Regardless of how the Obama administration described their nuclear deal with Iran, it increasingly looks like history will judge the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as being as bad as or worse than the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea.
Long before Donald Trump allowed—temporarily—strategist and former Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon onto the National Security Council, President Obama ensconced Ben Rhodes on the council to coordinate spin and media strategy. Rhodes famously created an echo chamber to downplay or deny weaknesses in the agreement.
Two new revelations highlight just how dishonest senior Obama administration officials—especially Secretary of State John Kerry and his immediate staff—were in their handling of Iran.
First, a relatively minor revelation: Analyst Omri Ceren, whose granular analysis of U.S. and Iranian statements and agreements with regard to the Iranian nuclear deal remains a daily must-read, highlights the following statement from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, quoting the JCPOA in order to allege U.S. violation:
Senior Government Officials of the E3/EU+3 and Iran will make every effort to support the successful implementation of this JCPOA, including in their public statements.
A footnote clarified that this applied to senior U.S. administration officials.
There were so many flaws with the JCPOA that this one didn’t really receive the attention it should have. In effect, Kerry agreed to spin the JCPOA. In an Orwellian twist, pointing out Iranian violations of the JCPOA becomes a violation itself.
It is deeply ironic that, in an era when politicians of both parties complain about “fake news,” Congress endorsed an agreement that mandated falsities. The only silver-lining to the objection of Zarif is that “make every effort” is ill-defined and is not infinite. Let us hope that, however Obama and Kerry interpreted the passage, Trump and Tillerson embrace the notion that “every effort” does not extend to lying, as Zarif seems to suggest it should.
As damaging as the JCPOA was—it completely reversed the precedent established by the dismantling of South Africa and Libya’s nuclear programs and left Iran with more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it built not a nuclear weapon but an entire arsenal—equally destructive was the Obama administration’s willingness to unravel investigations into Iran’s secret procurement program which seems to have continued even after the JCPOA was signed. Josh Meyer at Politico has the scoop:
In reality, some of [those against whom the Obama administration dropped charges] were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.
And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.” Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran. A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.
The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.
All of this was done not only to ransom U.S. hostages—something about which subsequent revelations show two State Department officials outright lied in Congressional testimony before the Financial Services Committee—but to protect the fiction that the deal was working and relations were on the mend. In short, Secretary of State John Kerry and his aides sought to pervert justice and bury facts to preserve a political fiction regardless of the damage that the reality of Iran’s actions could inflict on the region and U.S. national security.
Over the last half-century, intelligence politicization most frequently occurs in support of high-profile diplomacy when politicians engage in initiatives which they believe too important to fail. Never before, however, has an administration or a secretary of state agreed to self-censor and mislead.
It is wrong to criminalize policy debate as some politicians and pundits tried to do during the Bush administration but, given that the JCPOA applies just as much to the Trump administration as it did to Obama, it is long past time for Congress to demand the testimony John Kerry, his chief of staff and top aides, in order to understand just what risks they were willing to inflict on the United States of America for what appears increasingly to be a Potemkin agreement.