JCPOA anniversary: Both sides of Iran deal quick to declare victory

Only six months since implementation, special interests are quick to judge the 15-year agreement.

July 14, 2016 02:26
3 minute read.
iran khamenei

A MILITARY truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei drives in a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – One year ago, American special interest groups and party spin doctors mobilized for an extraordinary fight to define the Iran nuclear deal to an unknowing public.

Strategic communications teams had their work cut out for them: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a highly technical document. The life of the deal, in political terms, is long – 10 to 15 years, depending on the provision – although not long enough for some.

The politics of preserving or killing the deal required urgent judgments on its strength and worth. But gauging the JCPOA’s success from a policy perspective, in truth, will not be possible for many years to come.

Some groups hailed the agreement as a victory immediately upon its completion, while others declared it a disaster from the start. These same groups are working today to maintain their narratives, as world leaders mark the anniversary of the accord.

While today’s anniversary is a moment to take stock, the deal has in fact been in force only since January of this year. So conclusions of success or failure are based on initial impressions and the fulfillment of initial obligations – not on a series of stress tests, which will surely challenge the agreement as it proceeds toward more significant milestones.

One group quick to proclaim the agreement a success was the National Iranian American Council.

“Despite the criticisms, it’s quite clear that the deal has been a massive success when it comes to achieving its explicit goals: Preventing an Iranian bomb and preventing a war with Iran,” Trita Parsi, the council’s president, said this week. He added: “Members of the US Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to adiscussion about the Iranian nuclear threat.”

On the other end, groups such as the Israel Project have used the anniversary as an opportunity to cast the Obama administration’s policy on Iran as a dumpster fire.

“A Bad Year for a Bad Agreement,” reads the subject line of a press release by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, quoting Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration and the group’s president and CEO.

“In seven years, Iran can begin [research and development] and production of advanced centrifuges that are 25 times faster than existing ones. And within 14 years, all meaningful restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program fall away,” Makovsky notes.

Offering a somewhat tempered statement, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – which led the fight against the JCPOA on Capitol Hill last August – acknowledged that Iran had “fulfilled its initial nuclear commitments.”

“But problems implementing the JCPOA have emerged,” AIPAC noted, adding that concerns remain over weaknesses in the accord.

“The JCPOA legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, and will enable Iran to ultimately build an industrial-scale nuclear program,” AIPAC’s statement read. “While the agreement lengthens Iran’s breakout time today, restrictions on Iran’s program begin to lift within a decade. After 15 years Iran will be a nuclear-threshold state: no restrictions will remain on the number or type of centrifuges Iran will be able to install or the number of enrichment facilities it can build.”

Some critics focused their attention this week on the fact that Iran has continued its ballistic missile work, in violation of separate, albeit interrelated international laws prohibiting the growth of that program. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has characterized Iran’s continued missile testing as a violation of the spirit of the agreement.

Still others argue that Iran’s malignant behavior across the Middle East has continued, if not increased, since the agreement was adopted. Architects of the deal note that it was designed specifically not to address those behaviors but to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity that would aggravate them.

At this early stage and from information publicly available, advocates of the deal are correct in stating that the letter of the JCPOA has been honored by all parties. But policy critics argue that Tehran’s compliance, up until this point, means very little.

Because for those who believe Iran signed the deal in the first place to reach its sunset years, in 2030, with caps and restrictions lifted, the question remains: Why would Iran violate the deal now?

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