Diplomatic strategies for improving the Iran nuclear deal

Oct 4, 2017

Diplomatic strategies for improving the Iran nuclear deal

Update from AIJAC

October 4, 2017

Update 10/17 #01

This Update deals with some new ideas about how the Trump Administration can formulate its diplomatic strategy with respect to the Iran nuclear deal – known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). This issue is especially timely in view of the fact that Mr. Trump is legally required to report to Congress by Oct. 15 whether the deal is being implemented and meets US national security interests.

First up is some advice from two top experts on the nuclear deal – Mark Dubowtiz of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies and David Albright, now heading a thinktank, but formally an International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspector. They formulate a strategy which they term  “decertify, waive, slap and fix” – which involves not re-certifying the deal, but also not breaking it by re-imposing nuclear sanctions. They then advise using the leverage thus created, plus additional non-nuclear sanctions allowed by the deal, to get changes including the inclusion of missile restrictions, and getting rid of the sunset clauses in the JCPOA which effectively allow Iran to become a nuclear power after 10 years. For this full strategy from two very knowledgeable analysts,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert from the US Council on Foreign Relations. He argues that the JCPOA in its current form is not only flawed, it actually puts Iran on “a legal glide path to the bomb”, and that this reality was largely orchestrated by Dr Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation. Using Salehi’s own words as his main evidence, Takeyh makes an argument that by allowing Iran to continue researching advanced centrifuges, and then deploy them as the sunset clauses kick in, the JCPOA as currently written effectively lets the Iranians do what they wanted to do anyway. For this interesting and original argument, CLICK HERE

Finally, American security correspondent Eli Lake argues that the Trump Administration has already accumulated considerable leverage against Iran, as evidenced by international and Iranian reactions. He then argues that the Administration needs a tough negotiator dedicated to this portfolio to exploit this leverage – and mentions strong JCPOA critic Ambassador John Bolton. Lake also discusses the Iranian tendency to exploit the deal to insist that all sanctions against it for any reason are illegal, and argues this re-interpretation of the JCPOA must not be allowed to go unchallenged. For all that he has to say,  CLICK HERE. The latest article by John Bolton expressing his consistent view that the deal is completely unsalvageable is here.


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How Trump Can Improve the Iran Deal

He can decertify the accord as too dangerous to continue while renegotiating its worst aspects

By Mark Dubowitz and David Albright

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25, 2017 

Powerful voices at home and abroad are pressuring President Trump to give his blessing to his predecessor’s nuclear agreement with Iran. Mr. Trump has repeatedly pledged to renegotiate the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or scrap it altogether. There is a way for him to highlight the agreement’s egregious deficiencies while showing his determination to improve the deal or leave it. We call this strategy “decertify, waive, slap and fix.”

The president should follow through on his commitments by refusing to certify the JCPOA under the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. That law requires Mr. Trump to certify every 90 days that Iran is fully implementing the nuclear deal and hasn’t significantly advanced its nuclear-weapons program. Additionally he must certify whether the suspension of sanctions remains vital to U.S. national-security interests and proportionate to Iran’s efforts to terminate its illicit nuclear programs. The next 90-day deadline is Oct. 15.

If the president continues to certify the JCPOA, inertia and the status quo will probably capture him the way a policy of “strategic patience” on North Korea got Mr. Obama. This will effectively guarantee the clerical regime pathways to missile-delivered nuclear weapons.

The JCPOA is a prelude to a Middle Eastern version of the North Korean mess. It gives the clerical regime sunset-expiring restrictions, advanced centrifuges, intercontinental ballistic missiles, the ability to frustrate U.N. inspectors’ access to military sites where Tehran has conducted secret nuclear-weapons and uranium-enrichment work in the past, and tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, with hundreds of billions to follow. The Iranians will continue to run amok in the Middle East, using foreign cash to pay for their imperialism.

The president should refuse to certify for another reason: The nuclear deal’s fundamentally flawed architecture—not just how it is enforced—makes it too dangerous to continue. By patiently following the deal the Islamic Republic can gain nuclear weapons, as well as a nuclear-capable arsenal of missiles giving it regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the United States. It also will have a powerful economy immunized against sanctions pressure by the time the JCPOA restrictions expire. Allowing this is not in the “vital national security interests of the United States.”

Decertifying doesn’t mean breaking the deal. That happens only if the U.S. reimposes sanctions that have been lifted or suspended under the JCPOA. On Sept. 14, as required by the JCPOA, the president again waived nuclear-related sanctions, this time on Iran’s central bank and oil exports. He accompanied this “waive” with a “slap” imposing new sanctions on companies and individuals connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and recent cyberattacks. An engineering company working with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was also targeted.

