One Year Later, Why Leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal Was the Right Call
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Washington was right to withdraw from the multilateral agreement at the time. One year later it remains the right decision, but there is still plenty of talk about rejoining the deeply flawed JCPOA. Let’s take a moment to remind people again of the problems with the agreement, and of Iran’s continuing belligerence.
--Sunset Provision: The JCPOA did not end Tehran’s runaway nuclear program, it only slowed it. For instance, most major uranium enrichment restrictions begin to “sunset,” or expire, at the 10-year mark, allowing Iran to resume this nuclear work in 2025.
--Ballistic Missiles: The Iran nuclear deal did not capture Tehran’s dogged development of ballistic missiles -- which are a perfect delivery vehicle for a nuke. Tehran continues to flout U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which bars test launches of nuclear-capable missiles. This is an ominous sign of Iran’s future intentions.
--Inspection Regime: The JCPOA doesn’t allow for "anytime, anywhere" inspections. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors aren’t allowed to visit undeclared facilities without permission or credible evidence of concern. Tehran has also put military bases off limits. This doesn’t instill confidence in the ability to verify Iran’s compliance.
--Possible Military Dimension: As part of the nuclear deal, Iran was supposed to come clean with the IAEA on the possible military uses of its earlier nuclear weapons work in order to facilitate monitoring and verification of the pact. Tehran didn’t cooperate, which makes the International Atomic Energy Agency’s job IAEA in Iran even more difficult.
--Nuclear Archives: Thanks toIsrael’s masterful exfiltration of secret Iranian nuclear documents from Tehran, we now know a lot more about the nefarious intent behind Iran’s nuclear program.
According to the Institute for Science and International Security’s read of this archival material, Iran planned to build five nuclear weapons in the 10-kiloton range for delivery by ballistic missile, build a parallel uranium enrichment program, and conduct an underground test.
--NPT Compliance: Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program that was at a minimum inconsistent with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, if not a violation of it. When its covert program was exposed, Tehran falsely claimed that its nuclear program was for peaceful power purposes. Can Iran be trusted on any nuclear agreement?
--Bad Behavior:While not part of the JCPOA, one hope was that the nuclear agreement would moderate Iran’s conduct by reducing Tehran’s international isolation. It hasn’t.
Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism through the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It supports Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Afghanistan’s Taliban, and the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria.
Indeed, this week Washington, reacting to intelligence warnings, dispatched U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf to deter Tehran from a possible attack on American interests, including U.S. forces in the Middle East.
The Trump Administration’s post-JCPOA “maximum pressure campaign” is having a dramatic effect on Tehran. For example, a drop in Iran’s oil exports, its main foreign revenue source, due to sanctions has cost Tehran an estimated $10 billion.
As a result, the unpopular, repressive regime is under intense pressure from the Iranian people for reforms that answer their unmet economic and social needs. Tehran also has less money in its government coffers for its international adventurism.
Iran is desperately fighting to hold the JCPOA together due to the advantages it potentially offers Tehran. The failure of other JCPOA parties to support U.S. efforts to fix the agreement’s defects is deeply disturbing.
Even if Iran is believed to be abiding by the JCPOA, Tehran has much of its pre-agreement nuclear infrastructure in place and the intention to preserve its nuclear know-how. Iran thus remains on the threshold of being a nuclear-armed state.
The Trump administration was right to leave the JCPOA due to the agreement’s faults and Iran’s unwillingness to renegotiate it --not to mention the ongoing alarm over Iran’s international conduct.
Allowing nuclear weapons to get into the hands of Tehran, a rogue regime that supports terrorism and holds the United States, Israel, and other partners in enmity is still unthinkable, and it must be prevented.
If possible, we need a new agreement that does just that.
Dr. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. The views expressed are the author's own.