A predominantly one-topic blog: how is it that the most imminent and lethal implication for humankind - the fact that the doctrine of "Mutually Assured Destruction" will not work with Iran - is not being discussed in our media? Until it is recognized that MAD is dead, the Iranian threat will be treated as a threat only to Israel and not as the global threat which it in fact is.
A blog by Mladen Andrijasevic
Friday, September 8, 2017
Remarks on “Beyond the Echo Chamber: Considerations on U.S. Policy Toward Iran” at the American Enterprise Institute
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
September 5, 2017
Thank you very much.
It’s great to see so many people in the room, and thank you for hosting me
today. Arthur Brooks is one of the coolest people I know. The Conservative Heart was
brilliantly written and impacted me greatly, so I value his friendship and the
contributions AEI continues to make.
I’m here today to
speak about Iran and the 2015 nuclear agreement. This is a topic that should
concern all Americans, as it has a serious impact on our national security and
the security of the world. It’s a topic that comes up frequently at the United
Nations. And it’s a topic we’ve been looking at carefully, including recently
visiting with the Iran nuclear monitors at the International Atomic Energy
Agency in Vienna. We were impressed by the IAEA team and its efforts.
Director General Amano
is a very capable diplomat, and he’s a serious person who clearly understands
the critical nature of his task. In our discussion, Amano made an observation
that stood out to me. He said that monitoring Iranian compliance with the
nuclear deal is like a jigsaw puzzle. Picking up just one piece doesn’t give
you the full picture. That’s a very appropriate metaphor, and it goes well
beyond the work of the IAEA. It goes to the entire way we must look at Iranian
behavior and American security interests. Many observers miss that point. They
think, “Well, as long as Iran is meeting the limits on enriched uranium and
centrifuges, then it’s complying with the deal.” That’s not true. This is a
Next month, President
Trump will once again be called upon to declare whether he finds Iran in
compliance with the terms of the deal. It should be noted that this requirement
to assess compliance does not come from the deal itself. It was created by
Congress in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, also known as the
Corker-Cardin law. That’s a very important distinction to keep in mind, because
many people confuse the requirements of the deal with the requirements of U.S.
law. I’m not going to prejudge in any way what the president is going to decide
next month. While I have discussed it with him, I do not know what decision he
will make. It is his decision to make and his alone.
It’s a complicated
question. The truth is, the Iran deal has so many flaws that it’s tempting to
leave it. But the deal was constructed in a way that makes leaving it less
attractive. It gave Iran what it wanted up-front, in exchange for temporary
promises to deliver what we want. That’s not good.
Iran was feeling the
pinch of international sanctions in a big way. In the two years before the deal
was signed, Iran’s GDP actually shrunk by more than four percent. In the two years
since the deal and the lifting of sanctions, Iran’s GDP has grown by nearly
five percent. That’s a great deal for them. What we get from the deal is not so
I’m here to outline
some of the critical considerations that must go into any analysis of Iranian
compliance, and I hope to debunk some of the misperceptions about the decision
the president will face next month.
The question of
Iranian compliance is not as straight forward as many people believe. It’s not
just about the technical terms of the nuclear agreement. It requires a much
more thorough look. Iranian compliance involves three different pillars. The
first is the nuclear agreement itself, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,
or JCPOA. The second pillar is UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which
endorsed the nuclear deal, but also restricted numerous other Iranian
behaviors. And the third pillar is the Corker-Cardin law, which governs the
president’s relationship with Congress as it relates to Iran policy.
Before diving into
these details, it’s important to lay a foundation for exactly what we’re
dealing with when we talk about the Iranian regime. Judging any international
agreement begins and ends with the nature of the government that signed it.
Does it respect international law? Can it be trusted to abide by its
commitments? Is the agreement strong enough to withstand the regime’s attempt
to cheat? Given those answers, is the agreement in the national interest of the
The Islamic Republic
of Iran was born in an act of international lawbreaking. On November 4, 1979, a
group of Islamic revolutionary students overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In
violation of international law, they held 52 American Marines and diplomats
hostage for 444 days. For the 38 years since, the Iranian regime has existed
outside the community of law-abiding nations. Henry Kissinger famously said
that Iran can’t decide whether it is a nation or a cause. Since 1979, the
regime has behaved like a cause – the cause of spreading revolutionary Shiite Islam
by force. Its main enemy and rallying point has been, and continues to be, what
it calls the “Great Satan” – the United States of America. And the regime’s
main weapon in pursuit of its revolutionary aims has been the Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.
Soon after the
revolution, the IRGC was created to protect the revolution from its foreign and
domestic enemies. The IRGC reported not to elected government, but to the
Supreme Leader alone. Soon after its own creation, the IRGC founded Hezbollah
to spread Iran’s influence and its revolution abroad. Then came the bombing of
the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983 – 63 Americans killed. Then came the bombing
of the Marine barracks – 241 Americans killed. Then the kidnapping and murder
of CIA station chief William Buckley. In 1985, a TWA airplane was hijacked. The
body of a U.S. Navy diver was dumped on the runway at the Beirut airport. In
1988, U.S. Marine Colonel Robert Higgins, a UN peacekeeper in South Lebanon,
was kidnapped and executed. Under the IRGC’s direction, Hezbollah then expanded
its lethal reach to Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in search of victims
to kill. In 1994, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed – 85
killed. In 1996, a truck bomb blew up Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia – 19 U.S.
