On May 8, 2018, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, had this to say about the development:
None of us ever trusted the United States. This deal was not based in trust. It was based on mutual mistrust. I think that was the strength of this deal. It is not something bad about the deal. It’s the strength of the deal, but unfortunately, the way President Trump is handling it, it’s widening the mistrust, not only between the Iran and the United States, but between the global community and the United States where the U.S. is no longer just unpredictable, but unreliable.
Sixty Years of Meddling
The Iranian mistrust is well-founded. In 1953, the United States instigated a military coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in response to his nationalization of the oil industry. CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt led Operation Ajax which bribed military officials to turn against Mosaddegh, paid newspapers and radio stations to run anti-Mosaddegh propaganda, and hired thugs to pose as Mosaddegh supporters as they rioted in the streets to turn public opinion against the popular prime minister. Following a military assault on Mosaddegh’s residence and his subsequent arrest, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had fled to Rome (where his luxurious lodging and travel were personally arranged by CIA Director Allen Dulles), returned to Tehran to a cheering crowd, many of whom were also on the CIA payroll.
For the next 26 years, the Shah would rule Iran with an iron fist and the full support of the United States. SAVAK, the secret police established and trained by American military and intelligence officers, was especially despised by the Iranian people. SAVAK imprisoned thousands of political dissidents. Many were tortured to extract confessions, and hundreds were executed. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 brought an end to SAVAK, and today the former Towhid Prison in Tehran is now a museum exhibiting its documented atrocities.
The 1979 Revolution was a popular uprising and a legitimate expression of Iran’s sovereignty. Rather than accept the will of the Iranian people, the United States set about undermining the fledgling Republic. It supported Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran and supplied Saddam Hussein with weaponry, including prohibited chemical weapons, throughout the eight-year war. Iran was ultimately able to repel the invasion, but the human toll of the Iran-Iraq War was immense; over half a million Iranians were killed or wounded, an estimated 50,000 of those from chemical attacks.
Those casualty figures do not include the 290 civilians that were killed when an American warship, the USS Vincennes, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988, one month before the United Nations brokered an end to the war. The ship’s captain incredibly claimed the Airbus A300 was mistaken for an F-14 Tomcat, an American made fighter jet that Iran acquired for its air force in the 1970s. It was shot down over Iranian territorial waters while flying its normal scheduled route.
When Iranian students, incensed that the United States had granted sanctuary to the deposed Shah, took 63 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in November of 1979, President Jimmy Carter froze Iranian assets and imposed the first of what would become a continuous series of economic and trade sanctions. While President Reagan maintained the same tough public stance, his administration was secretly selling arms to Iran (effectively arming both sides in the war) and using the proceeds to covertly fund his dirty war in Central America.
In 1996 during the Clinton administration, Iran’s nuclear program was targeted for the first time when the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) became law. President George W. Bush ramped up both sanctions and rhetoric proclaiming Iran to be part of an international “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address, and reauthorizing sanctions in 2006. Also in 2006, the Iran Freedom and Support Act appropriated $10 million for “pro-democracy” groups opposed to Iran’s government. President Obama continued to punish Iran for its nuclear activities, and eventually the sanctions came to include nearly all sectors of the Iranian economy; oil exports, banking, and manufacturing. The economic noose was further tightened by imposing secondary sanctions which punish third party individuals, corporations, and countries that fail to abide by U.S. sanctions.
The harm these sanctions have done to the Iranian people is undeniable, yet Iran remained defiant, choosing to build a self-reliant “Resistance Economy” rather than surrender its sovereignty and acquiesce to American demands.
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What’s Good for the Goose, is Prohibited to the Gander
Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which came into effect in 1970. Fundamentally, it is an agreement that no new nations shall acquire nuclear weapons in exchange for the eventual nuclear disarmament of those that do possess them. Under the treaty, all nations have the right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The Islamic Republic of Iran maintains that its intent has always been peaceful, and that possession of nuclear weapons is antithetical to the practice of Islam. Its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa (religious edict) against their production, stockpiling, or use. This was not the case for pre-revolutionary Iran.
In the late 1950s the United States, under President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, began transferring nuclear technology to Iran. Ostensibly for power generation and medical purposes, the Shah was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor in 1974 as saying that Iran would obtain the bomb “without a doubt, and sooner than one would think.” A nuclear weapons design team was also assembled at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center. Any concerns the United States may have had at the time were muted. America’s attitude would change dramatically in 1979.
