Commander Kirk Lippold, who was the commanding officer on the USS Cole when it was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists in October 2000, followed up on Heinonen’s remarks by focusing on the potential impact of the nuclear agreement on Iran’s weapons stockpiles, support for terrorism, and long-term regional ambitions. With this focus, Lippold referred to the deal as a “poorly negotiated and fundamentally flawed agreement,” which includes unjustified and unexplained concessions to the leading state sponsor of global terrorism.
Lippold said of provisions allowing Iran to buy and sell ballistic missiles after seven years or fewer that this “only benefits Iran, no one else.” He added that Iran’s past behavior, including its very recent support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, demonstrate that the existing regime is willing and able to transfer such advanced weapons to dangerous non-state actors. Lippold thus criticized the Iran nuclear agreement for its potential to exacerbate problems in the region and undermine long-term Western policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East.
After describing the types and quantities of naval equipment and personnel that may have to be deployed to the region to enforce the nuclear agreement and compensate for the side-effects that he anticipates from it, Lippold speculated that the US Navy may actually not be capable of meeting the regional threat later on in the life of the deal.
In response to a question about what the situation will look like five years from now, Heinonen repeated these concerns about Iran’s ascendancy, as well as endorsing Lippold’s notion that the US lacks a coherent, long-term strategy for dealing with it. Because sanctions relief will allow Iran access to more sophisticated equipment and known-how, Heinonen expects that after five years Iran will have a much more robust nuclear program than it has today, with international inspections growing more difficult.
“We have to keep in our mind that the proliferators have learned their lessons,” Heinonen said, arguing that the Iranian regime can be expected to keep up prior patterns of behavior whereby it has attempted to limit the access and information required for the world community to fully assess its nuclear capabilities.
The recently-signed nuclear deal allows for 24 days’ advance notice before inspections, and Heinonen told journalists at the panel discussion that this would likely be sufficient time to sanitize small nuclear installations of the sort that may not yet have been declared or revealed by Western intelligence. Even central facilities like Natanz operated in secret before they were revealed by the National Council of Existence of Iran. Furthermore, the NCRI announced evidence of another secret enrichment site as recently as February.
The NCRI was also represented at Monday’s panel discussion, as the organization’s Washington representative, Alireza Jafarzadeh addressed the Iran’s past cheating on nuclear inspections, as well as the broader implications of the recently concluded negotiations for the long-term rule of the clerical regime.
In addition to his attempt to present a clear pattern of deception on the part of the regime, Jafarzadeh quoted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi suggesting that the regime has already been discussing how to stretch the boundaries of the nuclear deal’s provisions for verification.
“With every undeclared site, there is already a plan,” Jafarzadeh explained.
A common theme among the three participants’ remarks was that the regime which pursued nuclear weapons in past years has not changed either its intentions or behavior in light of the negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
“Given how the Iranian regime has acted to this point, they cannot be trusted to give us the information we need,” said Lippold, adding that this “disqualifies the Iranians from being trusted in any fashion.”
Consequently, Jafarzadeh concluded, “The only realistic solution is to see regime change by the Iranian people.” Insisting that Iran’s small slate of concessions in negotiations has helped to prove the regime’s weakness and its vulnerability to rising domestic dissent, the NCRI representative argued that this outcome is possible in absence of war between Iran and the West.
Lippold similarly rejected the narrative that claims the only alternative to the existing deal is war. He said that if a more assertive Western policy results in war, “it is because the Iranians want war.” Following the nuclear deal, high-ranking Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated their belligerence toward the US, with Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi saying that Iranians should “hat the US 100 time more” in the wake of the nuclear agreement.
Joining Lippold in rejecting a strictly dualistic narrative, Jafarzadeh said, “The alternative is not war; the alternative is more pressure and decisiveness” on the part of Western powers.
Heinonen similarly endorsed a more assertive US policy, arguing that the strategies which led to last month’s nuclear deal will be insufficient in the long term. While potentially improving upon the nuclear issue in the coming months, Heinonen declared that this merely kicks the can down the road and gives diplomacy more time to work in the coming years, if the West has a comprehensive plan. But, Heinonen cautioned, “I have not seen a plan.”