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March 26, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1567

The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal Revisited

March 26, 2021 | By A. Savyon, Yigal Carmon, and Ze'ev B. Begin
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1567

Introduction

It was a great day and history could be seen in the making. The U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, the European Union, China, and Russia had finally reached an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran on blocking its plans to obtain nuclear weapons. As declared by President Obama in the White House on July 14, 2015, the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had been "negotiated from a position of principle and strength, and the result is a nuclear deal that cuts off every pathway to a nuclear weapon."[1]

Six years earlier, speaking in April 2009 in Prague, the newly elected U.S. President laid the ground work for the agreement, announcing that his administration would "seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue... We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections."[2] And so, as a shining victory of diplomacy, July 14, 2015 was a day to remember. 


Presenting the JCPOA nuclear deal on Finalization Day, July 14, 2015, at the UN in Vienna. Left to right: EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It was also a momentous day for Iran, whose brilliant diplomats, negotiating from a position of principle and weakness, reached their goals. The eagerness demonstrated by the Americans and others was well sensed by the Iranians, who benefited from a longtime tradition of patient haggling. Whatever the details to be included in the agreement, they would not agree to sign it with any delegation alone, nor with the whole group together – but insisted on its adoption by the United Nations Security Council only, thus enshrining Iran's right to a full nuclear fuel cycle.

Upon arriving in Vienna, this was the main aim of the Iranian delegation, on its way to international acceptance as a nuclear threshold state. But it also aimed to leave the agreement with enough loopholes to allow Iran to progress in its clandestine nuclear path without being accused of breaching the agreement.

As disclosed recently by Iranian officials, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the chief of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) at the Iranian Ministry of Defense who was sometimes referred to as the father of Iran's nuclear program, was advising the Iranian delegation to Vienna from behind the scenes. This must have significantly influenced the delegation's diplomatic maneuvering towards its desired wording.[3] 

The underlying assumption of the JCPOA was that Iran had a covert program for developing a nuclear weapon, in tandem with the development of long-range missiles. This assumption was officially confirmed by a November 2011 IAEA report to the UNSC.[4]

As stated by President Barack Obama, "in fact, this deal shuts off the type of covert path Iran pursued in the past."[5] A week later, he stated that Iran's breakout time (the time it would take a country to acquire weapon-grade Uranium at a quantity needed for one nuclear bomb) was then several months, and estimated that through the JCPOA, that time had been extended to a year.[6] Thus, Iran was practically a "threshold state" – that is, a country that has acquired the ability to quickly manufacture nuclear weapons once it decides to do so. However, the Iranian leadership, seeking international legitimacy, aspired for years to gain international recognition of Iran's right to the entire nuclear fuel cycle.


President Barack Obama speaks about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear deal in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Thursday, April 2, 2015 (Source: AP)

Presenting concrete examples, this article shows how flawed the agreement is, and discusses the loopholes that the Iranian diplomats cleverly managed to leave in the JCPOA agreement, as reflected in statements by Iranian leaders that have been exposed in numerous MEMRI reports over the past five years.

The JCPOA Agreement Precludes Any Real Challenge Inspection Of Iranian Sites Suspected Of Prohibited Nuclear Activity

"Inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary."
– President Barack Obama, Statement by the President on Iran, The White House, July 14, 2015[7]

Put simply, this assertion by President Obama did not realistically reflect the details embedded in the text of the JCPOA agreement, in which a series of obstacles in the path to real inspection had been agreed upon by the parties.

Military Facilities

First, military facilities remained out of bounds for IAEA inspectors. According to Article 74 of the agreement's Annex 1, "requests for access [to Iranian facilities] pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made... with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran... [and] will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities..."[8]

Thus, soon after the JCPOA was announced, Iranian regime officials stressed that IAEA inspectors would not be allowed access to Iran's military sites for inspection purposes. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced on July 25, 2015: "[The foreigners] shouldn't be allowed at all to penetrate into the country's security and defensive boundaries under the pretext of supervision, and the country's military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries or stop the country's defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection." [9] Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on July 22, 2015: "Inspections of this kind cross the 'red lines.'" He added that in the JCPOA negotiations, Iran had "succeeded in fully ensuring" that the agreement would not allow such inspections.[10]