These sanctions, which are fully compliant with the JCPOA, are a decent start. But Mr. Trump must do more. He should designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, as Congress has required he do by Oct. 31. He should also instruct the Treasury to blacklist companies with Revolutionary Guard and military ownership, which represent about 20% of the total market capitalization of the Tehran Stock Exchange. He should redesignate Iran Air (which is buying planes from Boeing and Airbus) as a terrorist entity for airlifting weapons and fighters to Syria. All these measures are consistent with the JCPOA.

We propose the president “fix” U.S. policy by making it clear he does not accept the Iran deal’s dangerous flaws. He should insist on conditions making permanent the current restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and the testing of advanced centrifuges and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the buying and transferring of conventional weaponry. He must insist on unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors to Iranian military sites.

If President Trump does de-certify the JCPOA, he will need to develop a strategy that will convince Congress not to re-instate the JCPOA sanctions for the time being. 

Congress should do its part to help fix the deal. Reinstating the JCPOA sanctions after decertification would ruin the “decertify, waive, slap and fix” approach. To persuade Republicans, who are the most likely to vote to reinstate JCPOA sanctions that have been waived or lifted, the administration needs to demonstrate a comprehensive strategy to fix the deal and use all instruments of American power to neutralize and roll back Iranian aggression. Democrats should help fix the deal or explain to Americans why a brutally repressive and aggressive Iranian regime should have a North Korean-style glide path to dozens of nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

The Europeans are already responding to Mr. Trump’s threats to walk away from the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron has said he’s willing to consider supplementing the agreement to address the sunset provisions and missiles. European leaders who want to preserve the accord are now working on a U.S.-EU consensus on ways to fix it. They should outline conditions under which trans-Atlantic sanctions would be reinstated if Iran doesn’t play ball. Otherwise, they can watch Mr. Trump exit the deal and use the considerable financial power of the U.S. to force European banks and companies to choose between America’s $19 trillion market and Iran’s $400 billion one.

Decertification is the critical first step of a strategy to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from becoming a nuclear state. The famously blunt Mr. Trump must send an unambiguous message to Tehran’s clerics: His administration will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, nor can it abide by the agreement as it stands. But the strategy doesn’t depend on Iranian acquiescence. It gives the Europeans a chance to come on board to fix the deal in order to save it.

If they don’t, the consequences could be severe.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security. BACK TO TOP

Article 2

The Nuclear Deal Is Iran’s Legal Path to the Bomb

Iran sees it. It’s time the U.S. did too.



Politico, September 22, 2017

President Donald Trump has sensibly insisted that the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—has to be revised. The reaction in some quarters, mainly among many of the former Obama administration officials who negotiated this bad deal, has been horror. Unfortunately, the media have uncritically swallowed many of the false assumptions and naive arguments of the deal’s supporters, and the elite consensus is that the agreement must be preserved lest the White House bumble us into a crisis—or worse, another war in the Middle East.

Please. The accord is riddled with problematic provisions that essentially put Iran on a legal glide path to the bomb. The agreement’s various sunset clauses, its leaky inspection regime and Iran’s growing missile arsenal have all been subject of much discussion. Yet, one of the most dangerous aspects of the JCPOA that allows Iran to design and construct advanced centrifuges has largely escaped notice. Given the JCPOA’s permissive research and design provisions, Iran can effectively modernize its nuclear infrastructure while adhering to the agreement.

The Islamic Republic will most likely not build a bomb in one of its declared facilities, for such a move would expose it to immediate military retribution. More likely, Iran will sneak out by covertly enriching uranium at a hidden, undisclosed facility—after all, they’ve done it before. This option, however, requires the development of advanced centrifuges that can operate with efficiency at high velocity. A small cascade of the so-called IR-8 centrifuges can quickly enrich vast quantities of uranium to weapons-grade quality.

Because so few of these centrifuges would be required to complete the task, they can be housed in small facilities that may evade detection in a timely manner. Iran is a vast country, and should the clerical oligarchs choose to litter their territory with numerous such small installations, they can effectively conceal their activities from prying inspectors. All this becomes even more alarming as the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program fade with time.

Dr Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, helped negotiate the JCPOA in a way that left Iran free to deploy advanced centrifuges along the timeline it was planning on following in any case, Takeyh argues.

