Politico reports that the most rabid Iran hawks in the Senate and inside the administration are pushing to cancel the remaining waivers that enable international cooperation on civilian nuclear projects in Iran. Their explicit goal is to destroy the last pieces of the deal that the U.S. hasn’t directly attacked yet. The report has some interesting details, but the framing of the debate is awful:
Proponents of the nuclear deal have argued that the international nuclear projects facilitated by the waivers help give the U.S. greater visibility and intelligence into Iranian activities; critics say they give an international stamp of approval to Iran’s illicit activities.
This is a great example of how ostensibly “neutral” reporting favors the side acting and arguing in bad faith. What “illicit activities” are supported by these waivers? There aren’t any. The report makes it sound as if there are two equally valid, competing positions, but one of them is completely false. The hawks’ objections to them have nothing to do with opposition to “illicit activities” and everything to do with their hatred for the deal. The activities that the waivers facilitate are endorsed by the JCPOA and a U.N. Security Council resolution. They cannot be illicit because they are entirely consistent with Iran’s obligations and international law. The U.S. has been providing these waivers up until now because of the obvious nonproliferation benefits that everyone derives from the deal, and the people that want to end the waivers are doing so because they don’t care about nonproliferation.
Iran hawks want to force Iran out of the deal to give them a pretext for conflict. These waivers are their latest target because without them other governments may be leery of cooperating on the nuclear projects that give Iran an incentive to remain in the deal. Iran has very few reasons to remain in the deal at this point, and canceling the waivers would likely be the last straw. This is what Bolton and his allies have been working towards all along. When the waivers came up for renewal this spring, the administration extended them, but now there is a real danger that they won’t do that again. The last time this came up, Jarrett Blanc explained why extending the waivers is the obviously correct thing to do:
Failing to renew the waivers would be indefensible. The fact that there is even an internal debate is illuminating: At least some Trump advisors want a crisis with Iran, and the sooner the better.
Withdrawing waivers for civil nuclear cooperation may sound less aggressive than steps like the overhyped Guard Corps designation, but it is one of the most dangerous steps the administration has left, threatening the international nuclear cooperation that is Iran’s only remaining practical benefit from the deal.
Canceling the waivers would be another escalation by the Trump administration, and it would almost certainly prompt Iranian countermoves to further reduce or end their compliance with the deal. The Iran hawks in the administration may think they want a bigger crisis with Iran, but they may not like it when they get one.