Two years later, the firmness of Iran's position was indeed tested. In late August 2017 a U.S. demand was sent to IAEA Director Yukiya Amano for the agency to inspect unauthorized nuclear material at Iranian military sites, and the demand was supported by Mr. Amano.[11] This was met on September 12 with a clear response by Ali Akbar Velayati, top advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: "The agreements with the IAEA include no mention of access [for IAEA inspectors] to military sites [in Iran]... The claim of such a right is fabricated... No foreign element... is entitled to visit our military centers, because they are considered prohibited areas. [Iran's] security sphere is considered absolutely secret to any foreigner." The following day, September 13, Foreign Minister Zarif said: "Section 74 of Annex I of the JCPOA emphasizes that a visit [to Iran's military sites] cannot be a pretext for collecting information about Iran's secrets."[12]


Ali Akbar Salehi and Yukia Amano show the IAEA-Iran "roadmap" in Vienna, July 14, 2015 (Source: IAEA)

An exception to the policy regarding military installations was a fake IAEA inspection at the Parchin military site, conducted in connection with the closing of the portfolio of Iran's Possible Military Dimensions (PMD), in accordance with a predetermined political decision. IAEA inspectors did not themselves visit Parchin, and, most importantly, the samples from these sites were taken by the Iranians themselves and handed over to the IAEA inspectors, without any way of ascertaining that the samples taken were indeed the ones handed over to the IAEA. Furthermore, IAEA director-general Amano was allowed entrance to Parchin for only a few minutes, and he was not permitted to bring in any equipment, not even his cellphone.[13] Through this process, the IAEA even agreed not to question nuclear scientists, as it had demanded to do over the years.[14]

Non-Military sites

At suspected non-military sites, short-notice challenge inspections by IAEA personnel have been effectively blocked by the cumbersome procedure set out by the JCPOA, with several roadblocks placed in the way to efficient inspection at undeclared sites.

Roadblock 1: According to Article 75 in the Agreement, "if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities, or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA, at locations that have not been declared... the IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification." That is, Iran may demand that it be provided with the secret intelligence on which the IAEA suspicion is based. One can imagine intelligence agencies' reluctance to provide Iran with such information because it could jeopardize their vital sources.


The Natanz nuclear facility (see MEMRI TV Clip No. 6318, Extensive Footage of the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facilities Shown in an Iranian TV Documentary, December 11, 2017)

Roadblock 2: The above is repeated in the next stage, according to Article 75: "If Iran's explanations do not resolve the IAEA's concerns, the Agency may request access to such locations...The IAEA will provide Iran the reasons for access in writing and will make available relevant information."

Roadblock 3: Following the first two stages, "Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA's concerns that enable the IAEA to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the location in question, which should be given due and prompt consideration.

Roadblock 4: "If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities... cannot be verified after the implementation of the alternative arrangements agreed by Iran and the IAEA, or if the two sides are unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities... at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA's original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA."

Roadblock 5: Enter the "Joint Commission, comprising China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Iran. "In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission... by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA's concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed 7 days, and Iran would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days." However, all that "unless the time period was extended by consensus."

Thus, the Agreement allows Iran 24 days before there can be any sort of a resolution of differences arising from a request by the IAEA to visit a specific undeclared suspected site. Since it is for the Joint Committee to decide, it is clear that the "solution" is bound to be heavily politicized, and thus will not necessarily be an on-site inspection by the IAEA inspectors with their instruments.

Roadblock 6: If the Joint Commission cannot present a solution to a dispute, the issue can be referred to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for a resolution within 15 days, unless "the time period was extended by consensus." Such extensions provide ample time for delay, especially if Iran is attempting to prevent inspection of suspicious sites.  This set of obstacles definitely does not allow access for inspections "where necessary, when necessary."

The False Shutdown Of The Arak Plutonium Plant

"The core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak will be pulled out, filled with concrete, and replaced with one that will not produce plutonium for a weapon."
– President Barack Obama, The American University, August 5, 2015[15]

This assertion by President Obama has not been actualized. It is likely based on Article 8 of the JCPOA: "Iran will redesign and rebuild a modernized heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on an agreed conceptual design... The reactor will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes. The redesigned and rebuilt Arak reactor will not produce weapons grade plutonium." 

