Fred Henneke, Attorney & Counselor-At-Law
President Trump announced that he will announce his decision tomorrow whether or not to re-impose the sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the 2015 6-party plus Iran agreement, or keep the agreement in place for another 90 days. A very brief synopsis of the deal is in order:
- The US, UK, Russia, France, China and Germany signed for ‘the good guys” and Iran obviously signed for themselves. The negotiations took 2 years.
- Among other provisions, Iran agreed to (a) limit the number of centrifuges, which are necessary to enrich uranium, from 20K to 5K; (b) reduce its uranium stockpile by 98%; (c) keep the level of enrichment for uranium to 3.56%; 90% is needed for weapons; (d) a ban on the importation of ballistic missile technology for 8 years; (e) a phasing -out of the restrictions over a number of years; and (f) inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency of all nuclear sites and military installations; however, prior notice must be given for suspected sites or military installations and Iran has the right to object to any such request within 24 days of receipt of the request.
- In return, Iran had the economic sanctions lifted and also received substantial money that was being held by the West, principally the US, for past violations of various sanctions.
Right now, the IAEA as well as our intelligence agencies believe the Iranians are adhering to the terms of the agreement. General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, is in favor of continuing the agreement.
If President Trump re-imposes the sanctions, the Iranians say they will consider the agreement breached and be free to resume their nuclear weaponry program. The Europeans – Britain, France and Germany – have urged President Trump to not re-impose the sanctions. They have offered to work with the US to negotiate with the Iranians side agreements concerning the Iranian missile program and the Iranian support for terrorist groups in the Middle East such as Hezbollah. In the past, President Trump has said that he intends to negotiate a better agreement for the United States. The Iranians say they will not re-negotiate the existing agreement; they have not spoken about any side agreements. It is uncertain whether the western Europeans would support a re-negotiation; since the lifting of the sanctions, they have each inked substantial economic deals with Iran or Iranian companies that were prohibited before the 2015 agreement. Neither the Russians nor the Chinese have been heard from; however, our relations with each right now are not very good.
The agreement is clearly not perfect. In particular, it does phase out over time, creating a time when the Iranians could develop nuclear weapons. Also, inspection of certain sites is dependent upon Iranian approval; this, in my,opinion, is the weakest part of the agreement. Furthermore, it did not address directly intercontinental missile capability development or support for terrorism.
However, and this is critical, it does prohibit and prevent the development of a nuclear weaponry program for a number of years. And that prevention appears to be working. Without the agreement, Iran could be a long way toward having nuclear weapons, failing some dramatic military intervention by the United States.
Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is pulling out all the stops to get President Trump to re-impose the sanctions and effectively kill the deal. The Prime Minister may have concerns about nuclear proliferation, but, in my humble opinion, that is not the prime motive for his interference in our domestic deliberations. He is more concerned about Iran’s active involvement in the Middle East – in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, etc. Israel’s military is already facing off against not only Iranian-sponsored militias and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, but the Iranian military itself. Netanyahu desperately wants US more deeply involved in actively opposing Iran’s plan in the Middle East. To fill the role he has for us, we must be free of the Iran nuclear agreement.
So, where do I come down on this issue? Well, the agreement certainly is not perfect but rife with flaws and compromises. But, what international agreement negotiated among seven sovereign nations over 2 years is not? Can we re-negotiate the same basic agreement more favorable to America? Doesn’t sound like it. Has the existing agreement, imperfect as it is, prohibited the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons a la the North Koreans, at least up until now? Yes, as far as we can tell. Is it prudent to trade a current ban on the Iranian nuclear weaponry program for no ban? Don’t think so. A bird in the hand may be worth more than the hope of better hunting.