Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that it should not bother Iran if the United States withdraws from the nuclear deal.
“If any side fails to stand committed to the deal, it would be tarnishing its own reputation,” he said. Meanwhile, the Iranian resistance has accused Rouhani’s government of systematically cheating on the nuclear deal.
“If the ill-wishing side, our rival and enemy, leaves an agreement, this is not a defeat for us, but rather a defeat for the opposite side,” said Rouhani, quoted by PressTV.
That is quite different from what Rouhani said in August when Iran was threatening to back out of the nuclear deal over unrelated U.S. sanctions on its ballistic missile program.
“If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time – not a week or a month but within hours – to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani thundered on that occasion, as transcribed by Reuters.
Of course, needling Rouhani for hypocrisy misses the larger point, which is that Iran sees the nuclear deal as an entirely one-sided agreement that binds the United States in numerous ways and completely shields Iran from sanctions, no matter what it does. That is how Iran arrives at the conclusion that its ballistic missile program is not prohibited by the nuclear deal, but sanctions against its missile program are.
Rouhani’s remarks also highlighted a major criticism of the nuclear deal, which is that it gives Iran political cover for its sponsorship of terrorism, aggressive regional ambitions, and ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“Today, the world backs the path that the Islamic Republic of Iran has chosen and there is no one, even among the US’s allies in Europe, who supports destroying the agreement,” he declared. If “the world” wants to make clear that it does not support “the path that the Islamic Republic of Iran has chosen,” it had better speak up soon.
Rouhani lashed out at President Donald Trump, declaring, “it really is a shame for a government whose argument that it opposes any work by the former legitimate government.”
This is somewhat amusing as a misunderstanding of how American democracy works, since Trump explicitly ran on a platform of renouncing President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, and he won the 2016 election. It is even funnier when considering that the entire rationale of Obama’s foreign policy was that all former legitimate governments were wrong about everything, so Obama would do the opposite by realigning Middle East policy toward Iran as an ally. We have arrived at this moment because Obama thought his predecessor was wrong to identify Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil.”
Rouhani is correct that European signatories to the JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is formally known, want it to remain in place. Reuters reports that European governments “have been delivering this message to the White House and Congress in one of the most intense lobbying campaigns in recent memory,” from ambassadors meeting with congressional representatives to British Prime Minister Theresa May discussing the matter with President Trump via telephone.
Reuters summarizes the Europeans’ “three-pronged strategy” as follows:
First, Berlin, London and Paris would issue statements reaffirming their commitment to the deal.
Second, they would redouble efforts to lobby Congress, which appears keen to keep the deal, against any rash moves.
And third, they would present measures to pressure Iran over its ballistic missile program and destabilizing policies in the Middle East – areas that fall outside the narrowly-focused nuclear deal.
Prong number three sounds interesting, dangerously close to what President Trump wants, and likely to make President Rouhani very upset.
“We all knew the JCPOA wasn’t perfect, but by calling its benefits into question I see us only losing,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters. That does not sound like much of a diplomatic triumph. It sounds much closer to the one-sided defeat for the West that Iran has been crowing about since 2015. Iran can get what it wants by constantly threatening to walk away from the deal, but President Trump has to keep certifying it forever?
More fuel for the certification argument was provided on Wednesday by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which, as the name implies, is an Iranian opposition group. The NCRI published a report previewed by Fox News that claims Iran’s nuclear weapons program never stopped.
“It has been known for years that Iran has two nuclear programs – one is civilian and the other, the military, has the goal of giving Iran its first nuclear bomb,” explained NCRI deputy director Alireza Jafarzadeh. “The civilian sector of the nuclear program has systematically provided a plausible logistical cover for the military sector, and acts as a conduit for it. The military aspect of the program has been and remains at the heart of Iran’s nuclear activities.”
“The more we investigated, the more we realized that the weaponization program is fully operational. The military sector has gone through changes in name, location and reorganizations over the years. However, it has never halted its work and key figures in the sector have remained unchanged,” Jafarzadeh charged.
The NCRI report asserts that a complaint commonly voiced by critics of the nuclear deal is true: four military sites Iran will not allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit are conducting banned nuclear weapons research. Jafarzadeh said that even if inspectors were allowed to visit these sites, the illicit materials could easily be hidden from them with a network of tunnels and silos.
The NCRI also states that North Korean weapons experts have assisted Iran with warhead design and provided input for designing their hidden research facilities.
“Congress should step up pressure by introducing new sanctions to target the IRGC, as well as the apparatus of domestic repression. Because Tehran is vulnerable domestically, such pressure would effectively empower the people of Iran and the organized opposition, who demand fundamental change and seek a secular, democratic, non-nuclear republic in Iran,” Jafarzadeh advised.