Accordingly, the Voice of America announced on January 14, 2016 that "the U.S. confirmed... that Iran has poured concrete into the core of the Arak nuclear reactor, making it nearly impossible to produce weapons-grade plutonium at the facility." The same day, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi revealed that "the core was initially supposed to be cut into parts, but we did not accept this, as we want to keep it as the symbol of Iran's nuclear industry."[16]


The Arak plutonium reactor (Source: Twitter.com/Esferayn1/status/955385176221257728, January 22, 2018)

However, nearly two years later, on August 22, 2017, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi, who was a member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team, revealed in an interview that Iran had actually "poured cement only into some of the reactor's pipelines several centimeters in diameter and two to three meters long. [We poured it] not into the reactor itself but [only] into the external pipes. If we are instructed to restore the former reactor and advance the former program that is unsuitable to [the present time] and is 40 or 50 years out of date, we will remove the front and back parts of these pipes and put in new pipes, which will take only several months."[17]

Salehi repeated this bold confession in a January 22, 2019 interview, stating that Iran had deceived the Americans and Europeans regarding the shutdown of the reactor by filling only the external ends of pipes with cement at Arak, not the core of the reactor. "We have been saying for three years now that we did not pour cement into the pit of the Arak heavy water reactor. If we had, the Arak heavy water reactor would have been ruined." He also revealed that the Iranians had secretly purchased other pipes to replace the cement-filled ones, and boasted that only one other person in Iran had been party to the deception – Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Had the other side known about the deception, he added, they would have demanded that the Iranians fill the replacement pipes with cement as well.[18]


Iranian Atomic Energy Organization director Ali Akbar Salehi. Source: MEMRI TV

This Iranian deception enabled the Iranian Majlis to order the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency on November 2, 2020 "to act immediately to revive the core of the reactor in Arak," in the knowledge that this order was fully viable.[19]

The Disappearance Of 8.5 Tons Of Iranian Enriched Uranium And The False Storage Of Iranian Heavy Water In Oman

"Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments. That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification."
– President Barack Obama, White House statement, July 14, 2015[20]

Enriched Uranium

Article 7 of the JCPOA Agreement states: "During the 15 years period, and as Iran gradually moves to meet international qualification standards for nuclear fuel produced in Iran, it will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms. The excess quantities are to be sold based on international prices and delivered to the international buyer in return for natural uranium delivered to Iran, or are to be down-blended to natural uranium level."

Accordingly, Iran's inventory of 8.5 tons of enriched uranium was shipped out of Iran to Russia in December 2015. However, more than a year later the whereabouts of this stockpile were a mystery, as attested in February 2016 by the coordinator on Iran in the Obama administration's State Department, Stephen Mull. Testifying at a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on February 11, 2016, Mull acknowledged that Washington had lost track of the enriched uranium, which, he said, was now "on a Russian ship, in Russian custody, under Russian control", that is, no longer under IAEA oversight. He added that "according to our information, it has not yet been decided where exactly Russia will put this."

This hearing took place two months after the enriched uranium had been shipped, and Ambassador Mull testified: "The IAEA verified the loading of all of this material." Asked "where did it go?" Mull replied: "... I believe, if it has not arrived yet, it will very soon."[21]


Stephen Mull, coordinator on Iran in the Obama administration State Department

Heavy Water

Article 10 of the JCPOA says: "There will be no additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water in Iran for 15 years. All excess heavy water will be made available for export to the international market."

Iran's actual heavy water quota exceeds the quantity permitted it by the agreement, since according to standard IAEA verification practices, changes in heavy water inventory are registered not when the heavy water is removed from the territory of the country exporting it, but only when it arrives at the destination country that purchased it. For Iran, however, the calculation of the quantity of heavy water that it is allowed to possess does not include the quantity that is being stored for it in Oman and not being sold – while at the same time Iran is continuing to produce more heavy water.[22]

Moreover, Oman, which has no capability for confronting Iran, has become the warehouse for Iran's surplus heavy water and enriched uranium. Hence, even before Iran openly breached the agreement starting in 2020, the storage of this material in Oman was a fiction, aimed at covering up the fact that Iran is exceeding the quantity of uranium and heavy water allowed by the JCPOA. Clearly, Iran will bring this stockpile back home at will.[23]

The Agreement Designed To Prevent Progress Towards Nuclear Weapons Actually Allows It

"We have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb... the agreement strictly defines the manner in which its nuclear program can proceed, ensuring that all pathways to a bomb are cut off..."
– President Barack Obama, Statement by the President on Iran, The American University, August 5, 2015[24]

Mastering the know-how of simultaneous, symmetrical, multi-point detonation is a crucial milestone on the road to the manufacturing of a nuclear weapon. Hence the great importance that the Iranians attached to section T in the JCPOA Agreement. Article 82 says: "Iran will not engage in the following activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device." This wording sounds a meaningful prohibition, but a closer look at Articles 82.2 and 82.3 proves the opposite.

