Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht extended the Iranian outcry about the visit on Tuesday, when he spoke to Iranian state media. “Iran’s military sites are off limits,” he said according to Reuters. “All information about these sites are classified. Iran will never allow such visits. Don’t pay attention to such remarks that are only a dream.”
Multiple other officials have contributed to Tehran’s dismissal of the push for stricter enforcement of the nuclear deal, which has been a common refrain among figures close to the Trump administration since before the current US president took office. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, sometimes described as a moderate in global media, placed emphasis on the possible international response to American requests when he commented on the situation later on Tuesday. The same Reuters report indicated that he predicted US objections to be unconvincing to the IAEA, though he failed to explain why.
Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, injected provocative language into the response to Haley’s visit to Vienna, saying, “The Americans will take their dream of visiting our military and sensitive sites to their graves.” This arguably ties the nuclear issue to the overall pattern of provocative statements and actions that the Islamic Republic has directed against the US since the implementation of the JCPOA. These include close approaches of US Navy vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, as well as multiple tests of ballistic missiles, in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution calling upon the Islamic Republic to avoid work on weapons that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Those missile tests are the key examples of what US President Donald Trump has described as Iran’s violation of the “spirit” of the nuclear agreement. The obstruction of military sites may also be seen in the same light, insofar as it demonstrates a lack of full transparency and a lack of willingness to negotiate with the international community. Notwithstanding the unprecedented cooperation involved in concluding the nuclear agreement, the Iranian regime continues to publicly refer to the US as an “enemy,” and it excuses the isolation of military sites by saying it is worried that information gathered by international nuclear inspects could find its way into the hands of American or Israeli intelligence agencies.
But various critics of the Iranian regime continue to suspect that illicit nuclear activities may be ongoing at those sites. And these suspicions have arguably been amplified by recent Iranian comments suggesting that the country would be able to dramatically increase its output of nuclear material in a matter of days if the United States continues to push enforcement of the nuclear agreement toward its breaking point.
President Trump railed against the nuclear agreement while on the campaign trail, but he has twice certified to Congress that the Islamic Republic was complying with its obligations. Since then, however, he has suggested that the next deadline for certification, in October, would likely see the Iranian regime branded as non-compliant. Toward that end, the White House is reportedly pushing intelligence agencies for a closer review of available data, with an eye toward emphasizing violations that might have been overlooked, deliberately or otherwise.
Such information would make it much easier for the US to obtain international support for efforts to undermine or renegotiate the nuclear deal. But the president may be willing to act against the deal even in absence of explicit intelligence findings. Meanwhile, some hardline figures who have ties to the Trump administration but are not actually a part of it are publicly advocating for just such a course of action.
CNN reported on Tuesday that John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN and former candidate for Secretary of State under Trump, had prepared a policy brief describing how the US might end the nuclear agreement. Bolton’s plan involves meeting with diplomats from other countries to outline the US intentions and then formulating a new coalition for implementation of new measures against the Islamic Republic. It also calls for the Trump administration to release declassified information about Iran’s destabilizing activities with respect to issues other than the nuclear program, and to prepare a white paper in order to present these issues to the public and build consensus.
But the CNN report also indicates that Bolton has complained of being unable to reach the president with his proposal – a situation he blamed on staff changes in the White House. This raises questions about whether Trump, who repeatedly called the JCPOA the “worst deal ever negotiated,” will still be willing to “tear it up” as he promised to do. At the moment, it seems clear that that is what will happen if US intelligence or the IAEA uncover more definitive evidence of Iranian cheating. But the outcome is perhaps less predictable in the event that things proceed according to the status quo.