The Threat Is Still Iran
During his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, September 19, 2017, President Donald Trump might as well have been muttering to himself, "Is it for all time or simply a lark, is it a deal not worth thinking of, or is it at long last friendship?" A week before, on September 14, 2017, President Trump had renewed an exemption to imposing sanctions on Iran that were suspended under the 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) deal signed in Vienna by the P5+1 countries and Iran in July 2015. In October, Trump has to certify to Congress , according to congressional law, that Iran is in compliance with the deal.
By the agreement, Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. Have there been any infractions? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said Iran is complying with its commitments under the arrangements, including inspections. Indeed , the IAEA has said that at present, Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium is a good deal less than the maximum allowed under the JCPOA. The same is true of the stockpile of heavy water. Nevertheless, Iran's nuclear behavior has been described by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies as "problematic." The institute pointed out that Iran was testing its most advanced centrifuge, the IR8 model, which can facilitate the enrichment process.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has urged the IAEA to be more aggressive in its inspections and to concentrate on Iran's military sites, which Iran has declared off limits to inspectors. Iran calls this campaign for such inspection a "dream." The IAEA is reluctant to inspect the military facilities, unwilling to engage in a fishing expedition, though it has the right to request and have access to them. The U.S. Institute for Science and International Security calls for access to military sites and the sharing of relevant information. Nevertheless, Iran has limited any access to its Parchin facility, near Tehran.
A key problem of the nuclear deal has always been that Iran will be able to restart uranium enrichment quickly, get nuclear facilities in the future, and enrich uranium on a large scale. The so-called "sunset clause" sets expiration dates on the limits of the nuclear program. Iran can extend its centrifuges beyond the present limit of 6,000 after ten years and later will be able to increase its nuclear stockpile and heavy water reactors, which can generate weapons-grade plutonium. It is almost certain that Iran will continue its quest for a nuclear bomb.
Donald Trump as candidate and as president remains critical of the nuclear Iran deal, even if he is hesitant to abandon all of it, as Ambassador Haley has suggested. Trump during the electoral campaign talked of the nuclear deal as "the worst deal ever negotiated." Like Haley, he believes that technical compliance by Iran is insufficient. Iran has violated not only different parts of the deal, but also the spirit of it.
Iran has a history of deception. It continues its development of ballistic missiles. What is important that in addition to this active ballistic missile development are also Iran's cyber-activities; its destabilizing actions, such as its sponsorship of missile attacks on Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen, to whom Iran ships weapons; its support for President Assad in Syria; its supply of arms to Hezb'allah; its increasing participation in conflicts in the Middle East; and its weapons-smuggling.
The Trump administration has responded. In July 2017, the U.S. responded to the Iranian provocative launch of a rocket into space, a rocket capable of carrying a satellite weighing 550 pounds, and using technology capable of carrying a nuclear payload. On July 28, the U.S. put sanctions on six Iranian organizations involved in the project. It imposed sanctions on a industrial group, Shahid Hemmat, that is central to the ballistic missile program by producing the medium-range Shabab-3, based on a North Korean missile, and imposed tighter sanctions against individuals associated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps (Quds Force), known for their support of terror and hijacking activities.
The real issue involved is not merely the nuclear ambition of Iran, but three factors: its desire for political expansion, its role in state-sponsored terrorism, and its ability to obtain nuclear facilities in the future
A significant factor is Russia's defense of Iran in the international arena. Russia is allowing Iran, which has been almost isolated since 1979, to play a growing role in political and security affairs, though the two nations differ on some issues. One is that Russia and Iran are both supporting Assad and favor the existence of Syria within present borders, but Russia is less interested than is Iran in keeping Assad in power.
Another point of disagreement is that Moscow does not approve of Iran's animosity toward Israel. Vital in this regard is the difference over Iran's support for Hezb'allah. Yet Russia did put an advanced S-400 air defense system near the Iranian weapons factories in Syria, factories that produce long-range guidance missiles for Hezb'allah. Israel has used missiles to target Iranian-sponsored weapons convoys in the area.
Nor does Russia approve the continuing U.N. bias against Israel or the BDS movement, now recently illustrated by the UNHRC blacklist concerning Teva; Egged; Coca-Cola Israel; and Israel's two largest banks, Bank Hapoalim and Leumi, plus U.S. firms Caterpillar, Trip Advisor, and Priceline. Compliance with this program violates US law.
In this complex international game, there have been secret visits by officials of the Saudi government, deadly rivals of Iran, to Israel in recent days. The most meaningful is the reported visit in September 2017 by a royal prince, believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is not surprising because of the common enemy: Iran. Noticeably, Arab countries have allowed Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf Countries and allowed Israel's El Al to fly over Saudi airspace.
What is necessary is a more enlightened European policy. The E.U. supports the nuclear deal because the E.U. holds that it is not an agreement between two countries, but one by the whole international community and Iran and is supported by the U.N. Security Council. But the E.U. is also concerned with economic issues. On July 3, 2017, the French energy company Total signed a $5-billion deal with Iran, arguing that economic development is also a way of building peace. European hotel chains Melia and Accor are interested in projects in Iran.
The great British political philosopher Ringo Starr, the drummer of the Beatles, gave unsolicited advice to Prime Minister Theresa May about Brexit. "It is a great move," he said. "Get on with it." In dealing with the growing threat of Iran, the U.S. Congress and President Trump should take Starr's advice and get on with it.