"82.2. Designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using multi-point explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device [is prohibited], unless approved by the Joint Commission for non-nuclear purposes and subject to monitoring.

"82.3. Designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using explosive diagnostic systems (streak cameras, framing cameras and flash x-ray cameras) suitable for the development of a nuclear explosive device [is prohibited], unless approved by the Joint Commission for non-nuclear purposes and subject to monitoring.

In other words, if Iran presents such activity as aiming "for non-nuclear activity" then it may proceed with the project, subject to approval by the Joint Commission and also subject to monitoring. The logical flaw here is that the Joint Commission has no monitoring ability, while at the same time the parties agreed to leave the IAEA, which specializes in nuclear monitoring, out of Article 82 altogether. Thus, in this all-important issue, the IAEA has no explicit authority.

Because even benign activity in this area advances the knowhow of experts who specialize in simultaneous multi-point detonation in the context of nuclear weaponry, the wording of Article 82 was an important achievement for Iran. Since 2015, Iran has violated Article 82 by not requesting approval from the Joint Commission for its activity in this area; on the other hand, when, in 2017, the IAEA requested monitoring under Section T, IAEA director-general Amano accepted the Iranian-Russian interpretation – according to which the IAEA has no status to enforce Section T, saying that this was "a problem for the Joint Commission." This meant that the political forum should be the one to decide on it.[25] This violation met with no reaction from the other members of the Joint Commission.

The Hoax Of Iran's Alleged Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa

"The [Iranian] Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon. So, these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement."
– President Obama in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, September 24, 2013

A fatwa, or religious edict, issued by Iran's supreme jurisprudent authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is easy to identify. Such an edict is published on Khamenei's website in a standard format, in the form of a response to a specific question. Throughout the years, Khamenei's fatwas have been published by the thousands; however, not one of them forbids Iran from producing weapons of mass destruction (see Appendix I for a dozen MEMRI reports on the nonexistent nuclear fatwa).

Nevertheless, the Iranian government has repeatedly brought up this nonexistent fatwa, recycling this fallacy since 2005. The hoax started at the initiative of then-Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rouhani, currently Iran's president, who negotiated Iran's nuclear dossier with the UK, France, and Germany. Even then, Iran was pursuing recognition for its uranium enrichment program, and Rouhani proposed the fatwa as a substitute for constitutional articles banning Iranian production of a nuclear weapon. The Iranians argued that this (nonexistent) fatwa is an even stronger prohibition than a constitutional article.[26]  

Below is a screenshot showing a letter written by Khamenei to the Tehran International Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, dated April 2010, posted on the "New Fatwas" section of Khamenei's fatwa website, in an attempt to present it as a fatwa.[27]


"New Fatwas" page on Khamenei's fatwa website. Source: Khamenei.ir, accessed March 23, 2015.

The bizarre seriousness with which the U.S leadership addressed this issue needs explanation. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alluded to the fatwa at the NATO conference in the U.S. in April 2012: "The other interesting development which you may have followed was the repetition by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei... that he had issued a fatwa against... weapons of mass destruction. Prime Minister Erdogan and I discussed this at some length, and I’ve discussed with a number of experts and religious scholars. And if it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized, which means that it serves as the entryway into a negotiation as to how you demonstrate that it is indeed a sincere, authentic statement of conviction."[28]

Two years later, on March 22, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry stated: "I have great respect for a fatwa. A fatwa is a very highly regarded message of religious importance. And when any fatwa is issued, I think people take it seriously, and so do we, even though it's not our practice… And President Obama and I both are extremely welcoming and grateful for the fact that the supreme leader has issued a fatwa declaring that. That's an important statement. But now we need to take that and put it into a sort of understandable legal structure..."[29]

