One year after the conclusion of the negotiations with Iran, the nuclear deal touted by President Obama as his signature foreign policy achievement is looking even flimsier than it did then. Since July 2015, Iran has not only disappointed President Obama’s hopes that it would use this opportunity to “get right with the world.” It has also illegally tested ballistic missiles and continued activities that caused Obama’s State Department to again name it as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Even worse, German intelligence revealed earlier this month that Iran is not only violating, as the administration concedes, the spirit of the agreement but also its letter, too, by seeking to illicitly purchase nuclear material that can be used to build a weapon.
That latter revelation apparently wasn’t enough to make it into the New York Times’ article on the anniversary of the deal. But for those who are actually paying attention to reality rather than administration spin, it turns out the pact was even worse than we thought. While even many critics have conceded that, if Iran keeps to the terms of the deal, it will prevent it from getting a bomb until it completely expired in 15 years, the Iranian foreign minister contradicted the assurances of the Obama administration yesterday when he said his Islamist state would be able to fully resume its enrichment of uranium after ten years.
According to the Associated Press, the Iranian state news agency Fars, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said his announcement was justified by a document linked to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that is to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The document may be a side agreement that has not yet been published by the United States, but the AP says two diplomats, speaking anonymously, have confirmed its authenticity. It states that after the 10-year period has passed since the deal’s announcement, Iran will be able to start replacing its dismantled centrifuges with the most advanced machines. This will be in addition to the many centrifuges Iran was already permitted to keep in operation now. According to the AP, those new centrifuges will be five to ten times as efficient as the 5,060 that it currently operates.
This is not a minor issue since it likely cuts the “breakout” time Iran needs to race to a bomb in half. Given the nuclear research Iran is also permitted to conduct in the interim period and the fact that the West has no firm idea of just how much the Iranian achieved its work on military applications of its nuclear program, that makes it more or less a certainty that an Iranian bomb will be a reality within 11-15 years from now.
That this aspect of the deal was not publicized during the debate about its ratification last year is shocking but very much in line with the dishonesty that Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes boasted of to the New York Times in May. But the fact that the Iranians are willing to publicize this document now shows the depth of contempt for its negotiating partner it is willing to display. Throughout the talks leading up to the creation of the JCOPA, the U.S. made concession after concession, shredding the commitments about Iran that President Obama made to the country four years ago when he was running for re-election. He sacrificed virtually all of America’s concerns about Iran in order to get an agreement at any price because he viewed a rapprochement with Iran to be his foreign policy priority. The result was a weak deal that could be easily evaded but would likely result in a bomb even if it were strictly observed while leaving Iran free to pursue its goals of regional hegemony and support for terrorists who seek Israel’s destruction while also immeasurably enriching Tehran.
But if this is indeed an essential part of the president’s legacy, he will have bequeathed to the world a record of deceit and reckless appeasement that moved the prospect of an Iranian bomb from a question mark to a near certainty. That’s a problem that will complicate the ability of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to conduct U.S. foreign policy in the next four to eight years.