Throughout the Iraq
war, the number one killer of U.S. troops was improvised explosive devices, or
IEDs, the deadliest of which were supplied by the IRGC. Thousands of American
men and women were wounded or killed. In 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik
Hariri was assassinated. In 2011, the U.S. disrupted an IRGC plot to bomb an
American restaurant less than two miles from here. The target was the Saudi
Today, Hezbollah is
doing the Iranian regime’s dirty work supporting the war crimes of Syria’s
Assad. And it is building an arsenal of weapons and battle-hardened fighters in
Lebanon in preparation for war. This is the nature of the regime and its quest
to overturn the international order. Its power and influence has grown over
time, even as it remains unaccountable to the Iranian people. It’s hard to find
a conflict or a suffering people in the Middle East that the Iranian regime,
the IRGC, or the proxies do not touch.
In parallel with its
support for terrorism and proxy wars, Iran’s military has long pursued nuclear
weapons, all while attempting to hide its intentions. For decades, the Iranian
military conducted a covert nuclear weapons program, undeclared and hidden from
international inspectors. In 2002, Iranian dissidents revealed the existence of
a uranium enrichment plant and heavy water reactor – both violations of Iran’s
safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The regime went on to break multiple
promises to abide by international inspections and limits. It hid its nuclear
weapons development and lied about it until it got caught.
In 2009, American,
British, and French intelligence revealed the existence of a secret uranium
enrichment plant deep inside a mountain, deep inside an IRGC base. The British
Prime Minister summed up Iran’s behavior well, calling it, “the serial
deception of many years.”
It was soon after this
that President Obama began negotiating a deal with Iran. The deal he struck
wasn’t supposed to be just about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening
with Iran, a welcoming back into the community of nations. President Obama
believed that after decades of hostility to the U.S., the Iranian regime was
willing to negotiate an end to its nuclear program.
Much has been written
about the JCPOA. I won’t repeat it all here. Let’s just say that the agreement
falls short of what was promised. We were promised an “end” to the Iranian
nuclear program. What emerged was not an end, but a pause. Under the deal, Iran
will continue to enrich uranium and develop advanced centrifuges. We were
promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections of sites in Iran. The final agreement
delivered much less. The promised 24/7 inspections apply only to Iran’s
“declared” nuclear sites. For any undeclared but suspected sites, the regime
can deny access for up to 24 days.
Then there’s the
deal’s expiration dates. After 10 years, the limits on uranium, advanced
centrifuges, and other nuclear restrictions begin to evaporate. And in less
than 10 years, they have the opportunity to upgrade their capabilities in
various ways. The JCPOA is, therefore, a very flawed and limited agreement. But
even so, Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a
In February 2016 –
just a month after the agreement was implemented – the IAEA discovered Iran had
exceeded its allowable limit of heavy water. Nine months later, Iran exceeded
the heavy water limit again. Both times, the Obama Administration helped Iran
get back into compliance and refused to declare it a violation. If that’s not
enough, the biggest concern is that Iranian leaders – the same ones who in the
past were caught operating a covert nuclear program at military sites – have
stated publicly that they will refuse to allow IAEA inspections of their
military sites. How can we know Iran is complying with the deal if inspectors
are not allowed to look everywhere they should look?
Another major flaw in
the JCPOA is its penalty provisions. Whether an Iranian violation is big or
small – whether it is deemed material or non-material – the deal provides for
only one penalty. That penalty is the re-imposition of sanctions. And if
sanctions are re-imposed, Iran is then freed from all its commitments that it
made. Think about that. There is an absurdly circular logic to enforcement of
this deal. Penalizing its violations don’t make the deal stronger, they blow it
up. Iran’s leaders know this. They are counting on the world brushing off
relatively minor infractions – or even relatively major ones. They are counting
on the United States and the other parties to the agreement being so invested
in its success that they overlook Iranian cheating. That is exactly what our
previous administration did.
It is this
unwillingness to challenge Iranian behavior for fear of damaging the nuclear agreement
that gets to the heart of the threat the deal poses to our national security.
The Iranian nuclear deal was designed to be too big to fail. The deal drew an
artificial line between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest
of its lawless behavior. It said “we’ve made this deal on the nuclear side, so
none of the regime’s other bad behavior is important enough to threaten the
nuclear agreement.” The result is that for advocates of the deal, everything in
our relationship with the Iranian regime must now be subordinated to the
preservation of the agreement.
understand this dynamic. Just last month, when the United States imposed new
sanctions in response to Iranian missile launches, Iran’s leaders threatened
once again to leave the JCPOA and return to a nuclear program more advanced
than the one they had before the agreement. This arrogant threat tells us one
thing: Iran’s leaders want to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage to
its bad behavior. This threat is a perfect example of how judging the regime’s
nuclear plans strictly in terms of compliance with the JCPOA is dangerous and
short-sighted. More importantly, it misses the point.
