The Daily Telegraph – November 2, 2018 9:03am
PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison’s decision to review whether Australia should continue to support the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), should be welcomed.
Even Julie Bishop, who as Foreign Minister supported the agreement, has commented that Australia’s support had “always been contingent on Iran complying with its terms” and therefore a review was appropriate.
A review is also necessary because it acknowledges changing geopolitical circumstances.
The so-called Iran deal concluded in 2015 with the support of the Obama Administration, but US President Trump withdrew in May this year and has made action to thwart Iran’s nuclear and hegemonic ambitions a top US foreign policy priority.
The US is preparing a second wave of sanctions on Iran for November, designed to “hit hard” with the aim of pressuring Iran to negotiate a better deal. Australia’s current support for the JCPOA places us at odds with our most important ally at a time when the US, more than ever, expects reciprocity from its allies for US security commitments.
A change in Australia’s view on the Iran deal would also likely be welcomed by Sunni Arab states — from Egypt, to Saudi Arabia to the Gulf States to Morocco — all of whom view Iran as their most serious regional threat. It is worth noting that Australian trade with these countries dwarfs that with Iran.
Moreover, while the JCPOA was intended to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, even its supporters admit it merely “delays” this happening.
The flaws include sunset provisions that expire in 10 to 15 years, as well as enabling Iran to continue working on advanced centrifuges, and testing ballistic missiles which could carry nuclear weapons.
What’s more the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is not even allowed to conduct “anytime anywhere” inspections including of Iranian military sites, such as Parchin, suspected of nuclear activity. As a country committed to nuclear non-proliferation, we should question whether the deal is fit for purpose if it does not prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
This review is also necessary to determine whether Iran is even complying with the agreement.
New information including an archive of smuggled Iranian intelligence documents revealed by Israel in April has shown that since the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran has continued to pursue a strategy of noncompliance and incomplete disclosure of its nuclear capabilities and ambitions, in violation of the JCPOA’s letter and spirit. As Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu publicly concluded from the discovery: first, “Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program”, second, “even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons know-how for future use”, and third, “Iran lied again in 2015 when it didn’t come clean to the IAEA as required by the nuclear deal.”
While some claim the archive contains nothing new, former top UN weapons inspectors such as former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Olli Heinonen and David Albright — who today heads the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington — have called it a “jackpot” and a “smoking gun” respectively. Albright also argued that it demonstrated a clear Iranian breach of Section T of the JCPOA, which bans future nuclear weapons-related activities.
He noted it also shows a breach of Iran’s obligations under the JCPOA to divulge all aspects of its past atomic work, including declaring and having inspected all equipment used for it, because the archive material showed previously unknown nuclear equipment never declared to the IAEA.
If Iran concealed key information about its program from the IAEA when the JCPOA was implemented, this strongly detracts from the IAEA’s ability to reliably monitor Iran’s activity today.
Furthermore, since the nuclear deal was implemented Iran has gained access to around US$100 billion in sanctions relief.
While many hoped the deal would empower moderates within Iran, there has been no evidence of this. Unfortunately, the JCPOA not only provided no disincentive to Iran to kerb its support for international terrorism or regional aggression, it seems to have turbocharged such aggressive Iranian behaviour over the past two years.
Iran continues to support the brutal Assad regimen in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has been estimated that Iran spends around $US16 billion ($21.6bn) annually on exporting terrorism and its war efforts in Syria.
Internally, earlier this year Iranians protesting for greater freedom and prosperity, and lamenting that the sanctions relief has been used to fund foreign conflicts rather than being invested in the Iranian people, were brutally killed and a violent crackdown ensued.
While Australia is not a party to the Iran nuclear deal, as a “middle power” our opinion matters.
A review of Australia’s position on the JCPOA is timely and sensible, as it would take into account new intelligence which undermines claims of Iranian compliance, and consider other flaws of the nuclear deal and the increasingly aggressive Iranian regional activities.
In evaluating which position on Iran best serves Australia’s national interest, reinforcing the commendable efforts of the US to stop Iran’s drive towards nuclear weapons and its rogue behaviour would surely rate as a major consideration.
Dr. Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Previously he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.