The deal Trump wants to scrap because he thinks it should remain in force longer

Jeffrey Lewis writes: There is an old joke about two elderly women at a Catskills resort. One says: “Boy, the food in this place is really terrible.” And the other one says: “Yeah, I know. And such small portions.”

That’s the same complaint raised by opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Donald Trump called it, “one of the most incompetently drawn deals I’ve ever seen.” And Rex Tillerson explained that, “in particular, the agreement has this very concerning shortcoming that the President has mentioned as well, and that is the sunset clause.”

Such a terrible deal. Yeah, and it ends so early!

Far from being incompetently drafted, the JCPOA imposed a number of important limits on Iran’s nuclear energy program to create a wider gap between Iran’s nuclear energy programs and a bomb. Second, the JCPOA greatly strengthened Iran’s safeguards arrangements to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to verify that gap. And it does not have a single sunset.

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had built a large and capable uranium infrastructure that would have allowed Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks if Iran chose to do so. Iran had nearly 20,000 centrifuges, including nearly 3,000 located in its deep underground facility near Qom. [Continue reading…]

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UN agency report shows Iran meeting nuclear commitments

The Associated Press reports: The United Nations agency monitoring Iran’s compliance with a landmark nuclear treaty issued a report Monday certifying that the country is keeping its end of the deal that U.S. President Donald Trump claims Tehran has violated repeatedly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report stopped short of declaring that Iran is honoring its obligations, in keeping with its official role as an impartial monitor of the restrictions the treaty placed on Tehran’s nuclear programs.

But in reporting no violations, the quarterly review’s takeaway was that Iran was honoring its commitments to crimp uranium enrichment and other activities that can serve both civilian and military nuclear programs.

The report cited IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as stressing “the importance of the full implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments” under the deal. Diplomats familiar with the work that went into the evaluation said Amano’s statement referred to a past violation on heavy water limits that Iran has since corrected.

Heavy water cools reactors that can produce plutonium used to make the core of nuclear warheads. The IAEA last year said that Tehran had slightly exceeded the limit, but later said it had returned to compliance. Monday’s report showed its heavy water supply remains under the maximum 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) allowed under the deal. [Continue reading…]

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Trump disavows nuclear deal and denounces Iranian leadership

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Friday made good on a long-running threat to disavow the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. But he stopped short of unraveling the accord or even rewriting it, as the deal’s defenders had once feared.

In a speech that mixed searing criticism of Iran with more measured action, Mr. Trump declared his intention not to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Doing so essentially kicks to Congress a decision about whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the agreement.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Mr. Trump declared at the White House, as he laid out a broader strategy for confronting Iran.

The president derided the deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” But he added, “What’s done is done, and that’s why we are where we are.”

Mr. Trump said he would ask Congress to establish trigger points, which could prompt the United States to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it crosses thresholds set by Congress.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Mr. Trump said. [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Why every other country in the Iran nuclear deal is standing by it

The Washington Post reports: In a decision that could deepen the transatlantic rift, President Trump announced his withdrawal of presidential “certification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline. Trump previously called the 2015 agreement disastrous and has argued that it isn’t in the United States’ best interests, though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in the past.

The deal’s decertification is expected to put Congress in charge of attaching new conditions that could either strengthen the deal or lead to its dismantlement. The latter scenario would probably result in the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Even within Trump’s administration, however, many top officials agree with European leaders and businesses that preserving the deal would be the smarter choice.

So why are European leaders — who unlike some top officials within the Trump administration are more easily able to argue their cases — in favor of upholding the deal?

Europe thinks that a flawed deal is better than no deal

Even though there might be flaws, the current deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing. “We have no indication of Iran violating its JCPoA commitments,” said an official in the German Federal Foreign Office, referring to the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its abbreviation. French officials recently reached the same conclusion, and even U.S. officials have made the case that Iran is in compliance. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli defense experts warn against dropping Iran nuke deal

The Associated Press reports: If President Donald Trump moves to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s nationalist government can be expected to be the loudest — and perhaps only — major player to applaud.

But the true picture is more complicated than what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might portray: There is a strong sense among his own security establishment that there are few good alternatives, that the deal has benefited Israel, and that U.S. credibility could be squandered in the turbulent Middle East in ways that could harm Israel itself.

