On Tuesday, the President of the United States announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord reached by the P5+1 and Iran in 2015. Israel has applauded the American decision while, predictably, European allies have expressed regret.
At CIJA, we have been closely monitoring the evolving situation, starting in 2013, through negotiations that culminated in the signing of the agreement and the ensuing debate about its efficacy. Given Iran’s continued calls for Israel’s destruction, we have always supported diplomacy to block Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb. We have maintained that any agreement must be sufficiently comprehensive to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions.
In his presentation following the capture by Israeli intelligence of elements of Iran’s nuclear archive, PM Netanyahu did not state that, in 2018, Iran was doing x, y, or z, and proffer the evidence. What Netanyahu said was that we cannot know what Iran is doing in 2018 because we are not looking in the right places, asking the right questions, or identifying appropriate things to monitor or investigate. One could argue that the very existence of the archive is itself a violation of the spirit of the agreement.
Given Iran’s lies about the state of their nuclear program in 2003, it is reasonable – even prudent – to question their honesty in 2018. That is the real takeaway. The archive obtained by Israeli intelligence offers incontrovertible evidence that what Iran put on the table was not real: the agreement is, therefore, if not null and void, at least in need of careful re-evaluation.
The JCPOA was predicated on implementing a system of inspection that presumed total disclosure by Iran of its nuclear activities. Because Iran lied and did not disclose the full range of its program, the deal lacked the capacity to fully monitor Iran’s behaviour. Compounding this shortfall was Iran’s decision to shift major elements of the program to the military, making them entirely inaccessible to the IAEA. If the initial premise was flawed, then any outcome flowing from it was likewise flawed, which remains the real concern.
Where do we go from here? CIJA’s position has been that the agreement should be improved by strengthening the inspections regime overall, including by allowing access to military aspects of the nuclear program.
We have called on Ottawa to encourage our allies to improve the agreement while maintaining Canada’s sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile programs, to which Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recommitted in her May 8 statement. All three major Canadian political parties have stated that the success of the nuclear agreement depends on strong verification to ensure Iranian compliance. We continue to urge Canadian leaders from all parties to reaffirm this common-sense consensus to our allies who are party to the P5+1 accord. Regardless of the nuclear accord, the world must not relieve pressure on Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism, regional aggression, and human rights abuses.
As several commentators have observed, despite the U.S. decision, the deal is not yet done. Early signs suggest that other parties in the P5+1 / E3, and Iran, are working to keep the agreement in place.
The decision by the U.S. could create an opportunity to improve the JCPOA, particularly the shortcomings related to inspections and the possible military dimensions. Recent developments, including Iran’s decision to fire 20 missiles at Israel yesterday (another alarming example of military adventurism by the Quds force) also cannot be ignored. Iran’s recent attack on Israel should remind the world of the need to counter Tehran’s dangerous efforts to expand its military presence and impose its hegemonic objectives across the region – including in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. It should be noted that the U.S. supported Israel’s absolute obligation to defend its citizens yesterday, and Russia tacitly approved through quiet acquiescence. Both powers understand that Israel had no option but to respond to this attack forcefully.
We don’t yet know what these developments mean for Israel or the region. But an agreement that gives the IAEA unobstructed access to all Iran’s nuclear activities, including those now overseen by the Iranian military, combined with other elements that address the possible military dimensions will make Israel and the international community safer.
Many well-meaning observers fail to see the core issue. The premise on which the deal was based was wrong, both because the P5+1 got it wrong and because they received flawed and incomplete information. Some supporters of the JCPOA say: “We implemented the agreement because we don’t trust the Iranians – if we did, we wouldn’t we need the agreement”. This is a reckless response that misses the point.
The discovery of the archive reinforces the long-stated concern that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The intelligence in the archive demonstrates the failure of current oversight measures, which were insufficient to locate this damning evidence.
This issue is too important – too consequential – to get wrong. Diplomacy is the preferable route to peace, but the outcome of that diplomacy must be an agreement that addresses the actual situation, not an invented reality put forth by a deceptive Iranian leadership.