Insider news & Analysis in Iran

It was widely reported on Wednesday that Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace division, had boasted of the ongoing expansion in the size and capability of Iran’s ballistic missile program. Reuters quoted the IRGC senior commander as saying, “Our production has increased three-fold compared to the past.” He was not specific about the time period for this increase, by a number of Iranian officials have insisted in recent months that the Islamic Republic will continue to pursue missile development at full scale and will not agree to any negotiations over its military capabilities.

This message was reiterated during and after a visit to Tehran on Monday by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. That trip was described as part of a “delicate” French mission to reaffirm support for the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran while also conveying concerns over Iran’s threatening and destabilizing activities, including its development and testing of weapons that could be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The January 2016 implementation of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was governed by a United Nations Security Council resolution that called upon the Islamic Republic to avoid further work on such weapons. However, the JCPOA itself does not address this issue, which some critics consider to be inseparable from broader issues relating to Iran’s supposed pursuit of the capability of building a nuclear bomb. US President Donald Trump has cited Iran’s ongoing missile activities as a violation of the “spirit” of the nuclear deal, and he has identified the lack of ballistic missile provisions as a major flaw in that agreement.

In January, Trump renewed the sanctions waivers put in place by the JCPOA but warned that he would not do so again in May unless the US Congress and the deal’s European signatories established a plan for expanding or supplementing the agreement to address this and other flaws. Also of concern to the president and his fellow critics are the sunset provisions that allow Iran to begin resuming full-scale nuclear enrichment within 10 years, as well the current ability of the Islamic Republic to obstruct international inspectors’ access to its military sites.

The White House was joined in its criticism by two former prime ministers who jointly published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. In it, former Canadian PM Stephen Harper and former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar complained that the JCPOA, as currently written, constitutes a “road map” to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Like Trump, they also cited Iran’s worsening aggression in the broader Middle East as further grounds for criticism of the agreement, the preamble of which declared that its signatories expected its implementation to contribute to regional peace and stability.

The editorial stands alongside Le Drian’s critical remarks and a number of other public statements on the same topic by Western officials. Taken together, these statements signify rising levels of political will for measures that would strengthen the JCPOA or otherwise take an assertive approach dealing with Iran’s persistent misbehavior on the world stage.

Within the United States, the push for such measures has come primarily from the Republic Party. But there has been some Democratic support for such endeavors since before the JCPOA negotiations concluded, and there have been recent signs of that support expanding as policymakers observe the actual effects of the deal. In one example of this trend, Maryland Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer told the American-Israeli Political Action Conference on Monday that although he initially supported the agreement, he now recognizes the need for tougher restrictions.

The Tower quoted Hoyer as saying: “That agreement clearly should have dealt, in my opinion with the nonnuclear malign destabilizing activity that Iran precipitates. It also should have dealt with a permanent solution, not a temporary solution. So, I’m supportive… of us moving towards renegotiation, cooperating with our European partners.”

Despite the recent growth in European criticism of Iran, the European Union member states overwhelmingly oppose the US president’s bid to effectively dismantle the existing nuclear agreement. This leaves observers uncertain about the prospects for an agreement that would satisfy President Trump’s demands.

But while Congress negotiates with the Europeans for such an agreement, it is also pursuing its own independent means of exerting greater pressure on Iran. Prominent among these is pending legislation in the House of Representatives which would allow economic sanctions to immediately snap back if Iran continues to disregard UN Security Council resolution 2231 with its ballistic missile development and testing.

Even this measure faces obstacles on the way to adoption, but current trends suggest that support will continue to grow for assertive policies toward the Islamic Republic. This trend may be further encouraged by the recent threat assessment presented to US lawmakers by the Director of National Intelligence. According to the Washington Free Beacon, that report mentions Iran in a number of different sections, some of which predictably focused on the clerical regime’s ongoing efforts to develop advanced ballistic missiles that are capable both of carrying a nuclear payload and reaching Western Europe.

Despite repeated boasting by Iranian officials about their advances in weapons technology, these capabilities are generally estimated to be many years away. But the DNI also noted that while Iran works on such enhancements to its military, it is also actively expanding its mechanisms for asymmetrical warfare, including through cyber terrorism and cyber espionage efforts targeting the West.

“Iran will continue working to penetrate U.S. and allied networks for espionage and to position itself for potential future cyberattacks,” the report declared, adding that Iran views these attacks as a “versatile tool” in responding to “perceived provocations,” which might include the Trump administration’s ultimatums regarding the JCPOA.

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