That is not to say that Israel’s respected security chiefs are all pleased with every aspect of the Iran deal. But after Netanyahu declared at the United Nations last month that it was time to “fix it or nix it,” the prevailing attitude among security experts seems to be that fixing it is the best way to go.

“It seems to me that the less risky approach is to build on the existing agreement, among other reasons because it does set concrete limitations on the Iranians,” said Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu. “It imposes ceilings and benchmarks and verification systems that you do not want to lose. Why lose it?” [Continue reading…]

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False assumptions about the Iran nuclear deal

Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, writes: There are a number of reasons the president and hard-liners in Washington think that the White House should pursue this path [undermining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. But their views are built on a set of false assumptions about the nuclear deal that should be laid to rest.

First, some of the agreement’s opponents claim that the J.C.P.O.A. is “the worst agreement the United States has ever entered into with another country.” This ignores an important truth: The nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement between Tehran and Washington. In fact, it isn’t even a multilateral deal that requires ratification in either Congress or the Iranian Parliament. It is, instead, a United Nations Security Council resolution. (Indeed, this explains why the deal continues to have wide support from the other Security Council members, as well as from Secretary General António Guterres.)

A second false assumption is that the deal is meant to dictate Iran’s policies in matters unrelated to our nuclear program. This has never been the case. It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns. Anyone involved in the years of talks that led to the J.C.P.O.A. can attest to this. For example, even as Russia and the United States disagreed on many other issues in the Middle East, they were able to work together at the negotiating table.

Reports now indicate the Trump administration wants to tie the nuclear agreement to Iran’s missile program, a move that would go far beyond the J.C.P.O.A.’s intended purpose. Security Council Resolution 2231, which incorporates the nuclear deal, “calls upon” Iran to not work on “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” But my country is not seeking to develop or acquire nuclear weapons and this carefully negotiated language does not restrain us from developing conventional military deterrence technology that so many other countries possess. The fact that Iranian missiles are designed for maximum precision proves that they are not designed for nuclear capability, as such delivery vehicles need not be precise in targeting.

A third false assumption is that there is a “sunset clause” in the deal, suggesting that in a decade Iran will be free of inspections or limits on its nuclear program. While it’s true that some provisions regarding restrictions will expire, crucial aspects of inspections will not. Moreover, the deal establishes that some six years from now — assuming all participants have fulfilled their obligations — Iran should ratify the Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards, part of the Nonproliferation Treaty. This would subject my country to an extensive I.A.E.A. inspection process. Iran will continue its nuclear program for energy and medical purposes as a normal member of the international community and signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty after the period of years written into the J.C.P.O.A. [Continue reading…]

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Europe helped draft the Iran nuclear deal. Now EU leaders seek to save it from Trump pressure

The Washington Post reports: European officials and business executives are quickly mobilizing a counter effort to the expected U.S. rebuff of the Iran nuclear accord, encouraging companies to invest in Iran while urging Congress to push back against White House moves that could hobble the deal.

The European stance — sketched out on the sidelines of an Iran-focused investment forum in Zurich this week — is an early signal of the possible transatlantic rifts ahead as America’s European partners show no sign of following the White House call to renegotiate the landmark pact with Tehran.

“The nuclear deal is working and delivering and the world would be less stable without it,” Helga Schmid, the secretary general of the European’s foreign policy service, said in a speech at the Europe-Iran Forum.

This amounted to a warning shot that Washington may once again find itself isolated from its key Western allies, who have already broke with the White House over issues such as President Trump’s call to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. [Continue reading…]

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Trump plans to declare that Iran nuclear deal is not in the national interest

The Washington Post reports: President Trump plans to announce next week that he will “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on an emerging White House strategy for Iran said Thursday.

The move would mark the first step in a process that could eventually result in the resumption of U.S. sanctions against Iran, which would blow up a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities that the country reached in 2015 with the U.S. and five other nations.

Trump is expected to deliver a speech, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12, laying out a larger strategy for confronting the nation it blames for terrorism and instability throughout the Middle East.

Under what is described as a tougher and more comprehensive approach, Trump would open the door to modifying the landmark 2015 agreement he has repeatedly bashed as a raw deal for the United States. But for now he would hold off on recommending that Congress reimpose sanctions on Iran that would abrogate the agreement, said four people familiar with aspects of the president’s thinking.

