HRC’s Op-Ed was published in The Hill Times on Thursday, May 19, 2022
In the summer of 2015, the Islamic Republic of Iran signed a nuclear deal with some of the world’s largest powers, agreeing to halt its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was inked between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, France—plus Germany and the European Union (EU).
Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to put various limits on its nuclear development, including halting uranium enrichment and reducing its uranium stockpile. In exchange, the United Nations and EU sanctions were lifted and an estimated $125-billion in overseas Iranian assets were unfrozen.
Many criticisms of the JCPOA were voiced at the time, including about the deal’s sunset clauses which delayed but didn’t deny, Iran’s ability to become a nuclear threshold state. Other shortcomings of the deal included a poor verification regime that impeded snap inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and how the agreement failed to curtail Iran’s ballistic missiles program. It also didn’t address Iran’s support for Islamist terrorism or its quest for regional hegemony. Critics of the deal rightly observed that it could be seen in Iran as a ransom payment, thereby incentivizing and further emboldening the Islamic Republic’s actions going forward.
Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for violations on Iran’s part to become public, including re-starting uranium-enriching centrifuges.
In 2018, the Trump government announced the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA, citing Iran’s repeated breaches of the agreement. Although the other parties remained in the deal with Iran, subsequent to the U.S. withdrawal, Iranian belligerence and malevolence continued unabated.
Now, nearly three years after the American withdrawal, it appears that the U.S. will be re-entering the agreement under Joe Biden’s administration.
But regardless of the participation of the United States, a potential 2022 JCPOA redux reportedly has all the hallmarks of its predecessor’s fatal shortcomings.
In a renegotiated JCPOA, it seems Iran would again be rewarded by agreeing to freeze –but not mothball– its nuclear program, thereby gifting the Islamic Republic with a massive financial windfall and merely postponing its atomic ambitions. Just like the original deal, the Iranian regime is as untrustworthy as it has ever been, remaining committed to fomenting regional discord and arming hostile terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Houthis throughout the Middle East.
Critics have pointed out how Iran used weak enforcement mechanisms of the 2015 deal as an opportunity to solidify its nuclear capacity, putting the Islamic Republic in a far more advantageous position than it was during the original negotiations. Furthermore, Iran has attempted in recent years to wean itself off over-reliance on oil revenues by instead expanding its economic partnerships with other regional powers, as well as with China, the world’s fastest-growing economy. If successful, Iran will be even less vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than it was before.
Israel, inarguably the biggest target of Iran’s malicious foreign terrorism efforts, has spoken out against re-signing a nuclear deal, which will unfreeze Iranian assets, but likely do little to slow the country’s rapid progress in nuclear weapons development. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett observed that this “shorter and weaker” deal would permit Iran to build “stadiums of advanced centrifuges without restrictions.”
In December 2021, the Saudi Arabian government announced it would only support a revised nuclear deal if it recognized Iran’s malignant influence beyond the nuclear issue.
“Any return [to the JCPOA] should be only the first step towards a longer and stronger deal … the current deal doesn’t protect us from an Iranian nuclear or military capability,” the kingdom’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, told media outlets in a televised address.
As the reinvigoration of a potential nuclear deal grows daily, this issue not only deserves widespread news coverage but also a critical eye.
The Trudeau government was supportive of the 2015 JCPOA, and as an ally of the United States, it likely will voice its support once again. But without recognizing the fatal flaws of the original deal, and the apparent slight revisions under current negotiations, world powers appear set to make the same mistakes they made previously, only this time, facing a much more confrontational Iran which recognizes its strong hand and leverage.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership is already a malign influence in the world. Adding nuclear capability to the mix would only supercharge its reach and unfreezing billions in assets will only give it a war chest for it to continue its state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide. As the window closes on a potential revised agreement, the need for critical reporting and scrutiny on this issue has never been greater.
Mike Fegelman, Executive Director, HonestReporting Canada