The AP quoted Najafi as saying that Earnest’s comment “seriously undermines the very basic principles” behind implementation of the nuclear agreement. But many critics of that agreement have argued that its explicit provisions leave too large an opening for Iran to cheat on its obligations, as by requiring advance notice before inspections of military sites and by allowing Iran to take its own soil samples. Some of the same critics have argued that a credible military option is a necessary element in compelling Iran to offer levels of compliance it would not offer on its own.
But Earnest’s remarks did not even refer to the military option as such a coercive measure. Rather, he was discussing a hypothetical situation in which Iran has already cheated on the deal and been caught doing so. Iranian criticism of such remarks seems tone deaf in light of the fact that Iranian officials have issued distinctly belligerent statements about the US and its allies since the signing of the nuclear deal.
In his speech on the deal on July 17, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei could be seen holding an assault rifle while explaining that Iranian and American interests were “180 degrees opposite” to each other. The supreme leader also made positive references to recent demonstrations characterized by chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel.”
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of Iran’s Basij civilian militia, said that Iranians should “hate the US 100 times more” in light of the nuclear deal.
This anti-American rhetoric has not only fueled Western criticisms of the Obama administration’s overall strategy of engaging with Iran, it has also raised further questions about whether Iran can be trusted to uphold a deal with a strict ideological adversary. On Thursday, the AP reported that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi flatly stated that American and Canadian members of the IAEA would not be allowed to enter the country as part of the inspections regime.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that due to the lack of guaranteed verification, as well as other concessions to Iran, the nuclear deal actually paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon. As such, Israeli officials have signaled that they will be willing to launch unilateral strikes on Iranian nuclear infrastructure if that is deemed necessary. Some reports indicated that during the period of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, the US actively prevented Israel from launching such a strike.
More recently, Israeli media has reported that provisions in the nuclear deal actually obligate the US to protect Iran against possible Israeli cyberattacks.
Despite Josh Earnest’s reference to strikes, the Obama administration has been criticized for allegedly taking a military option off of the table and engaging in conciliatory negotiations with Iran. In this context, many would argue that any near-term danger of a military strike on Iran stems from US allies in the Middle East and that the US is currently willing to restrain such activities.
This may in fact be part of the outcome of a tour of the Middle East undertaken by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Obama administration official had been hard at work selling the nuclear deal to the US Congress earlier in the week, and the AP notes that his visit to Qatar will entail meetings with foreign ministers from countries that are wary of the Iran nuclear deal and of Iran’s general pursuit of power within the region.
This conflict has manifested itself in part through Iranian and Saudi Arabian backing for opposite sides of the civil war in Yemen. Live Trading News reports that that war seems to have recently turned against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have also been accused of violating a humanitarian ceasefire begun by the Saudis last Sunday.
A prior ceasefire in the same conflict was generally attributed to American influence, with the US technically supporting the Arab coalition against Iran but also pushing back against their active military interventions. During that ceasefire it was also reported that the Houthis and Iran had taken advantage of the lull to move their forces toward the port of Aden, a stronghold for forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.