India, a country that has had nuclear weapons since 1974 but is not a signatory to the NPT, likewise enhanced its nuclear capabilities thanks to the United States. An agreement struck with the George W. Bush administration in 2008 allows for the sale of dual-use (civilian or military) technologies. The bilateral deal ended a thirty-year moratorium on nuclear trade with India and undermined non-proliferation efforts internationally. While providing nuclear fuel and technology to India, the deal does not require India to cap its fissile material production or even limit the number of nuclear weapons it produces.
Although Israel maintains a policy of “deliberate ambiguity,” its possession of nuclear weapons is the world’s worst kept secret. The exact number of weapons in its arsenal is unknown, but believed to number between 50 and 400, thanks in part to an Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, who blew the whistle on the nation’s nuclear program while visiting England in 1986. So upset was Israel by the revelations, that it set a “honey trap” for Vanunu.
Vanunu was lured to Italy, where he was drugged and kidnapped by Mossad agents and taken back to Israel. He was convicted of treason and espionage in a secret trial and sentenced to eighteen years in prison, eleven of which were spent in solitary confinement. Since leaving prison in 2004, he is subject to continuous monitoring, prohibited from leaving Israel, and forbidden to speak with foreigners. His heroic defiance of those conditions has led to subsequent arrests and imprisonments, even as Israel demands transparency from Iran.
Although Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, it has taken a vigilante approach to non-proliferation for others. In 1981 it destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction near Baghdad with an F-16A air strike. Operation Opera killed eleven people including a French civilian. This act of military aggression founded the Begin Doctrine, under which Israel unilaterally assumed the authority to counter any perceived proliferation in the region with a level of force it alone deemed necessary. In 2007, the Begin Doctrine would be invoked again to bomb a Syrian nuclear facility that was suspected of having a military dimension. Ten people were killed in Operation Outside the Box. Unlike Israel, Syria is a party to the NPT.
The Pen is Supplemented by the Dagger
If sanctions have not worked to dissuade Iran from building an indigenous nuclear capability, neither has American and Israeli skullduggery. After the Stuxnet virus was launched against Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010, Iran quickly rebuilt the estimated 10 percent of its centrifuges that were sabotaged by the world’s first act of cyber-warfare. The United States and Israel are believed to be responsible, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden called the attack “a good idea.” The Israeli intelligence service Mossad, in cooperation with the then US-designated terrorist group the MEK, is also believed to be responsible for the assassination of at least four Iranian nuclear scientists during a terror campaign waged from 2010-2012.
It cannot be argued that these rogue, criminal actions were necessitated by any urgent need to disrupt an imminent nuclear weapons breakout by Iran. A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2007 concluded that any nuclear program with Iran may have had was terminated in the fall of 2003. Israeli officials have also acknowledged in moments of candor that if Iran were to come into possession of a nuclear bomb, its purpose would be deterrence to military attack. What can be said about these American/Israeli operations however, is that their “shared values” were displayed to the world.
Diplomacy Rooted in Mistrust, the P5+1
After thirty years of subterfuge, it is doubtful that the Islamic Republic of Iran would have engaged with the United States in any bilateral negotiations. However, Iran was willing to sit at the same table with the United States if the other permanent members of the UN Security Council—Russia, China, France, Great Britain (the P-5), along with Germany (the plus one)—also participated. In November of 2013, talks began to verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The JCPOA agreement was reached in April of 2015 and adopted unanimously three months later by the UN Security Council giving it the force of international law. Iran agreed to completely eliminate its stockpile of medium enriched uranium and drastically reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for fifteen years. It also agreed to limit further production to a single facility at Natanz, mothballing all of its advanced centrifuges and cutting the number of first-generation centrifuges by two-thirds for a period of ten years.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was assigned to monitor compliance and given oversight of Iran’s “entire nuclear supply chain,” with “round-the-clock” access to their Natanz facility, to include the installation of surveillance equipment. After fifteen years, these constraints on uranium enrichment would be lifted; however Iran has signed and is implementing the Additional Protocol that requires a continuation of the monitoring and verification provisions under the NPT.