All cautioned that plans are not fully set and could change. The White House would not confirm plans for a speech or its contents. Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the agreement and whether he judges the deal to be in the U.S. national interest. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: administration officials are expected to press Republican lawmakers not to reimpose nuclear sanctions, which would effectively unravel the agreement in the eyes of the Iranian government and many U.S. allies.

In return, Trump officials, led by McMaster, plan to reassure congressional Republicans — virtually all of whom opposed the deal — with a pressure campaign against Iran.

That campaign is at the heart of McMaster’s policy review, due Oct. 31, which has been conducted quietly as the debate over the nuclear deal has played out in public. The new policy is expected to target Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and the financial web that facilitates them.

Of particular focus will be the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the administration will designate as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time the military wing of a regime will have earned the label. [Continue reading…]

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Will Iran stick to the JCPOA if Trump refuses to re-certify it?

Farhad Rezaei writes: As is well known, the Iranian regime is deeply divided along sectoral and ideological lines. On one side are moderates, also known as the normalizers, who, under President Hassan Rouhani, hope to use the JCPOA to “normalize” Iran and integrate it into the family of nations. On the other side are the hardline Principalists, largely concentrated in the parastatal sector such as the Revolutionary Guards, the big foundations, and the ultraconservative Haqqani Circle of clerics. The Principalists have objected to the nuclear deal and reject international reintegration. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is essentially a hardliner, he was anxious about the legitimacy crisis triggered by international sanctions and empowered the normalizers to negotiate the JCPOA.

For the moderates, the response to looming possible decertification has been a difficult balancing act.

Under pressure from hardliners, Rouhani was forced to warn the United States that Iran would not stay silent if Washington exerts more pressure on Iran. In an interview with CNN on Sept. 19, Rouhani said that Washington will pay a “high cost” if Trump makes good on his threats. The Iranian president also stated that his country would not enter new negotiations. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned that Washington would lose credibility if it walks away from the JCPOA and urged European countries to uphold the agreement if the US does not.

Significantly though, the normalizers, have not threatened to quit the agreement should Trump decline to re-certify it. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. defense secretary breaks with Trump in backing Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: The US defense secretary, James Mattis, has backed the nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is in the interests of national security to maintain it, breaking with Donald Trump and potentially making it harder for the president to withdraw from the deal.

The timing and nature of Mattis’s remarks are particularly significant because Trump has threatened to withhold certification of the 2015 international agreement in a report to Congress due on 15 October . Under the relevant legislation, the administration has to certify whether Iran is in material breach of the agreement, or if the deal is not serving the national interest.

Mattis was asked at a hearing of the Senate armed services committee whether he believed it was currently in the US national security interest to remain in the agreement.

After a significant pause, the defense secretary replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

At the same hearing, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford agreed that Iran was abiding by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which he said had delayed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Last week, Dunford said the US should uphold the agreement, in the absence of a clear Iranian breach, or risk losing credibility when it came to signing future agreements. [Continue reading…]

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The debate over the Iran deal is utterly perplexing

Adam J. Szubin writes: As one of the architects of a 10-year sanctions campaign against Iran under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and the Treasury Department official charged with delivering sanctions relief pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), I find the debate over the 2015 Iran deal somewhat baffling. Iran and its proxies are threatening our allies and interests across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon and Yemen to Iraq. Why would we risk letting Iran out of its nuclear shackles now?

I know the threat Iran poses and understand certain misgivings about the agreement. While the deal prohibits Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon forever, its restrictions on uranium enrichment for civil purposes begin to ease in a decade, sooner than any Iran-skeptic would like.

In its central elements, though, the deal is strong. Iran has been stripped of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, pushing it far from nuclear breakout. Its heavy-water reactor has been permanently disabled. And a far-reaching inspections regime allows scores of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to scrutinize any site where they have reason to suspect cheating. If this doesn’t sound like much, remember that in 2010, we faced a country with 50 times more enriched material than it has today, 17,000 centrifuges churning out more material every month, a heavy-water reactor under construction and no IAEA inspectors on the ground. No wonder senior Israeli military and intelligence experts have expressed anxiety about the deal collapsing. [Continue reading…]

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Iran defies Washington as it announces successful missile test

AFP reports: Iran has said it successfully tested a new medium-range missile, in defiance of warnings from the US that such activities were grounds for abandoning the countries’ landmark nuclear deal.

