Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Iran has done little to inspire trust since the nuclear accord

Last year we saw Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif share a friendly handshake, and even as late as this past January in a final meeting between American and Iranian negotiators, it seemed that a “thaw” in relations between the two countries was imminent. But that masked what was going on behind the scenes; the Iranians desperately wanted to end sanctions against their nuclear program, and the despite opposition to any accord with the “Great Satan,” the conservative fundamentalist clerics, the military, the Revolutionary Guard and various other “hardliners” allowed the process to continue for their own purposes. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave his tacit support, although he believed that the final text needed closer “scrutiny” before being approved by the Iranian Parliament. In fact, while the agreement was technically “approved” by that body after bitter threats (even death) from hardliners, it was only with “additions” without consultation with or approval by the P5+1 countries involved in the accord negotiations, which appeared to give Iran latitude to meddle with the particulars of the agreement. 

Since an agreement was reached in July, 2015 and most sanctions against Iran lifted, there has been the predictable accusations of violations. The recent passage by the U.S. Congress to re-impose past sanctions against Iran in the event of violations by Iran has of course been cited as a “violation” by Iran and an excuse to build nuclear-fueled ships, which would require enrichment beyond the 20 percent limit set by the agreement. This follows on the heels of other claimed violations by Iran—the continued ballistic missile tests, using released funds to finance rebels in Yemen, and terrorists groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and its September announcement that it would not allow IAEA inspectors to visit any site it chose to, or whenever it chose. This followed a report by the IAEA a few months earlier that “the most recent report on Iran’s nuclear activities provides insufficient details on important verification and monitoring issues,” concluding that it could not verify that Iran was actually abiding by the agreement.

For Iran, this is par for the course; in the past, they have repeatedly violated UN resolutions to stop their nuclear weapons program. Iran, of course, claims its nuclear program is only for “peaceful” purposes, but then again we have seen what “peace” means in the Middle East. Iran has continued to build secret nuclear facilities in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it signed in 1970, and continued to work on nuclear activities that clearly had only military purpose, such as the construction of a heavy-water facility, testing nuclear weapon triggers, constructing nuclear explosion simulators, and receiving assistance (particularly from Pakistan) for constructing nuclear weapons. Russia and China have also been accused of assisting Iran in violating of UN sanctions, the latter secretly shipping uranium to Iran.

Iran hasn’t helped its cause by continuing, as before, to demonize the U.S. and Israel. Last year, the New York Times reported that "Anyone who hoped that Iran’s nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers portended a new era of openness with the West has been jolted with a series of increasingly rude awakenings.” Khamenei continues to declare that "death to America is eternal,” and in Tehran, anti-American billboards are everywhere to be seen. It’s latest ballistic missile test was sent with its usual “Greetings to Israel” message.

Congress’ passage of the extension of Iran sanctions can be seen as a reaction to Iran’s apparent effort to take advantage of the West’s naïveté  in trusting them, using recently released monies to finance their efforts to destabilize the region, as Saudi Arabia and Israel have charged. If the U.S. had hoped for at least a beginning of an era of dialogue, as has occurred in Cuba, this is clearly not something that is going to happen as long as Iran is controlled by religious fanatics in need of a perpetual enemy to maintain themselves in power. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's threat to ignore the nuclear agreement’s limit on enrichment and build nuclear-powered ships—like many of Iran’s claims of “peaceful” uses, actually has an ulterior function—seems to indicate the failure of Iran’s “moderates” to maintain control of the situation in the face of hardline opposition to the agreement. 

Donald Trump has stated his intention to scrap the agreement when he takes office. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on how readily Iran itself wants to scrap the deal, since they have shown little but to undermine confidence by their own actions.

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