It has also been subject to commentary from foreign parties who were not directly related to the proceedings. For instance, warning the US Congress that the then-emerging deal would “pave the way” to an Iranian nuclear weapon, rather than barring the way.
The deal has since been fully implemented, and aspects of that implementation have played into the hands both of the deal’s supporters and its critics. On the one hand, implementation was only able to go forward after the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had dismantled the majority of its enrichment centrifuges, removed its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium from the country, and disabled the plutonium-producing core of the Arak heavy water facility.
On the other hand, implementation resulted in the rapid release of large quantities of previously frozen Iranian assets. The Iranian central bank claimed last week to have gained access to 100 billion dollars’ worth of such assets – a figure that was double what the US Treasury Department had previously estimated. And this came after US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that some of the sanctions relief was likely to end up in the hands of terrorist groups. Taken together, these developments have only amplified concerns that Iran received much more from the deal than it was required to give in return.
This perception offers one way of looking at the recent ceremony to confer medals on the architects of the deal. While it is possible that those medals were merely intended to commemorate the acquisition of sanctions relief, it is also possible that they represent the accuracy of critical assessments of that deal as being insufficient to constrain Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, much less its other dangerous activities.
That assessment was brought back to the forefront Tuesday when several news outlets reported upon the latest release of satellite images of Iran’s Parchin military base, which has long been suspected of being the site of covert nuclear weapons work. The January images once again suggested that areas of the site had been demolished, consistent with efforts to hide the former presence of nuclear material.
The Patriot Post also quotes one analyst as saying that the images seem to suggest the ongoing development of “facilities that the IAEA may or may not have access to.” In December, the IAEA closed its years-long investigation into the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, after having obtained environmental samples from the Parchin base. But the IAEA’s final report on the subject noted that the Iranians had made every effort to limit their disclosures to the bear minimum, and this fact left serious questions in the minds of Tehran’s leading critics. Such experts as former IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen emphasized that a lack of clarity about the exact nature of Iran’s past nuclear work would make it more difficult for the IAEA and the international community to assess Iran’s further progress after the nuclear deal.
The Patriot Post also connected the latest satellite information to Iran’s defiance over the issue of its ballistic missile stockpiles. Within four months of the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, Iran conducted a test of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. It followed up with another test one month later, further confirming Tehran’s official declarations that it would not abide by such restrictions. Naturally, critics of the nuclear deal have worried that unwillingness to cooperate on this point might undermine Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal itself.
In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper underscored the deliberate defiance implicit in those missile tests and suggested that it was indicative of a broader pattern of persistent behavior on Iran’s part. According to a brief he submitted to legislators, another aspect of that defiance relates to the retention of US citizens and permanent residents as hostages.
CNN reports that Clapper feels the Iranians may use American prisoners as bargaining chips in order to secure further concessions from US negotiators. This commentary comes just weeks after a prisoner exchange that set four Americans free in exchange for the release of seven Iranians detained in the US, plus the dropping of charges against 14 others who were still at large.
That prisoner exchange was portrayed by the Obama administration as a victory for diplomacy along the same lines as the nuclear agreement. But it was also subject to similar controversy, with some critics insisting that the exchange was unbalanced in Iran’s favor, especially in light of a 1.7 billion dollar payment, stemming from a 37 year-old debt, which may or may not have been connected to the prisoner swap.
The issue of American prisoners thus reflects both on the issue of Iranian leverage and on the issue of Iranian defiance of Western and especially American demands. And other Iranian behaviors have similarly prompted discussion on both these points. Another CNN report, for instance, points out that Iran has demanded that payments for its oil exports be in the form of Euros, despite the fact that the global oil industry ordinarily trades in US dollars.
The report describes this as being simultaneously an expression of animosity toward the US and an attempt to diminish US leverage over Iran in the event of future violations of UN resolutions, the nuclear deal, or the provisions of sanctions that remain in place. By avoiding transactions in dollars, Iran may be able to shield itself, at least partially, from the seizure of assets and other enforcement measures, should the US government decide to re-impose sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal.
In the meantime, Iran is also attempting to gain financial leverage over the West and its closest allies by exploiting sanctions relief in order to draw closer to other adversaries to the West. Russia is chief among the targets for Iranian partnership, and an article that appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday emphasized once again that Moscow is at least as eager as Tehran to solidify such a partnership in order to secure certain economic advantages over the US, especially where oil is concerned.