A Much Needed Post-Obama Course Correction on Iran

With most Americans focused on the Islamic State terrorist group, Washington is poised to greatly expand the dangers to U.S. national security on another front – by proceeding to execute the Iran nuclear accord while Tehran ignores its obligations under it and related United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Washington’s stance suggests that no matter what Tehran does to humiliate the United States and its allies, President Obama won’t be deterred from implementing the accord reached this past July – a deal he considers so important to his legacy that a top aide labeled it the foreign policy equivalent of health care reform.

Rising criticism of the president’s approach in both parties, however, makes clear that Washington will likely shift course in the post-Obama era by revisiting the accord, reimposing sanctions for Iranian violations of it, confronting Tehran over its troubling regional activities (e.g., terror sponsorship) or some combination thereof.

Of most immediate concern, the U.S.-led negotiators who inked the accord plan to introduce a resolution this week to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors, proposing that the agency end its years-long probe of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran officials have said they won’t implement the nuclear accord until this probe ends.

But that resolution, which paves the way for Washington to lift its nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, conflicts sharply with a Dec. 2 report from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that lays out troubling new details of Iran’s possible military dimensions work, as well as Iran’s refusal to cooperate with their investigation.

For starters, the agency said Iran continued its possible military dimensions work as recently as 2009 and that it lacked the means to conclude whether such work continued even beyond that date, thus undercutting a U.S. intelligence estimate under President George W. Bush that Iran had ceased its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003.

Moreover, of the 12 areas in which the International Atomic Energy Agency previously said Iran may have pursued possible military dimensions work – e.g., computer modelling a nuclear explosive device, integrating a nuclear warhead onto a Shahab-3 missile, beginning preparations for a nuclear weapons test – the agency reported that Iran provided little information on two of them and stonewalled on the rest.

If approved, which seems likely, the resolution would leave the United States and its global partners without the knowledge of previous Iranian possible military dimensions work against which to measure any future activity – and that’s important because, under the accord, international inspectors are supposed to monitor Iranian sites for possible such activity in the future. It also would send a dangerous signal that Washington is willing to tolerate Tehran’s refusal to fulfill its commitments under the accord, even as the United States and its allies move forward with providing the Iranian regime a huge financial windfall by lifting sanctions.

Meanwhile, as U.S. officials confirmed in recent days, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Nov. 21 – its second missile test since inking the nuclear accord – in direct violation of two Security Council resolutions that remain in effect.

That the Nov. 21 test occurred on Iran’s Shahab-3 missile is ominous because that missile has been the focus of widespread concerns about Iran’s efforts to marry a nuclear warhead with a delivery system. Furthermore, it follows an earlier, Oct. 11 test of Iran’s new long-range Emad ballistic missile, which also can carry a nuclear warhead.

However troubling, neither test was particularly surprising since top Iranian officials had made clear that they would, in fact, ignore the Security Council resolutions in question.

Finally, undeterred by such brazen Iranian dismissiveness, Washington is working with Tehran on a deal through which Iran would ship some of its nuclear stockpile to Kazakhstan. That, U.S. officials hope, will help speed sanctions relief to Iran before the country holds parliamentary elections this spring that could influence its long-term commitment to the accord.

All told, Washington’s stance toward Tehran is fueling criticism from both parties, with leading figures questioning why Obama hasn’t responded forcefully to the missile tests and why anyone should trust Iran to fulfill the nuclear accord. With Republican presidential candidates decrying Obama’s approach, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton voicing skepticism about Iran’s trustworthiness and bipartisan concerns growing on Capitol Hill, look for a significant and long overdue course correction after Obama departs.

Lawrence J. Haas, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is author of the forthcoming book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.


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