“The Iran deal made by the previous administration is one of the worst deals I have ever witnessed – and I’ve witnessed some beauties” – President Donald Trump, 5 April 2017
Although Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan and his approach to international diplomacy is certainly unique, his administration’s analysis of the flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPO), known as the Iran Deal, is absolutely right and has recognised the malign motives of the regime.
While sitting in the House of Commons chamber during the Foreign Secretary’s statement, I could not help but think that Trump had called this right and we were getting it wrong.
The Obama deal was never as good as was made out by its supporters. So let’s look at the flaws - namely sanctions, verification and enrichment.
Rather than adopt an approach of gradually lifting sanctions, the P5+1 caved to Iranian demands by lifting all nuclear-related sanctions with immediate effect; including oil embargos and financial restriction.
This regime of sanctions, the only leverage that the P5+1 had over the Iranian Government, was carefully built up over a number of years and it was precisely because of its economic effect that Iran was brought to the negotiating table.
The deal did not provide any mechanism to prevent released funds from reaching Iran’s proxies - Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and President Assad in Syria.
Trump was right when he stated on 9th May 2018 that the deal exchanged “crippling” economic sanctions for “very weak” limits on the regime’s nuclear activity and its behaviour in the region.
Iran is a destabilising force in the Middle East. From Beirut to Basra and beyond, Iran has been a calamitous influence and it is hell bent on regional hegemonic domination and religious war.
It was Barack Obama who stated that the Iran Deal was “built on verification.” However, the verification mechanism within the deal does not provide for ‘anytime or anywhere’ inspections.
Quite simply, this was a major failing in the deal.
Automatic, unrestricted and unfettered access is what is required, not a flimsy committee structure whereby access to inspectors is only granted when the IAEA declares a site “suspicious” and Iran can stonewall requests for up to 24 days.
Critics of the deal have warned that this allows the Iranians to hide violations of the agreement, particularly on the design of components to manufacture nuclear weapons.
As part of the deal, Iran was required to reduce its uranium enrichment capacity by two-thirds.
This meant that it was limited to installing no more than 5,060 of its 20,000 centrifuges at its Natanz facility for 10 years. The regime was required to keep its uranium enrichment levels at 3.67%; its uranium stockpile to be reduced by 96% to 300kg for 15 years (ignoring the fact that the regime already possessed quantities far in excess) and that the Iran would not be required by the international community to dismantle its nuclear programme.
Experts in non-proliferation such as Olli Heinonen warned that the deal’s short termism meant that Iran was still capable of producing a nuclear weapon within less than a decade.
Once the temporary restrictions within the deal are lifted, Iran would be permitted to operate an unlimited number of centrifuges and resume its programme of uranium enrichment.
The head of Iran’s nuclear programme said that it would take him no more than 45 days to overcome the restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal.
Ballistic Missile Programme
Lastly, I turn to the lifting of the Iranians ballistic missile programme.
This was another significant failing in the deal.
Iranian-supplied arms and weapons have been used against British forces and our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan through the violent proxies that they bankroll. Further, the deal abjectly failed to mention ballistic missiles, the most likely vehicle for a nuclear warhead.
Since the signing of the deal, the Iranians have tested several ballistic missiles.
In January 2017, Iran tested a medium-range missile that the US declared to be in violation of UNSCR 2231 and, in September 2017, Iran showed off this new Khorramshahr missile at a military parade. We have to ask: why would you want to develop the vehicle for a nuclear warhead if you apparently have no intention of developing a nuclear warhead let alone delivering one?
We have been consistently told that the Iran Deal must be protected and preserved as there is no other approach to constrain Iran’s malign behaviour and nuclear ambition.
I do not buy that argument. The sanctions imposed by the West were economically effective and their impact brought Iran to the discussion table. However, the deal made so many sacrifices and concessions that it was bad for the West and good for the Iranians which is why they signed it.
I’m so disappointed that the UK Government cannot see the glaringly obvious and comprehensive failings in this deal.
The Foreign Secretary was right in his statement to parliament that the responsibility now falls on the Trump administration to describe how they in Washington will build “a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns”.
With impending US sanctions, there is still time for Iran to come to the table.
However, it’s likely that the Iranians will test the US and its allies to see if they truly are “unified” in their understanding and commitment.
Therefore, I hope that the UK, rather than simply trying to convince Trump to save the deal as it is, proactively engages with the US to cover the flaws in the agreement. Like the US, we should not be afraid to bear our teeth.
At the end of the day, there is a duty on our policymakers to make decisions based on how the world really is and not how they hope it to be.
Iran has shown no signs of moderation, it continues to be a vicious and poisonous influence in the Middle East and a threat to our own security. A nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable.
Ross Thomson is the Conservative MP for Aberdeen South