Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had explicitly prevented his subordinates from taking action on some of Iran’s obligations under that deal until the issue of past military dimensions was declared closed. Now that it has been, the Express Tribune is reporting that Rouhani estimates the Islamic Republic will complete its final steps toward implementation in the next two or three weeks. Rouhani further speculated that US-led sanctions would subsequently be removed by the end of the third week of January.
Not all Iranian officials have been proven to be so optimistic. IUSB Preface reported on Wednesday that Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan had briefed the country’s media on the UN vote and the nuclear issue in general, and had asked them to consider whether implementation will now go forward as expected or be stymied by other concerns on the Western side.
Critics of recent Western policy toward Iran are certainly quick to emphasize that there is still substantial reason for such concerns. But many of those same critics opposed the closure of the file on possible military dimensions, and yet they failed to prevail in that case. The same can be said of several other instances of the Obama administration and its allies moving toward implementation over objections that the Iranians have not shown an equal measure of good faith.
In lodging their objections to the UN vote, critics were able to cite evidence from the International Atomic Energy Agency report that led directly to that vote. It claimed to contain sufficient information about Iran’s recent nuclear work to declare the issue settled, but it also noted that Iran had provided only limited cooperation with the IAEA probe and had in fact tried to hide past activities that were nonetheless uncovered in time for the report.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament had further stoked concerns about Iranian defiance when he commented upon the damning elements of the IAEA report. “The U.N. Security Council sanctions were based on the claim that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons,” Larijani explained. “Now they say Iran did some research on that. Such research and studies are the right of all IAEA members and there is nothing wrong with them.”
Naturally, such commentary raises questions about whether Larijani and other Iranian officials will continue to push for the exercise of these self-declared rights, which could lead the regime to inch closer to the attainment of a nuclear weapon. Supporters of the nuclear agreement argue that the possibility of such progress is precluded by the expanded monitoring opportunities put in place by the nuclear deal, but the effectiveness of that monitoring depends in large measure upon the perceived willingness of Western powers to utilize all of those opportunities and also respond seriously to reports of violations.
Opponents have long been skeptical about the prospects for enforcement, and this skepticism has only increased in the wake of the IAEA report and the confirmation of a second post-nuclear deal ballistic missile test by the Islamic Republic.
Last week, the UN Panel of Experts on Iran determined that the October test of an Emad-class missile was a violation of UN resolutions which remain in place until the full implementation of the nuclear deal. Updated News notes that the report fell short of declaring the violation to be “willful,” although it did note that the missile test was not the only such violation. Others included Iran’s attempt to procure grade-5 titanium.
The panel did, however, say that such violations cannot simply be ignored, lest they embolden more of the same. But it gave no clear indication of what measures, if any, would be taken to punish Iran for past violations or to discourage future ones. There are already some indications that Iranian officials intend to exploit this situation in which past violations have been recognized but not explicitly dealt with.
This is arguably the takeaway from further comments by the Iranian Defense Minister, whom Reuters quoted on Wednesday as saying that Tehran will not respond to any imposed restrictions on its missile development or testing. Even though the recently-violated sanctions will be removed under the nuclear agreement, a new resolution will then go into effect which maintains similar restrictions on nuclear-capable missiles for a period of eight years.
Dehqan plainly declared that the Emad test in October and the Ghadr test in November were both intended as a message, demonstrating to Western powers that “the Islamic Republic will only act based on its national interests and no country or power can impose its will on us.” If these remarks reflect Iran’s official policies, it would see to say that the leadership perceives itself as having license to violate international resolutions and at least some provisions of the nuclear agreement with impunity.