But why would the American president and his secretaries of state, who can consult with such sophisticated intelligence services, publicly resort to the nonsensical tale about a nonexistent fatwa? The reason may be found in the major shift of the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran that took place at that time. The previous policy rested on the UNSC resolutions concerning Iran's insistence on enriching uranium on its soil. As late as June 2010, the UNSC resolved, for the sixth time, to forbid Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. But three months later, echoing President Obama's declaration in Prague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the BBC that Iran would be permitted to enrich uranium for civilian purposes at some future date once it had demonstrated that it can do so responsibly and in accordance with Iran's international obligations.[30] Three months later, on March 1, 2011, Mrs. Clinton further set out the Obama administration's new position: "It has been our position that under very strict conditions Iran would, sometime in the future... have such a right [to enrich Uranium on its soil] under IAEA inspections."[31]

Around the same time, the Obama administration opened a covert channel with Iran's leaders, in which President Obama, through his special envoy to Iran, notified them in writing that he recognized their right to enrich uranium on their soil with a full nuclear fuel cycle. This became known only in 2014, when an Iranian official disclosed that Iran had received this commitment via Oman's Sultan Qaboos, who had received it from Mr. Kerry.[32] Hinting at this, President Obama said in a December 29, 2014 interview with NPR: "What we've said to the Iranians is that we are willing to recognize your ability to develop a modest nuclear power program for your energy needs – that there's a way of doing that, that nevertheless gives the world assurances that you don't have breakout capacity... [Iran] would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody."[33]

Thus, it may be assumed that President Obama and his aides needed a political excuse, however feeble, in order to defend this major shift in their policy, and used the fatwa preemptively as a shield for future debate with opponents to the JCPOA. When Obama declared, at the 2013 UN General Assembly, that the fatwa could serve as a basis for an agreement with Iran, his new policy on Iran's right to enrich uranium was not yet known, so that the fatwa served him as a tool to justify his far-reaching concession.

The JCPOA echoes Secretary Clinton's 2011 statement concerning the need to apply the fatwa "as the entryway into a negotiation as to how you demonstrate that it is indeed a sincere, authentic statement." The Iranian sincerity is assured in Article iii of the Preamble of the agreement, which states: "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstance will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons."

Recently, however, on February 22, 2021, Khamenei said to Iran's Assembly of Experts: "The international Zionist clown is constantly saying 'We won't allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons' – but he should be told that if the Islamic Republic [of Iran] decided to obtain nuclear weapons, neither you [Israel] nor those greater than you [the U.S.] would be able to stop it."[34] Thus, even had Khamenei actually issued this alleged fatwa, he was now showing how easy it would be to replace it with by granting permission, as the supreme jurisprudent, for Iran to aspire to, develop, and acquire nuclear weapons for Iran.

Conclusions

Following the JCPOA's finalization, President Obama gloatingly informed his fellow Americans and the world that the agreement would prevent Iran from producing a nuclear bomb for many years. However, as seen above, his promises had no real basis in the text of the agreement, and the limiting articles that had indeed been included in the Agreement have been violated by Iran.  

The Iranian delegation arrived in Vienna in 2015 for the JCPOA talks with two equally significant goals. The first goal was to gain international recognition for its right to a full nuclear fuel cycle. Iran had been striving to achieve this goal for years, and had been denied it several times by the UNSC only few years before the JCPOA was attained. The UNSC was justifiably concerned that Iran would use this permission to proceed with its covert project to produce nuclear weapons. This project dictated the pressing goal of leaving enough space in the agreement that would allow Iran to continue their military nuclear activity while avoiding claims that it breaches it. Upon arriving in Vienna, the Iranian delegation was of course aware that President Obama had already agreed to recognition of Iran's right to a full nuclear fuel cycle, in his 2011-2012 secret negotiations with Iran. In fact, Obama's preexisting agreement to this was the main reason Iran was participating in the conference.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on JCPOA Finalization Day, July 14, 2015. (Source: Babak Taghvaee, Iran, July 14, 2015)

Iran's determination to achieve its goals in the diplomatic game dwarfed its opponents' determination  to thwart them. President Obama's gloating tweet on JCPOA Finalization Day is telling: "This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change." What the deal actually demonstrated was that Iran's single-minded focus on its goal was stronger than the opposition to it, resulting in its great diplomatic achievement. This is why Iran clings so tightly to the JCPOA and refuses to expand it or to change one iota of it. For Iran, the case is closed; as Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted on March 4, 2021, "JCPOA cannot be renegotiated."

