Home/Daniel Larison/Killing the Nuclear Deal with Lies and Sanctions

Killing the Nuclear Deal with Lies and Sanctions

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Trump told some more lies about Iran and the nuclear deal and threatened more sanctions:

Correcting Trump’s lies sometimes seems like trying to use an umbrella against a hurricane, but it is important to understand that nothing that the president says in this statement about Iran or the nuclear deal is true. Practically everything he says about the nuclear deal has been a lie for the last four years, and this is no exception.

There has been no “secret” enrichment. Iran was permitted to enrich uranium to a low level and was allowed to retain a small stockpile of the low-enriched uranium that this produced. None of this was secret, and the IAEA confirmed in 15 consecutive reports that they were abiding by the restrictions contained in the JCPOA. If Iran had been operating some secret enrichment facility, the IAEA would have discovered it. It’s just made up nonsense used to distract from the fact that the current impasse with Iran is entirely Trump’s fault.

The amount of sanctions relief that Iran received was far less than $150 billion. This is an amount that has been thrown around by opponents of the deal for years, but the real amount is roughly one-third as much. This was not money that was given to Iran, but was Iran’s own money that it was able to access once sanctions were lifted. Sanctions relief in exchange for compliance was always the way that any deal would work, and Iran was fully in compliance until Trump’s illegitimate sanctions pushed them to reduce their compliance earlier this month. Trump has obviously never cared about Iran’s compliance with the deal or lack thereof, because he violated the deal more than a year ago when both the IAEA and our own intelligence agencies said that Iran was complying.

Trump’s claim that “the deal was to expire” in a few years is also false. A few of the deal’s provisions expire six years from now, and others expire in eleven years, but the most important provisions that bar Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon are permanent. Why do some of the restrictions expire after a certain period of time? Because the point of the deal is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and once Iran has demonstrated that it is over the course of 10-15 years they are going to be treated like any other member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Ali Vaez explained this back in 2017:

Years down the road, however, when the IAEA gains confidence that there are no undeclared nuclear activities and materials in Iran, it will be unreasonable not to treat Iran like any other NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] member state in good standing. This means that the unprecedented verification measures would end, but rigorous inspections would continue in perpetuity.

In addition to honoring Iran’s obligations under the NPT, Iran has been voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol that make it practically impossible for their government to pursue a nuclear weapon without being detected. Assuming that the deal survives long enough, Iran is expected to ratify the Additional Protocol and accept its requirements on a permanent basis. Vaez commented on this as well:

Assuming the other parties to the deal reciprocate by holding up their end of the bargain, Iran will ratify in 2023 the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which allows short-notice inspections of undeclared facilities in Iran and which it is now voluntarily implementing. To date, no country on earth has developed nuclear weapons under the watchful eyes of the IAEA’s inspectors who are empowered by the access that the Additional Protocol affords them.

Once Iran ratifies the Additional Protocol, that will practically guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful in the future, but to get there the other parties to the deal have to keep their promises over the next four years. Iran hawks want to apply a double standard to Iran forever and require them to accept restrictions that no other NPT member has to accept (to say nothing of the rogue nuclear weapons states that don’t belong to the NPT), but Iran was never going to accept that.

Trump’s numerous lies are obnoxious, but the worst part of the tweet is the threat of additional sanctions. How could there be anything left in Iran to sanction, you might ask. The Trump administration is reportedly considering using a provision in the PATRIOT Act that would effectively shut off the last remaining economic ties between Iran and Europe and cut off trade in humanitarian goods. Tyler Cullis explains:

But Section 311 rule-making appears to be back with a vengeance. The Trump administration is mulling the issuance of a “Final Rule” that would give the Section 311 designation the force of law. In doing so, the administration would impose the fifth special measure with respect to Iran. The administration’s outside enablers are quickly laying the public groundwork for Treasury’s imminent action. The effects could prove dramatic.

The most significant result of such rule-making could well be the total cessation of humanitarian trade with Iran [bold mine-DL], as those few foreign banks that maintain accounts for non-designated Iranian banks to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran—including humanitarian trade—shutter such accounts in order to avoid the onerous scrutiny of their US correspondents.

Iran hawks in the Senate are also agitating for an end to the sanctions waivers that permit other governments to cooperate with Iran on civilian nuclear projects. These waivers are critical to the survival of the deal, because they represent one of the only benefits that Iran still receives. That is why the hard-line deal-killers Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz are seeking to have the waivers revoked. Kathy Gilsinan reports:

Now congressional hawks are pushing to topple two of the last remaining pillars of the deal: international civil nuclear cooperation with Iran, and relief from United Nations sanctions on certain nuclear-related technology transfers to Iran, as well as arms transfers to the country and ballistic-missile development. They are likely to succeed on the first—the second, more dramatic step could be substantially more difficult.

The Senate hawks are simply arsonists looking for any way they can find to burn down the rest of the nuclear deal. No one interested in advancing the cause of nonproliferation would do what these hard-liners are demanding that the U.S. do. Failing to renew these waivers for cooperation on civilian nuclear projects would be “indefensible,” as Jarrett Blanc has said, and the only reason to revoke them is if you want to destroy the deal and create a pretext for conflict. Blanc concluded:

Unfortunately, some of President Trump’s advisors and supporters — the advocates of withdrawing civil nuclear cooperation waivers — prefer a return to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program rather than a return to the realistic and effective diplomacy that produced the Iran deal. It is hard to imagine a riskier or more foolish basis for making policy in a tense region.

Trump’s dishonest and ridiculous tweet portends some very dangerous and destructive actions from the administration in the coming weeks.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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