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US Greenlights Business with Iran even as JCPOA Implementation Remains Far Off

At the time of that report, Iran had apparently dismantled approximately 4,000 of the roughly 14,000 centrifuges it is required to dismantle before nuclear-related sanctions can be removed under the July 14 agreement. It also halted and then re-started the process of dismantling, in the midst of apparent disagreement about how quickly Iran’s compliance should be put into full effect.

There has, however, been no such disagreement about the other two major aspects of Iran’s obligations. No work has been done on dismantling the core of the Arak heavy water facility so that it cannot produce a significant quantity of enriched plutonium. Similarly, no efforts have been made to reduce the country’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Quite to the contrary, that stockpile appears to have grown slightly since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations.

The Times of Israel pointed out on Tuesday that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi had reiterated that no work would be done on that latter point until after the IAEA had presenting its findings in the recently completed probe of the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program. That report is expected to be presented on December 15 and will ostensibly close a more than 10 year-old file on the subject.

Araqchi’s remarks are in line with pronouncements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all Iranian affairs. He has made clear that he expects the PMD issue to be settled before the deal makes serious moves toward implementation. These same pronouncements apparently forestalled the dismantling of centrifuges and subsequently limited most of the recent work to centrifuges that had already been idle. In this context, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, emphasized that the dismantling could easily be reversed in a matter of a couple of months.

Interestingly, at the same time that this and other Iranian officials are making it clear to their hardline colleagues that the Islamic Republic isn’t cooperating too eagerly, many of the same officials persist in outlining arguably unrealistic timelines for the removal of US-led sanctions.

Prior to Khamenei’s latest imposed restrictions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that the country would be able to comply with the JCPOA and secure sanctions before the end of the year. Meanwhile Western analysts projected that the process would likely take six months from start to finish. In spite of this and in spite of the subsequent delays, Rouhani has stuck to his projections, and other officials have endorsed them.

The Times of Israel also pointed out on Tuesday that Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi had met with the IAEA and said, “We expect it will be in early January” that Iran completes its requirements under the agreement and clears the way for broad-based sanctions relief.

This willingness to predict an outcome that is favorable to Iran will almost certainly exacerbate critics’ concerns that the Islamic Republic will not be held to a high level of scrutiny before being rewarded with sanctions relief. More generally, it may exacerbate those critics’ concerns that overall Western policy toward Iran has been weak at a time when some policymakers are arguably desperate to close the nuclear file.

While the Obama administration has nonetheless insisted that it will continue to enforce sanctions as long as they remain in place and will continue to press Iran on other areas of misbehavior, some US actions have raised questions about the administration’s willingness to follow through on these claims. Case in point, Arutz Sheva reported on Tuesday that the administration had removed Italian textile and chemical company Dettin Spa from its sanctions list, despite past illicit dealings with Iran.

The company was sanctioned in August 2014 for knowing violating sanctions by engaging in trade with the Iranian petrochemical industry. The administration’s decision to de-list Dettin Spa is remarkable not just because it appears to ignore these past misdeeds but also because even compliant companies are not supposed to open for business with Iran until after implementation day, which will be sometime after Iran has been certified as having completed all of the required changes to its nuclear program.

Arutz Sheva quoted Saeed Ghasseminejad as saying that such permissiveness on the part of the US effectively gives the green light for other companies to rush into doing business with Iran, and sends the clear message that US enforcement of economic sanctions is effectively dead. This message may in turn contribute to Iran’s persistent willingness to make bold predictions for its economic future, even in absence of complete compliance with the JCPOA.