The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, was fatally flawed and one-sided for what was in the agreement, and fatally flawed and one-sided for what was left out.
However, over five years after the deal was agreed to by President Barack Obama’s administration, it seems history may be doomed to repeat itself as Joe Biden, House Democrats and others are trying to get the United States to reenter the agreement with Iran without first securing any new restrictions, conditions or other updates.
For reasons that include the expiring sunset clauses and other dynamics, this would be a strategic U.S. foreign policy blunder, exponentially more dangerous than the original 2015 decision to agree to the JCPOA in the first place.
As is, this deal is not a pathway for how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Instead, it is a blueprint for exactly how Iran can secure massive sums of money and get its hands on a nuclear weapon in short order.
The decision by the Trump administration not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal in 2017 was undoubtedly the right call and in America’s best interests. However, even if the United States never withdrew from the deal, the sunset provisions poorly negotiated in the agreement would now be upon us, meaning Iran would be well on its way to obtaining a nuclear weapon all while having violated not only the spirit but the letter of the deal.
House Democrats claim the JCPOA “verifiably constrained Iran’s nuclear program.” But in violation of the deal, prior to U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, Iran spun more IR-6 centrifuges than permitted under the JCPOA. It assembled more IR-8 rotor assemblies than permitted.
Iran also attempted to acquire carbon fiber that it had agreed not to obtain and it stockpiled more heavy water than what was allowed under the JCPOA.
Even though the United States insisted there would be inspections anytime and anywhere of Iran’s military sites, the Iranians made it clear before, during and after this agreement was entered into that such inspections would never be permitted. Additionally, the United States agreed to not have any American weapons inspectors participate in any JCPOA inspections.
Worst of all, the verification agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency remains a great mystery to this day and still hasn’t been submitted to Congress.
Even former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted he hadn’t read the verification regime detailed in those secret side deals. President Obama said that the Iran nuclear agreement was not based on trust, but verification, but how can U.S. officials sign off on a verification regime they have never read?
On the presidential campaign trail last year, Biden made the promise of reentering the Iran nuclear deal a pillar of his platform. It’s clear he believes — as President Obama did — that he wouldn’t even need congressional approval to take such an action.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in 2015, I questioned then-Secretary of State Kerry about why the JCPOA wasn’t submitted to Congress as a treaty. His answer wasn’t a constitutional analysis or based on any other legal reasoning of any sort. It was a political answer. The reason the JCPOA wasn’t submitted to Congress as a treaty, Kerry said, was because the Obama administration knew it wouldn’t have the votes to be ratified.
House Democrats say that returning both Iran and the United States to compliance with the JCPOA must be “the starting point for further negotiations.” But that’s not an option. As the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency pointed out, there are too many breaches of this agreement to simply wish everything could just fall right back into place as is.
While House Democrats claim that withdrawal from the JCPOA eliminated “U.S. leverage in addressing other national security issues with Iran,” the reality is that the agreement itself eliminated the leverage by negotiating away all of the sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place.
The JCPOA failed to address any of Iran’s other dangerous activities. These include Iran’s commitment to overthrow foreign governments, finance terrorism, illegally test-fire intercontinental ballistic missiles, seek to wipe Israel off the map, and chant “Death to America” within the government and on their streets. On top of this, Iran unjustly imprisons American citizens and engages in other nefarious behavior.
Under the Trump administration, America’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran crippled the regime, eliminated the ISIS caliphate, killed terrorists Qassem Soleimani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and took other decisive action without starting any new military conflict anywhere on the globe.
In many ways, the Middle East has been undergoing an advantageous realignment in which Israel and other nations in the region are uniting and strengthening their ties, determined to successfully confront a common adversary in Iran.
Iran does not respect weakness. It only respects strength. Use of force and military action should always be the last possible option, but we must keep it on the table — not because we want war, but because we want to prevent it.
Our other instruments of national power — such as diplomacy, economic pressure and more — become greater tools in this effort when Iran understands that the military option is on the table and real.
In stark contrast to this progress, House Democrats are now urging the United States to reenter the Iran nuclear deal with no new conditions, requirements or other updates to the JCPOA.
By reentering the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. once again would be abandoning the leverage that would bring Iran back to the negotiating table to deal with its nuclear and non-nuclear activities that must be stopped.
Iranian leaders don’t want to reenter the JCPOA as it is for their love of humanity. They want to reenter the JCPOA as it is because they rolled U.S. negotiators at the table to secure this agreement in 2015, and then made out like bandits with the sanctions relief. The current nuclear deal would allow Iran to continue its other non-nuclear hostile activities, and still have nuclear weapons in short order.
The United States must also heed other key lessons learned from the 2015 negotiations with Iran:
First, if we set red lines for talks, either stand by them or don’t set those red lines at all.
Second, don’t unilaterally tie ourselves to deadlines that only our side of the table cares about. When the United States is desperate to hit a milestone by a particular date — but Iran couldn’t care less — Iran assumes a position of strength over us.
Third, don’t try to cut a deal just to cut a deal — as if any deal is better than no deal. We must be fully prepared to walk away from talks if necessary.
We must not be naive, desperate or weak in how we move forward. Just recently, the Green Zone in Baghdad in Iraq was targeted with 21 rockets by an Iranian-backed rogue militia group, killing one Iraqi citizen.
We are often reminded that the challenges we face are with not only Iran’s nuclear activities, but its many non-nuclear nefarious activities as well.
How the United States and others have responded to Iran and its proxies in the past and decisions and actions our government takes in the future will determine the fate of this complex, ongoing situation. This is why the United States must be smart, deliberate, strong and strategic.
The irony of the House Democrats’ call is that trying to reenter the 2015 JCPOA as is would be the “potentially devastating miscalculation.”
We must approach Iran from a position of strength and not surrender for the sake of domestic politics, partisan emotions, or uninformed whim. We must heed lessons from the past several years. We must understand that the weak and desperate adversary is the Iranian regime, not the United States of America.