Why did we need to
prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place?
The answer has everything to do with the nature of the regime and the IRGC’s
determination to threaten Iran’s neighbors and advance its revolution. And that
is where the other two pillars that connect us to the nuclear deal come into
play. The second pillar directly involves the United Nations. When the nuclear
agreement was signed, the Obama Administration took Iran’s non-nuclear activity
– the missile development, the arms smuggling, the terrorism, the support for
murderous regimes – and rolled it up into UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
in this supposed “non-nuclear” activity is the IRGC’s ongoing development of
ballistic missile technology. You can call it “non-nuclear” all you want –
missile technology cannot be separated from pursuit of a nuclear weapon. North
Korea is showing the world that right now. Every six months, the UN
Secretary-General reports to the Security Council on the Iranian regime’s
compliance with this so-called “non-nuclear” resolution. Each report is filled
with devastating evidence of Iranian violations. Proven arms smuggling.
Violations of travel bans. Ongoing support for terrorism. Stoking of regional
conflicts. The Secretary-General’s report also includes ample evidence of
ballistic missile technology and launches. The regime has engaged in such
launches repeatedly, including in July of this year when it launched a rocket
into space that intelligence experts say can be used to develop an
intercontinental ballistic missile. They are clearly acting in defiance of UN
Resolution 2231 by developing missile technology capable of deploying nuclear
warheads. Unfortunately, as happens all too often at the UN, many Member States
choose to ignore blatant violations of the UN’s own resolutions.
In this way, we see
how dangerously these two pillars of Iran policy work together. The
international community has powerful incentives to go out of its way to assert
that the Iranian regime is in “compliance” on the nuclear side. Meanwhile, the
UN is too reluctant to address the regime’s so-called non-nuclear violations.
The result is that Iran’s military continues its march toward the missile
technology to deliver a nuclear warhead. And the world becomes a more dangerous
That’s where the third
pillar of our Iran nuclear policy comes in: the Corker-Cardin law. As you
recall, President Obama refused to submit the Iran deal to Congress as a
treaty. He knew full well that Congress would have rejected it. In fact,
majorities in both houses of Congress voted against the deal. Among the “no”
votes were leading Democrats like Senators Chuck Schumer, Ben Cardin, and Bob
Obama’s constitutionally questionable dodge of Congress, the legislative body
did attempt to exercise some of its authority with passage of the Corker-Cardin
The law requires that
the president make a certification to Congress every 90 days. But, importantly,
the law asks the president to certify several things, not just one. The first
is that Iran has not materially breached the JCPOA. That’s the one everyone
focuses on. But the Corker-Cardin law also requires something else – something
that is often overlooked. It asks the president to certify that the suspension
of sanctions against Iran is appropriate and proportionate to Iran’s nuclear
measures and that it is vital to the national security interests of the United
So regardless of
whether one considers Iran’s violations of the JCPOA to have been material, and
regardless of whether one considers Iran’s flouting of the UN resolution on its
ballistic missile technology to be “non-nuclear,” U.S. law requires the
president to also look at whether the Iran deal is appropriate, proportionate,
and in our national security interests. Corker-Cardin asks us to put together
the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
Under its structure,
we must consider not just the Iranian regime’s technical violations of the
JCPOA, but also its violations of Resolution 2231 and its long history of
aggression. We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility
toward the United States. We must consider its history of deception about its
nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile
technology. And we must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset.
That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile
technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that
North Korea only recently developed.
In short, we must
consider the whole picture, not simply whether Iran has exceeded the JCPOA’s
limit on uranium enrichment. We must consider the whole jigsaw puzzle, not just
one of its pieces. That’s the judgment President Trump will have to make in
October. And if the president does not certify Iranian compliance, the
Corker-Cardin law also tells us what happens next. What happens next is
significantly in Congress’s hands. This is critically important and almost
completely overlooked. If the president chooses not to certify Iranian
compliance, that does not mean the United States is withdrawing from the JCPOA.
Withdrawal from the agreement is governed by the terms of the JCPOA. The
Corker-Cardin law governs the relationship between the president and Congress.
If the president finds
that he cannot certify Iranian compliance, it would signal one or more of the
following messages to Congress. Either the administration believes Iran is in
violation of the deal; or the lifting of sanctions against Iran is not
appropriate and proportional to the regime’s behavior; or the lifting of
sanctions is not in the U.S. national security interest. Under the law,
Congress then has 60 days to consider whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
During that time, Congress could take the opportunity to debate Iran’s support
for terrorism, its past nuclear activity, and its massive human rights violations,
all of which are called for in Corker-Cardin.
Congress could debate
whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate
over whether the JCPOA is in the U.S. national security interest. The previous
administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious
If the president finds
that he cannot in good faith certify Iranian compliance, he would initiate a
process whereby we move beyond narrow technicalities and look at the big
picture. At issue is our national security interest. It’s past time we had an
Iran nuclear policy that acknowledged that.