The key architect of the JCPOA was not Secretary of State John Kerry or his European counterparts but Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s most reliable bomb maker, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, and his team of technicians and diplomats, for one simple reason: He knows more than we do about the program he has devoted his life to developing.

Salehi, a fluent English speaker with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT, realized the folly of his predecessors. He understood that merely adding primitive IR-1 centrifuges to Iran’s stock might marginally expand its nuclear capacity, but could not be the foundation of a state-of-art atomic apparatus. For Iran to have a viable nuclear energy program and a sneak-out weapons option, it had to phase out the clunky IR-1s and replace them with more advanced IR-8s.

As Pezhman Rahimian, a technical member of the Iran negotiating team, stipulated in an interview in Khorasan newspaper on August 13, 2015: “The current manager of the organization [Salehi] believes that we should not have produced and installed this number of IR-1s since plans were made to replace these old centrifuges with new ones.” Thus, Iran had no problem disassembling many of its outdated centrifuges and giving the Westerners the illusion that it was circumscribing its nuclear activities.

At the height of negotiations in 2015, Iran’s leaders were grappling with the question of how long they would need to design and operate the new generation of centrifuges. Another member of Iran’s negotiating team, Hamid Baidinezhad, stressed in an interview with Iranian daily E’temad on August 23, 2015: “Finally, we came to the conclusion that the transition period that would take us to the industrial stage would start at the beginning of eight years. … After the completion of that transitional period, Iran’s nuclear program would witness an industrial leap and Iran would enter the state of complete industrial enrichment.”

And this was precisely the research and development plan Iran negotiated as part of the JCPOA: The agreement stipulates that “Iran will continue to conduct enrichment R & D [Research and Development] … including IR-4, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges.” An American negotiating team that was so concerned about stages of sanctions relief and inspections seemed to have conceded this point as part of the negotiating trade-offs.

Salehi has touted this achievement, declaring in an interview with Islamic Student News Agency on September 8, 2015, “According to the JCPOA, we have kept our nuclear program in accordance with our needs and requirements for [carrying out] research and development.” In a clever move, Salehi preserved Iran’s nuclear modernization efforts while trading away IR-1s that Iran would phase out even if the JCPOA had not come along.

Indeed, we’d do well to listen to what the Iranians themselves say about the nuclear deal. The Iranian government routinely celebrates its achievement at the negotiating table. And though the arcane details of the agreement are rarely discussed by Western leaders, President Hassan Rouhani has not shied away from delving into minute technical matters. The issue he often focuses on is Iran’s right to develop advance centrifuge models. In December 2016, Rouhani insisted in a speech cited by Islamic Republic News Agency: “Before, only IR-1 centrifuges were active, now we are operating IR-8 centrifuges, the most modern and advanced ones Iran has obtained.” Rouhani appreciates the hard bargaining of his diplomats and the tactics of his bomb maker, Salehi.

One estimate of how the Iranian enrichment capability will rise as the JCPOA expires, from the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington.

How did the U.S. allow this? The cascade of American concessions began in Obama’s second term. Free from seeking another election, Obama and Kerry, his new secretary of state, went abroad looking for a legacy project. During its first term, the administration had insisted that Iran was entitled to only a small nuclear program relying on primitive centrifuges. This was a face-saving gesture whereby Iranians would proclaim that they had mastered enrichment, but the international community would be confident that their small-scale program offered little proliferation threat.

In its second term, however, the administration conceded many of its own red lines as Iran was granted the right to eventually industrialize its program using the most advanced technologies. The Obamians may have justified such concessions to themselves by assuring one another that after the expiration of the sunset clauses, a different Iran would emerge, a moderate regime valuing international acceptability more than nuclear arms. In their conception, Iran would become another Japan. The Islamic Republic’s conduct since the advent of the JCPOA demonstrates the fallacy of such conceptions, as the regime continues to reject international norms, abuse its citizens and menace its neighbors. Not for the first-time they misunderstood the theocracy and how the hard men of Iran were imbued by an ideological animus toward the West that necessitated not just isolation but nuclear weapons.

Despite the howls of the Democratic Party Resistance, Trump is right that the Iran deal is “an embarrassment to the United States.” In fact, it’s the most deficient accord in the history of American arms control diplomacy. Many aspects of it require reconsideration, and none more essential than its research and development provisions. To realistically obstruct Iran’s path to nuclear arms, Washington must first deny it the technology most essential for production of such weapons. No renegotiation will be complete without first undoing Salehi’s ingenious achievement.

