WASHINGTON — While UN ambassador Nikki Haley certainly didn’t come to the American Enterprise Institute Tuesday to praise the nuclear agreement with Iran, she insisted she wasn’t there to bury it either.
But we think she doth protest too much. Because that is exactly what she set out to do.
“I’m not making the case for decertifying (the agreement),” she told her rapt AEI audience. “I’m just saying if he (president) should decertify, he has the grounds.”
Haley then warned for what would not be the last time that we shouldn’t just assume that the Iranians were “doing the right thing.”
“What if they weren’t doing the right thing?” Haley presupposed, “And when that 10-year (expiration) hits … they start a nuclear war?”
Her speech, delivered at the most hawkish think tank in Washington—a nesting ground for the key architects of the Iraq War and wider Global War on Terror, not to mention nearly every anti-Iranian hardliner in town—came just five days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared for the eighth time that Iran was complying with the 2015 deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
To Haley the positive IAEA report counted very little against the much bigger, darker picture of Iranian deception, lies, and violence toward the West. “Many observers miss that point. They think, ‘Well, as long as Iran is meeting the limits on enriched uranium and centrifuges, then it’s complying with the deal.’ That’s not true. This is a jigsaw puzzle.” And the IAEA compliance a mere “puzzle piece.”
Most Americans probably believe that complying with the hard-fought pact that forced curbs on Iranian nuclear weapons development in exchange for lifting the crushing international sanctions against Iran is the official gauge that the deal is working. As do all of the signatories to the JCPOA: France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union, none of which seem to have any interest in breaking off the accord. But the U.S. is pushing for more inspections on additional military sites, suggesting the Iranians are hiding something. Haley all but declared in her speech that the Iranians were guilty if they weren’t rushing to open up the additional sites, and the IAEA was weak for not demanding it.
But no matter. As Haley explained, the JCPOA is just one “pillar” in three pillars of compliance that President Trump will be assessing before he decides whether to cut loose. And be assured, “the end result has to be the security of the United States…we will always look out for our interest, our security.”
She insists that the Iranians are already in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the UN’s endorsement of the JCPOA framework, for testing ballistic missiles and engaging in other nefarious “non-nuclear” activity, including “terrorism (and) the support for murderous regimes.” (Note: the words terrorism or terrorist are nowhere to be found in the resolution.) A test of this point, of course, failed earlier this year. France, Germany, the UK and U.S. complained to the UN Secretary General this year that the Iranians were testing a ballistic missile designed to someday carry a nuclear weapon, and was therefore in violation of 2231. The Iranians denied the missile was designed to carry a nuke, and a lack of “consensus” about the testing and whether this provision in 2231 was even binding, prevented further action. An additional June 2017 allegation by the U.S. accused the Iranians of receiving a shipment of ballistic-missile technology, but so far the Secretary General has not been able to corroborate it.
Haley dismissed all this under the umbrella of UN member states falling into the trap of thinking that the Iran nuclear agreement is “too big to fail.”
“Unfortunately as happens all too often at the UN, many member states ignore blatant violations of the UN’s own resolution,” she said. “The international community has powerful incentives to go out of its way to assert that the Iranian regime is in ‘compliance’ on the nuclear side. Meanwhile, the UN is too reluctant to address the regime’s so-called non nuclear violations.”
But according to Haley, Trump will use those and any other “non-nuclear” charges to make his own case, whether or not these things are binding at the UN. Then there is a congressional role, which Haley calls the third pillar, in the form of the Corker-Cardin bill, which requires the president to “certify” the integrity of the deal to congress every 90 days. Trump reluctantly certified in July, but hinted he may not in October. If Haley’s carefully constructed (and as Daniel Larison points out, sometimes fanciful) brief against the Iranians—beginning with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), its proxies in the form of Hezbollah and their all of their “tentacles” in every conflict in the world—is any indication, Trump is beginning the wind-up now. AEI host Danielle Pletka even joined in, adding the world refugee crisis to list of Iran’s current international crimes.
“We must consider not only the technical violations but also (Iran’s) violation of 2231 and its long history of aggression,” Haley declared. If Trump doesn’t certify, then Congress has 60 days to consider whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Of course, this would immediately break the deal and likely re-trigger the nuclear development the world was trying to stop.
That is a risk they will have to take, she said. “We should welcome a debate over whether JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests…It’s past time we had an Iran nuclear policy that acknowledged that.”
This is music to the ears of those members who forced Corker-Cardin when they were angry with the deal and wished it away in the first place. It will be music to the ears of hardliners like former UN ambassador John Bolton, who has not only been pushing to dissolve the pact but to bomb Iran. It will be a symphony to the ears of Israel, which hates the deal and has been lobbying hard for its dissolution from the beginning.
Haley misses the irony of how this elaborate case against Iran is taking place in the shadow of an ascendent nuclear power —North Korea—openly testing missiles and threatening the U.S. and its allies with nuclear annihilation. The administration’s quest to turn back time and re-litigate diplomatic labors that span both the previous Bush and Obama eras appears ideologically driven and, frankly, tone-deaf at a time of what could be real crisis on the other side of the world.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is managing editor of The American Conservative. Follow her on Twitter @Vlahos_at_TAC.