Iran nu­clear deal: It’s im­per­fect but it shouldn’t be scrapped

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - DAVID IG­NATIUS

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, al­ready strug­gling with a big nu­clear prob­lem in North Korea, is about to raise an­other one by ques­tion­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the nu­clear agree­ment with Iran. A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said that U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will share his con­cerns about Ira­nian com­pli­ance with global lead­ers gath­er­ing next week for the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly. The of­fi­cial said Trump wants tighter in­spec­tion of Ira­nian fa­cil­i­ties and a re-ex­am­i­na­tion of the “sun­set clause” that would al­low Iran to re­sume as­pects of its nu­clear pro­gram in 10 to 15 years.

Trump isn’t propos­ing to re­open ne­go­ti­a­tions but in­stead threat­en­ing to scut­tle the deal al­to­gether if Iran doesn’t of­fer con­ces­sions. “He’s will­ing to leave the agree­ment if we don’t ... fix the deal,” the of­fi­cial said. “He’s will­ing to cut bait and walk away.”

Trump’s po­si­tion re­flects his view that the Iran nu­clear pact is “the worst deal ever ne­go­ti­ated.” He has levied this at­tack with­out dis­cussing whether U.S. in­ter­ests would be served by scrap­ping one of the few suc­cess­ful coun­ter­pro­lif­er­a­tion agree­ments that ex­ist.

An Amer­i­can re­buff to Iran, for ex­am­ple, would un­der­mine what­ever slim hope ex­ists for ne­go­ti­at­ing a de­nu­cle­ariza­tion agree­ment with North Korea. And de­spite White House talk of seek­ing a “united front” among al­lies, there’s no sign of sup­port among Euro­pean na­tions, even those crit­i­cal of Ira­nian be­hav­ior, such as France. Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron said this month that while he’s con­cerned about Iran’s post-2025 sta­tus, “the 2015 agree­ment is what en­ables us to es­tab­lish a con­struc­tive and de­mand­ing di­a­logue with Iran.”

Trump’s ap­par­ent hope that Iran will of­fer uni­lat­eral con­ces­sions is ques­tioned by Iran ex­perts. “I don’t be­lieve Tehran would be ready at all to rene­go­ti­ate the deal,” said Seyed Hos­sein Mousa­vian, a for­mer Ira­nian of­fi­cial who now teaches at Prince­ton Univer­sity in the U.S. but re­mains in touch with his ex-col­leagues. He called the idea a “non­starter.”

Olli Heinonen, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial at the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, said in an in­ter­view that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ar­gu­ments for bet­ter Ira­nian com­pli­ance have some merit.

Heinonen ar­gued, for ex­am­ple, that it is a “valid ques­tion” whether Tehran is abid­ing by the cap on its heavy-water stock­pile of 130 mil­lion tons when it al­legedly still owns many mil­lions of tons more that have been shipped to Oman and stored there, await- ing buy­ers. He also said it is “le­git­i­mate” to ques­tion whether Iran is al­low­ing full in­spec­tion of all po­ten­tial nu­clear-re­lated fa­cil­i­ties. And he agreed that the

‘[Trump] is will­ing to leave the agree­ment if we don’t ... fix the deal. ... He’s will­ing to cut bait and walk away’

sun­set pro­vi­sion should be “re­vis­ited,” rather than “just kick­ing the can down the road.”

Trump’s push for con­ces­sions on the nu­clear agree­ment is ac­com­pa­nied by sharp crit­i­cism of Ira­nian be­hav­ior in re­gional con­flicts. The se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial listed a string of what he termed Tehran’s “desta­bi­liz­ing” ac­tions through prox­ies. He said Ira­nian-backed Houthi rebels in Ye­men have threat­ened nav­i­ga­tion in the Bab al-Mandab Strait with mines and mis­siles, and that they are in­stalling bal­lis­tic mis­siles in Ye­men that could hit Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial also charged that Iran is build­ing pre­ci­sion-guided mis­siles in Syria that could be used against Is­rael; send­ing Iraqi Shi­ite mili­tias into east­ern Syria to aid the regime there; and pro­vid­ing deadly “ex­plo­sively formed pen­e­tra­tors,” or EFPs, to Shi­ite rebels in Bahrain. This last is an es­pe­cially emo­tional is­sue for U.S. com­man­ders be­cause Iran-sup­plied EFPs killed many Amer­i­can sol­diers in Iraq.

A sec­ond ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial pro­vided links to 25 me­dia re­ports to back up the first of­fi­cial’s allegations about Ira­nian be­hav­ior. Some of th­ese ap­peared in Arab me­dia out­lets that are strongly anti-Iran; they couldn’t be con­firmed in­de­pen­dently.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dossier about Ira­nian ac­tiv­ity is part of a new, get-tough strat­egy for deal­ing with Tehran, the first of­fi­cial said. Trump re­viewed this ap­proach with his advisers last Fri­day. He will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion soon about Iran poli­cies, in­clud­ing whether to re­cer­tify in Oc­to­ber that Iran is com­ply­ing with the nu­clear agree­ment.

Bill Burns, who as deputy sec­re­tary of state helped launch the se­cret diplo­macy that led to the Iran agree­ment, was blunt about what Trump may be set­ting in mo­tion. “If we don’t cer­tify the agree­ment, that will be per­ceived – rightly – as us be­gin­ning to walk away from it. That will put us in a weaker, not a stronger, po­si­tion” in deal­ing with Ira­nian be­hav­ior.

The right ques­tion to ask is the same one as when the deal was be­ing ne­go­ti­ated: Does this agree­ment, with all its flaws, make the U.S. and its al­lies safer than they would be with no agree­ment? This se­cu­rity met­ric, it seems to me, still fa­vors keep­ing the deal.

David Ig­natius is pub­lished twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

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