On 01 September 2017, UN watchdog IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), contradicted President Trump’s claim that Iran is violating the Nuclear Deal. This may complicate President Trump’s efforts to find a rationale to justify statements that Iran is violating the Nuclear Deal, i.e. JCPOA.
As reported earlier, the U.S. Executive has to certify to the U.S. Congress that Iran is complying with the JCPOA. Note that the Trump Administration has repeatedly certified that Iran is complying with the two-year-old deal.
According to the IAEA, Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is well within the agreed upon limits under the JCPOA. For that matter, Iran’s stockpile of heavy water is also below the agreed limits.
The IAEA latest report, which was leaked, comes at a critical moment, as President Trump continues to threaten not to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The next certification report to U.S. Congress is expected in mid-October 2017.
There are reports that the White House is pressurizing governmental officials to report Iranian JCPOA infractions, which could pave the way for the U.S. to withdraw from the nuclear accord. In this context, Israel has also accused Iran from establishing missile production sites in Syria and Lebanon. This pressure has also included a trip of the current U.S. United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, in which she pressed the watchdog to implement a more aggressive inspections regime, and to focus on Iran’s military sites.
Until now, the other signatories of the JCPOA, have stated their commitment to the deal. They will probably not revoke the deal without credible evidence that Iran is not honoring it’s JCPOA commitments.
The IAEA director, Yukiya Amano, has defended it’s agency monitoring responsibilities vis-a-vis Iran’s JCPOA commitments.
Firstly, he, rightly emphasizes, that the IAEA is a fact-finding organization, geared towards verifying facts and not a political organization. As we saw in the case of Iraq, the independence of the IAEA should be guarded, as it should deliver objective information to UN member states and the UN Security Council.
Secondly, the IAEA has the power to inspect any “sensitive,” locations – military or civilian – that it deems necessary to verify Iran’s commitments to the nuclear deal. In this context, to compel access to suspect locations, the watchdog only needs the approval of five of the eight signatories to the agreement. However, the watchdog will only do this on the basis of credible intelligence. Note that during her trip,according to the IAEA, ambassador Nikki Haley did not disclose any information which justifies the inspection of military sites.
However, the IAEA’s inspection regime has been criticized by two former IAEA inspectors – David Albright and Olli Heinonen. These two are critical of Tehran’s attitude towards the nuclear deal. They published an article in which they argue that the UN watchdog could make better use of provisions in the JCPOA to verify that dual-use items are not being used to violate the nuclear accord. This could include the inspection of military sites to confirm that dual-use items are not being used to research warhead design.
As usual, the knee-jerk reaction of Iran is not helpful.
It has stated in no unclear terms that it will not allow military sites to be inspected. The government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht this week dismissed the campaign for military inspections as “a dream.”
Ambassador Haley responded to this by saying: if “inspections of Iranian military sites are ‘merely a dream’, then Iranian compliance … is also a dream.”
It’s clear that President Trump is not happy with the JCPOA. However, the question is whether it’s wise for the U.S. to withdraw from the deal, instead of enforcing it. An unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. would certainly isolate it from it’s allies, which an already embattled Trump Administration does not need.
Unclear is whether allies would accept the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, especially secondary sanctions. This would certainly not help U.S. companies – especially those already legally conducting business with Iran.
A wiser course would be for the U.S. to enforce the JCPOA; provide the IAEA with sufficient evidence in order to verify not only Iran’s compliance, but also to maintain some unity with other JCPOA signatories to ensure that the nuclear deal is a success.
When trying to achieve peace, what both ambassador Haley and Mohammad Bagher Nobakht could consider; is that there are two types of dreams, those which are fulfilled, and those which should be.