This goal was furthered this week when recent satellite images emerged that appeared to show further sanitization and construction work taking place at the Parchin military base. This led some experts to speculate that Iran is still hiding evidence of previous military-related nuclear work, and also that it is continuing to develop nuclear facilities that will not be immediately available to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
The general concerns surrounding these suspicions were expressed on Tuesday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who told a congressional hearing that it was not presently clear whether or not Iran would strive to break out to a nuclear weapon, either by violating the JCPOA or by waiting for its provisions to expire or be cancelled.
Clapper’s commentary suggested the perception that the Obama administration’s policies on such issues as Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles have been insufficiently assertive. And this perception was made much more explicit on Thursday when House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce held another hearing on the nuclear deal. In it, according to Breitbart, he aggressively questioned two administration officials: Stephen Mull, the State Department’s lead coordinator on Iran Nuclear Implementation, and John Smith, the acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Royce raised questions not only about the nuclear deal but also about related aspects of Iran policy, including the administration’s efforts to circumvent a congressional ban on visa-free travel from Iran to the US. That ban was instituted on the basis of concerns about Iran’s longstanding support for terrorism and the possibility of such terrorism coming to American shores, especially at a time when sanctions relief is providing the Iranian regime with additional wealth that might be devoted its illicit activities.
Congressmen like Royce have also repeatedly expressed concerns that sanctions relief could exacerbate Iran’s influence and aggression within the Middle Eastern region. Royce himself reiterated these concerns on Thursday and accused the White House of being insufficiently attentive to them. As evidence of this, he cited the administration’s decision to lift an INTERPOL “red alert” on a Mahan Air executive as part of last month’s prisoner swap, which set free four American citizens who were imprisoned in Iran.
The commercial carrier, Mahan Air is known to be used extensively by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in order to ship arms and personnel to Syria for the defense of the government of Bashar al-Assad. As such, any softening of restrictions on that carrier are seen by Obama’s critics as contributing to the growth of Iran’s hegemonic influence in the region.
The recent scrutiny of the nuclear agreement has given those critics new opportunities to highlight evidence that suggests the Obama administration has a cavalier attitude toward much of Iran’s behavior, including its nuclear activities. Toward that end, Stephen Mull had admitted that the US does not know exactly where Iran’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium ended up after they were reportedly shipped to Russia in compliance with the nuclear deal.
In spite of recent tensions between the US and Russia, and in spite of the expanding coordination between Russia and Iran, Mull expressed confidence in trusting Russia to safeguard Iran’s nuclear material. this prompted New Jersey Republican Representative Christ Smith to issue a statement declaring Mull’s attitude on this issue to be “outrageous and unbelievable.”