On July 14, the day the JCPOA was concluded so festively in Vienna, President Obama lauded the diplomatic achievement, but recently the fragility of that agreement was demonstrated by Supreme Leader Khamenei's blunt statements in an Assembly of Experts meeting: "...If the Islamic Republic shall decide to obtain nuclear weaponry, neither [Israel] nor bigger [countries] will be able to prevent it... The enrichment limit of Iran will not be 20 percent... For example, we may increase enrichment to 60 percent for nuclear propulsion or for other possible activities."[35] The feeble, or absent, reaction to these statements on the part of the JCPOA participants surely encourages this Iranian policy.

Still, recent statements by the new U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, hint at a sober understanding that the 2015 agreement has been much less of a success than previously claimed. On February 8, 2021, Blinken stated  that "we would work with our allies and partners to try to build a longer and stronger agreement, and also bring in some of these other issues, like Iran’s missile program, like its destabilizing actions in the region that need to be addressed as well."[36] But this line of action was already preempted in December 2020 by Foreign Minister Zarif, when he said: "...Mr. Biden's government officials know that the subjects that do not appear in the JCPOA are not absent by accident, but rather by decision... They failed to put them in the JCPOA; they do not have that option [now]."[37]

It is important to learn lessons of diplomacy for future negotiations with autocracies that are determined to achieve their goals. The JCPOA stands out as a salutary example of the price the free world pays for its sloppy diplomacy in negotiating that vital issue.

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI; Ze'ev B. Begin is a Senior Fellow at MEMRI.
 

APPENDIX I: MEMRI Reports On The Nonexistent Fatwa

The following are MEMRI reports showing that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's alleged fatwa banning Iran's use of nuclear weapons does not exist:

APPENDIX II: MEMRI Reports On Iran's Nuclear Program

The following are MEMRI reports on Iran's nuclear program:

Special Dispatch Reports

Inquiry and Analysis Reports

 

[1] Obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/07/14/iran-deal, July 14, 2015.

[2] Obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered, April 5, 2009.

[3] On December 1, 2020, Iranian government spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh acknowledged: "Fakhrizadeh stood behind the scenes and helped with the nuclear agreement." Tasnim (Iran), December 1, 2020. Fakhrizadeh was assassinated outside Tehran on November 27, 2020. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, a leader of the nuclear talks with the U.S., spoke on January 5, 2021 in a radio interview about Fakhrizadeh's contribution to the shaping of the JCPOA: "During the negotiations for the nuclear agreement, we benefited from Fakhrizadeh's close consultations. His technical guidance was very beneficial, and we were in constant touch with him on several of the issues for which we had to consult him. Fakhrizadeh cooperated with us with much love, passion, and motivation in order to serve the national interest, and provided us with very valuable perspectives. His absence is a great loss for us." ISNA (Iran), January 5, 2021. See also MEMRI  Inquiry and Analysis No. 1556, Iran Uses 'Maximum Pressure' On Biden Administration To Have Sanctions Lifted And Be Recognized As Nuclear Threshold State – And Based On This, To Attain Nuclear Balance Of Terror, February 5, 2021.

[4] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_8Nov2011.pdf, November 8, 2011.

[6] NPR, August 11, 2015.

[11] IAEA director-general Yukia Amano defended the verification regime as the 'most robust' being conducted anywhere today and insists that military sites are not off-limits... Amano told reporters in Vienna this week that special access is already happening on a regular basis. 'Already we have had many [visits] and we will continue to have access,' he said, adding that 'we do not distinguish between civilian sites and military ones.'" Npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/09/13/549217764/should-nuclear-inspectors-be-demanding-access-to-irans-military-sites, September 13, 2017.

[13] ISNA (Iran), September 21, 2015.

[18] MEMRI Daily Brief No. 177, How Iran Deceived the U.S. Intelligence Community: Four Examples, February 11, 2019.

[22] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1178, Critical Points To Consider In Understanding The Iranian Nuclear Deal: Part II, July 30, 2015.

[23] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1354, Is The JCPOA Working? October 30, 2017.

[30] BBC.com, December 3, 2010.

[31] U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, March 1, 2011.

[33] Npr.org/2014/12/29/372485968/transcript-president-obamas-full-npr-interview, December 29, 2014.

[36] State.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-wolf-blitzer-of-cnns-the-situation-room, February 8, 2021.

[37] MEMRI Daily Brief No. 247, First, Listen To Iran's Foreign Minister, December 18, 2020.

 

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