In the run up to the July 14 first anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal, the pundits have provided mixed reviews. Those who were in favor of the deal cite Iran having apparently abided by the requirement to limit enrichment levels of uranium it processes, by cutting the number of its operating centrifuges in half and allowing outside monitors inside the country to verify compliance. These facts lead to the argument articulated last week by veteran U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross who wrote: “It is fair to say that the immediate nuclear threat has indeed been reduced.”
But those who opposed the deal point to the many unknowns in the Western world’s dealings with Iran — the lingering questions whether Iran is acquiring plutonium from the black market or producing it in undetected research facilities and the nagging concern over whether Iran will continue to abide by the agreement. These concerns are real, because the planned delay in Iran’s nuclear breakout until 2030 depends so heavily on Iran continuing to uphold its end of the deal.
And then there is the mixed news. According to Ross, “recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency indicate that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, but the level of information they provide is dramatically less than that found in previous IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear program.” So we don’t really know.
Add to that concern over Iran’s continuing bad behavior. In March, for instance, Iran launched nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. The launch of the missiles, painted with inflammatory statements calling for Israel’s destruction, did not violate the nuclear agreement, as some mistakenly claimed. But it did violate U.N. Security Resolution 2231, as a joint U.S., British, French and German letter noted “with concern that Iranian military leaders have reportedly claimed these missiles are designed to be a direct threat to Israel.” In response, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two Iranian groups involved in the country’s nuclear missile program.
Even more concerning is a German intelligence report indicating that Iranian agents last year were actively trying to procure nuclear secrets and equipment to support their country’s nuclear weapons program. That, coupled with the news in May that the body charged with appointing another supreme leader should Ali Khamenei’s office go vacant had elected another hardliner as its chairman, raises concerns about the seriousness with which Iran is supposed to be implementing the nuclear deal.
In Congress, some lawmakers are looking to set conditions before Boeing can go ahead with a $17.6 billion deal to sell 80 passenger aircraft to Iran Air. The nuclear agreement allows the sale of “commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.” But it prohibits their use “for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation.” Iran has a history of using commercial planes to support “hostile actors,” such as the Assad regime in Syria. So the questions being raised about the Boeing sale are not unfounded.
Going forward, what is needed is continuing vigilance over Iranian behavior, coupled with a credible deterrence against a nuclear breakout. While it is unquestionably good that the deal delays the day of reckoning, Iran remains Iran, and international pressure and consequential sanctions must continue to send the clear message to Tehran that bad behavior and sponsorship of terrorism are not worth the price.