Iran Was Violating the Nuclear Deal Even before the U.S. Pulled Out

March 5, 2021 | Richard Goldberg
About the author: Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served on Capitol Hill, on the U.S. National Security Council, as the chief of staff for Illinois’s governor, and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer.

In a formal report on Monday, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made clear—without saying it outright—that the Islamic Republic had deliberately misled the agency about its ongoing nuclear activities. Richard Goldberg explains what this means with regard to the White House’s hopes of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 agreement with Tehran is formally known:

These revelations undermine the very core of the JCPOA and will pose serious challenges to any attempt to resurrect the agreement. First, it’s clear now that Iran deceived the IAEA in 2015 and never provided a complete or truthful accounting of its undeclared nuclear activities. . . . Second, critical deficiencies in the JCPOA’s inspection regime are on full display. . . . Most concerning, Iran keeps its military facilities, [including those where nuclear research is taking place], off-limits to IAEA inspections—leaving a gaping hole in its verification regime.

Third, the IAEA is pulling on a thread that opened while America remained a participant in the JCPOA. Unlike other nuclear misconduct topping the news, including the enrichment of uranium, Iran’s nuclear deceit is not a response to U.S. withdrawal from the deal [in 2018] or imposition of sanctions—it is a fundamental breach of its nuclear obligations and commitments, including the nonproliferation treaty [it signed in 1968].

Papering over Iran’s breach of its most fundamental nuclear obligations in favor of the empty reassurances provided by a flawed nuclear agreement would be an enormous strategic mistake—not just for the new administration’s Iran policy but for other regimes watching across the world. To reward Iran with sanctions relief for concealing undeclared nuclear material and activities poses a far greater threat to the global nonproliferation regime than withdrawal from flawed agreements.

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