State television carried footage of the launch of the Khoramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Friday. It also carried in-flight video from the nose-cone of the missile, which has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000km) and can carry multiple warheads.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defence capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” said the country’s defence minister, Amir Hatami. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world another Rocket Man

Jeffrey Lewis writes: President Trump made quite the scene at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He didn’t bang his shoe, as Nikita Khrushchev did in 1960, or wear a pistol like Yasser Arafat in 1974. But in his own way, Trump unsettled the audience in the room and those watching on television with an extraordinary, bellicose speech.

The early headlines focused on his mocking of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and his warning that the United States would “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. But perhaps more worrisome was Trump’s veiled threat to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which he referred to as “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded with a threat of his own: “If, under any conditions, the United States chooses to break this agreement . . . it means that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country.”

It’s all very reminiscent of when the United States sought to walk away from a nuclear agreement with North Korea in 2002, squandering the best opportunity to forestall North Korea’s nuclear program. And if Trump refuses to certify Iran as being in compliance with the deal by the next deadline, Oct. 15, the result may be the same: Another country with long-range nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States.

The deal made with Iran in 2015 is remarkably similar to the agreement negotiated with North Korea in 1994 — in its gen­esis, its concept and the political resistance it has met.

The stories begin with nuclear ambitions. In both cases, those ambitions were revealed through strong U.S. intelligence capabilities in tandem with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In both cases, the sensitivity of IAEA techniques, such as environmental sampling, caught the governments by surprise, revealing far more about their nuclear programs than Pyongyang and Tehran ever anticipated. [Continue reading…]

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World powers rally to defend value of Iran nuke accord

The Associated Press reports: Top diplomats from Germany, Russia, China and Italy insisted Thursday there can be no turning back on the Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump suggested that he may seek a renegotiation or simply walk away from the pact.

“How are we going to convince countries like North Korea that international agreements provide them with security — and in so doing make them commit to future disarmament efforts — if the only international example for such an endeavor being successful, the agreement with Iran, no longer has effect?” asked Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, addressing the U.N. General Assembly.

Italy’s U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi said after a Security Council meeting that the escalating situation with North Korea should serve as a cautionary tale for not abandoning the Iran deal. “When you see the DPRK proliferation issue, which is not controlled of course because (it is) a rogue state, and then you have the kind of controlled agreement on Iran, that is the way to go.” DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name. [Continue reading…]

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Iranian president aptly describes Trump as a ‘rogue newcomer’ to world politics

The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted President Trump on Wednesday for his “ignorant, absurd and hateful” speech before the United Nations a day earlier and vowed Iran would not be the first to walk away from the historic 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani, during a 23-minute address at the U.N. General Assembly, never mentioned Trump by name. Instead he referred to him obliquely, at one point saying it would be a pity if the nuclear deal were undone by “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.”

Rouhani denied that Iran had ever sought to obtain nuclear weapons and said the ballistic missiles it has been testing would be used only for defensive purposes.

“Iran does not seek to restore its ancient empire, impose its official religion on others or export its revolution through the force of arms,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Netanyahu ready united assault against Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in New York on Monday, at the start of a week in which they intend to launch a concerted assault at the United Nations against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The US and Israeli leaders are expected to use their speeches to the UN general assembly on Tuesday to highlight the threat to Middle East stability and security represented by Tehran.

While anxiety about Iran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is widely shared, Trump and Netanyahu’s antipathy to the multilateral deal agreed in Vienna two years ago binds them together, even as it sets them apart from the overwhelming majority of other world leaders attending the annual UN summit.

Western allies in Europe – most notably the UK, France and Germany, co-signatories of the 2015 deal – remain committed to the agreement and have signalled they are willing to disagree sharply and openly with Trump on the issue.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN who made herself the principal channel for the president’s critique of the deal, has been a lonely voice against it on the security council.

The stance taken by Netanyahu and Trump has also set them apart from their most senior national security advisers. [Continue reading…]

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