Ray Takeyh is Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Article 3


Trump Has Created Leverage Against Iran. Now He Needs a Closer.

No more “nice guy” rapport. Bring in someone like John Bolton.

By Eli Lake

Bloomberg, 22/09/2017

Supporters of the Iran nuclear deal are in panic mode.

Obama administration alumni are warning that President Donald Trump’s threats to not certify Iranian compliance next month will unravel a bargain that makes the world safer. European leaders and Iranian envoys say the deal cannot be renegotiated. Quietly, many career State Department officials, according to administration sources, are trying to figure out a way to at least delay Trump’s plan to throw the deal into turmoil.

The alarm is understandable. If Trump decertifies Iranian compliance with what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, then it will be up to Congress to vote to impose the crippling sanctions on Iran’s banks and oil exports that President Barack Obama waived as part of the nuclear deal. If Congress does that, it really would blow up the nuclear deal.

That said, Trump’s threats have already gotten some results. Let’s start with France. It’s true that in his U.N. General Assembly speech, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the importance of staying in the Iran deal. “Renouncing it would be a grave error; not respecting it would be irresponsible,” he said. And yet after that speech he told reporters: “Is this agreement enough? No, it is not, given the evolution of the regional situation and increasing pressure that Iran is exerting on the region, and given increased activity by Iran on the ballistic level since the accord.”

French President Emmanuel Macron at the UN – in a sign of the shift in international views, he conceded that the JCPOA is not enough to contain Iran’s behaviour and more needs to be done.

Today, the position of France and the U.K. is that they oppose reopening the Iran deal, but they favor trying to pressure Iran to agree to supplemental fixes to it, such as removing the sunset provisions that limit Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the number of advanced centrifuges they can assemble, and addressing Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles.

Now let’s look at the Iranians. Western defenders of the nuclear deal will say that the agreement lifts only the sanctions on Iran related to nuclear proliferation. Therefore, the U.S. can still punish Iran for its testing of missiles, human rights violations and support for terrorism. The Iranians have never seen it that way.

Almost as soon as the deal was implemented in January 2016, Iran’s envoys complained that America was not living up to its end of the bargain. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for example told the New Yorker in April 2016 that the U.S. was obliged to assure European banks that there will be no penalties for doing business with Iran, even though the Treasury Department still maintains sanctions against working with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is Iran’s main arm for supporting terrorists throughout the Middle East. Zarif at the time said the deal was still in place, but “if one side does not comply with the agreement then the agreement will start to falter.”

In other words, part of the Iranian strategy was to use the nuclear deal as leverage to get further concessions.  

Trump has undermined Iran’s strategy by threatening America’s exit from the deal. Iran’s leaders still talk tough, but so far new U.S. sanctions have not prompted the Iranians to walk away. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said this week at the U.N. that there is no renegotiating the deal struck in 2015.

Undermining Iran’s scheme is a good start. Keeping Iran nervous about U.S. reneging is helpful. But what can Trump do with the leverage he has created? Is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson up to the task of squeezing the Europeans and Iran to address the nuclear agreement’s flaws? He has enough on his plate already with North Korea and Syria. Also, Tillerson so far doesn’t have much diplomatic success. Just this week, Russia flagrantly violated the “de-confliction” agreement Tillerson negotiated in May for Syria.

At this point Trump should consider appointing a special envoy for fixing the Iran deal. Ideally, this candidate should be a critic of the agreement who will not fall into the trap of Obama’s negotiators who believed the rapport built with Iranian envoys would lead to a rapprochement with the regime. Finally, Trump’s new envoy should be someone with years of experience in arms control and international law.

Ambassador John Bolton – an outright opponent of the deal who “does not play well with others”. Could he nonetheless be the sort of negotiator Trump needs?

In other words, it should be someone like John Bolton, the former acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Unfortunately, Bolton has already made it clear that he opposes the nuclear deal altogether. He recently published his plan for withdrawing it.

The ideal candidate to negotiate for the Trump administration would be an opponent of the original deal: That stance gives a negotiator credibility.

Bolton himself has a reputation for not playing well with others. Again, to find someone like that would be an asset.

Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, got along famously with his Iranian counterpart, Zarif. They would speak on the phone several times each week. In the end, all of that good will ended in a deal that expires between 2025 and 2030, allows Iran to research and implement more efficient centrifuges, is weak on inspections for military sites, and doesn’t address delivery systems for the nuclear weapons the whole world doesn’t want Iran to build.

We’ve tried the “nice guy” approach. Time for something tougher.

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.



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