It is also noteworthy that the P-5 are all nuclear-armed nations and that there is no provision in the JCPOA to hasten their obligation to disarm, a bone of contention among nations not possessing nuclear weapons.
In return, Iran’s frozen assets were to be released and sanctions against its nuclear program lifted. The United States would also cease the application of secondary sanctions. Sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program and conventional weapons sales would fall away in 5-8 years. However, sanctions related to alleged human rights abuses and support for terrorism would not be affected and would remain in place.
In the event of an IAEA verified violation by Iran, any member of the P-5+1 may invoke the “snapback” provision in the agreement, at which time all pre-JCPOA sanctions would be reimposed. The “snapback” cannot be vetoed by any member of the Security Council.
In signing the JCPOA, Iran acceded to strictures beyond what is required to remain compliant with the NPT, and the concessions it received were nothing more than what any nation is entitled to. It is also noteworthy that the P-5 are all nuclear-armed nations and that there is no provision in the JCPOA to hasten their obligation to disarm, a bone of contention among nations not possessing nuclear weapons. This recurring complaint has intensified now that several nuclear powers, the United States included, have undertaken modernization of their arsenals. So much so that on July 7, 2017, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (122 in favor, 1 opposed, with 1 abstention) to pass the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Iran voted in favor. The United States did not vote, nor did any nuclear-armed nation.
Regime change in Iran has long been a project of American neo-conservatives
The US withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, and the re-imposition of sanctions came in spite of continued assessments of Iranian compliance by the IAEA. The United States unilaterally broke the deal. In doing so, President Trump reiterated his view that the Obama administration negotiated a “horrible” deal, and that he would “work with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution.”
However, America’s allies are not inclined to renegotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal. The European Union and individual member nations have said they will work preserve the original deal. The EU has vowed to continue to do business with Iran and has enacted a “blocking statute” in an attempt to shield corporations from secondary US sanctions. Demonstrating the level of respect the current administration has for its putative allies, one official responded by saying, “This is something we’re not particularly concerned by.” Sure enough, in the real world, many corporations have shown that their fear of American reprisal exceeds their faith in EU protection and are abiding by re-imposed sanctions.
In an embarrassing display of ignorance and arrogance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of twelve demands that Iran must meet in order to reenter negotiations; negotiations Iran has called “poison” and a new deal it has no interest in. Pompeo’s “musties” included disclosure of the prior military dimensions of the nuclear program (an issue previously resolved), cessation of plutonium production (already accomplished by the JCPOA), release of all US prisoners (made less likely by the JCPOA betrayal), an end to Iranian support for its allies (surrender of sovereignty in foreign policy), and withdrawal from Syria (kettle meet pot).
Setting the Stage for War
Regime change in Iran has long been a project of American neo-conservatives. Perhaps none have been as fanatical as National Security Advisor John Bolton who advocated for war with Iran even as the JCPOA negotiations were nearing a successful conclusion. He wrote an editorial for the New York Times in March of 2015 entitled “To Stop Iran Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
More recently, Bolton asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans on Iran. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan returned plans that envision a deployment of up to 120,000 troops, a number that rivals the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The United States has also sent a carrier strike group (USS Lincoln) and B-52 bombers to the region and is conducting war games in the Arabian Sea. One can only imagine what would happen if Iran took the same liberties in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Trump administration has further eroded Congress’s sole authority to declare war by vetoing its directive to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war against Yemen. Previously, a simple majority in Congress could prevent the initiation of war. Now, the President can initiate hostilities and it takes a veto proof majority to discontinue the war.
If the Trump administration concludes it cannot muster the two-thirds majority support in Congress for war in Iran, it has cleared another path. The U.S. designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, in addition to being a provocation, is likely a contrivance to maneuver Iran into the category of groups that may be attacked under the much abused and obsolete 2001 Authorization for Use Of Military Force (AUMF), which specifies a terrorist threat as a provision..
There is also the tried-and-true false flag operation to manufacture consent for war. The limpet mine attack on oil freighters in the Persian Gulf is eerily reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Or, Iran might simply be accused of something that isn’t true, much like Iraq was accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction in 2003. Even though it was the United States that broke the Iran Deal, any subsequent departure from the deal by Iran will likely be characterized as pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Mike Madden is a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27.
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