any new intelligence.”
“Iranian leaders…have stated publicly that they will refuse to allow IAEA inspections of their military sites. How can we know Iran is complying with the deal, if inspectors are not allowed to look everywhere they should look?”
While Iran barring an IAEA request permitted under the accord would be concerning, the IAEA has not recently had cause to request access to any non-nuclear site. Again, Haley has reportedly even declined to present evidence to the IAEA indicating that they should access any suspicious sites – military or otherwise. Hence, one can reasonably conclude that Haley’s statements are not based on legitimate fears, but are part of a political attack on the deal that her boss wants to unravel.
In fact, initial reporting on the U.S. pushing for military site inspections cast it as a justification for Trump withholding certification of the nuclear accord. As a result, when considering Iranian statements on military site access, one must also factor in the ample evidence suggesting that the Trump administration is fabricating a crisis to withdraw from the accord.
Further, there is little reason to take Iranian statements in response to Haley’s at face value. Iran issued similarly threatening statements ruling out inspections of military sites during negotiations in 2015, yet eventually allowed IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano access to the Parchin military base as well as the IAEA to collect samples at the site later that year.
“The deal [Obama] struck wasn’t supposed to be just about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening with Iran; a welcoming back into the community of nations.”
As the Obama administration outlined ad-nauseam, the nuclear deal was limited to the nuclear sphere. There is no annex in the JCPOA directing the U.S. and Iran to settle their differences on Iraq, Syria or Yemen, or obligating Iran to comply with its international human rights obligations or transform to a true democracy. The Obama administration did hope that the JCPOA could build trust to enable the U.S. and Iran to potentially resolve issues outside of the nuclear sphere, but such hopes rested on engagement outside of the contours of the JCPOA. The JCPOA dealt with the number one national security threat presented by Iran – the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Haley’s assertion to the contrary is merely meant to cast the deal in a negative light.
“We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate.”
The U.S. Congress held dozens of hearings over several years to examine the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and – midway through the negotiations ― passed a law instituting a 60-day period of Congressional review wherein Obama could not begin to waive sanctions. Congress engaged in heated debate, and opponents of the accord poured in tens of millions of dollars in order to pressure Members of Congress to vote against the deal. No Republican legislator supported it despite there being no favorable alternative, and enough Democrats backed the accord in order to block resolutions of disapproval that would have killed the JCPOA in its crib.
That intensely partisan, fact-optional debate would once again decide the fate of the accord if Haley has her way – only this time, there would be no filibuster. If Trump withholds certification, even if Iran remains in compliance, Congress could consider and pass sanctions that kill the deal under expedited procedure thanks to little-noticed provisions in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Trump could pass the buck to Congress and if every Member of Congress votes as they did in 2015, the deal would be dead.