This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Febraury 5, 2017. Click here to view the original article.
By John Bolton
February 5, 2017
Iran’s continued missile testing on Saturday has given President Trump one more reason to tear up his predecessor’s deal with the regime in Tehran. After Iran’s Jan. 29 ballistic-missile launch, the Trump administration responded with new sanctions and tough talk. But these alone won’t have a material effect on Tehran or its decades-long effort to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons.
The real issue is whether America will abrogate Barack Obama’s deal with Iran, recognizing it as a strategic debacle, a result of the last president’s misguided worldview and diplomatic malpractice. Terminating the agreement would underline that Iran is already violating it, clearly intends to continue pursuing nuclear arms, works closely with North Korea in seeking deliverable nuclear weapons, and continues to support international terrorism and provocative military actions. Escaping from the Serbonian Bog that Obama’s negotiations created would restore the resolute leadership and moral clarity the U.S. has lacked for eight years.
But those who supported the Iran deal, along with even many who had opposed it, argue against abrogation. Instead they say that America should “strictly enforce” the deal’s terms and hope that Iran pulls out. This would be a mistake for two reasons. First, the strategic miscalculations embodied in the deal endanger the U.S. and its allies, not least by lending legitimacy to the ayatollahs, the world’s central bankers for terrorism.
Second, “strictly enforcing” the deal is as likely to succeed as nailing Jell-O to a wall. Not only does the entire agreement reflect appeasement, but President Obama’s diplomacy produced weak, ambiguous and confusing language in many specific provisions. These drafting failures created huge loopholes, and Iran is now driving its missile and nuclear programs straight through them.
Take Tehran’s recent ballistic-missile tests. The Trump administration sees them as violating the deal. Iran disagrees. Let’s see what “strict enforcement” would really mean, bearing in mind that the misbegotten deal is 104 pages long, consisting of Security Council Resolution 2231 and two attachments: Annex A, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the main nuclear deal, known by the acronym JCPOA); and Annex B, covering other matters including ballistic missiles.
Annex B isn’t actually an agreement. Iran is not a party to it. Instead it is a statement by the Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany, intended to “improve transparency” and “create an atmosphere conducive” to implementing the deal. The key paragraph of Annex B says: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for eight years.
Note the language I’ve italicized. Iran is not forbidden from engaging in all ballistic-missile activity, merely “called upon” to do so. The range of proscribed activity is distinctly limited, applying only to missiles “designed to be capable” of carrying nuclear weapons. Implementation is left to the Security Council.
The loopholes are larger than the activity supposedly barred. Iran simply denies that its missiles are “designed” for nuclear payloads—because, after all, it does not have a nuclear-weapons program. This is a palpable lie, but both the JCPOA and a unanimous Security Council accepted it. Resolution 2231 includes a paragraph: “Welcoming Iran’s reaffirmation in the JCPOA that it will under no circumstances ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” The ayatollahs have been doing precisely that ever since their 1979 revolution.
Finally, Resolution 2231 itself also merely “calls upon” Iran to comply with Annex B’s ballistic-missile limits, even as the same sentence says that all states “shall comply” with other provisions. When the Security Council wants to “prohibit” or “demand” or even “decide,” it knows how to say so. It did not here.
The upshot is very simple: Iran can’t violate the ballistic-missile language because it has reaffirmed that it doesn’t have a nuclear-weapons program. Really, what could go wrong?
These are weasel words of the highest order, coupled with flat-out misrepresentation by Iran and willful blindness by the United States. The Jell-O will not stick to the wall. The deal cannot be “strictly enforced.” And this is only one example of the slippery language found throughout the deal.
Pentagon sources have said that the missile Iran recently tested failed while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. This is telling. If the missile program were, as Iran claims, only for launching weather and communications satellites, there would be no need to test re-entry vehicles. The goal would be to put satellites in orbit and keep them there. But nuclear warheads obviously have to re-enter the atmosphere to reach their targets. The recent tests provide even more evidence of what Iran’s ballistic-missile program has always been about, namely supplying delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.
Time always works on the side of nuclear proliferators, and the Iran deal is providing the ayatollahs with protective camouflage. Every day Washington lets pass without ripping the deal up is a day of danger for America and its friends. We proceed slowly at our peril.
Mr. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).