Iran remains in compliance with the interim deal

Skeptics of diplomacy with Iran to resolve international concerns over its nuclear program seized on a report this month by Foreign Policy highlighting an alleged increase in Iranian procurement efforts related to the IR-40 research reactor, capable of producing plutonium, under construction at Arak.  A U.S. delegation reportedly informed the United Nations Panel on Experts, a special body charged with monitoring illicit Iranian efforts to supply its nuclear program in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, that while Iran appears to have reduced efforts to obtain parts and components for its uranium enrichment program, efforts to supply the Arak reactor have increased.   

In reality, there is nothing particularly surprising here; Iran has maintained a shadow procurement network for supplying its nuclear and missile programs for decades. Indeed, Reuters published a similar report in March of this year, that a senior U.S. official charged that Iran was looking to purchase banned components for its nuclear and missile program after the interim deal was reached.   

{mosads}Yes, these actions violate United Nations resolutions and it is for that very reason why the United States and its allies have invested significant resources to track this activity and utilize diplomacy, law enforcement, and intelligence cooperation where possible to interdict transactions.   Indeed, the primary reason why the U.S. government would inform the UN Panel of Experts of its concerns is to establish the evidentiary basis for future actions, on a bilateral and multilateral basis, to halt such sales. 

However, it is a gross distortion to jump to the conclusion that Iran is violating the interim nuclear agreement – or so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) — and hence playing the United States and other members of the P5+1 for suckers.  Critics should read the actual text of the JPOA before they postulate supposed violations.  Nothing in the document calls upon Iran to adhere to UNSC resolutions, including those governing Iran’s procurement of essential components and supplies for its nuclear program.  Instead, the JPOA lays out a series of incremental measures on both sides to arrest the progress of Iran’s nuclear program while providing it measured sanctions relief.  Regarding Arak, Iran agreed under the JPOA to halt any further advances at this facility during the interim agreement and has complied with that restriction, Referring to Arak as the “IR-40 Reactor,” the IAEA reported in November that accordingly, “Iran has neither installed any major components at the IR-40 Reactor nor produced nuclear fuel assemblies for the IR-40 Reactor at the Fuel Manufacturing Plant.”   

We should closely scrutinize ongoing Iranian procurement actions for its nuclear and missile programs, not least because such transactions raise valid concerns over appropriate verification arrangements under a permanent agreement with Iran.  However, critics of diplomacy fail to appreciate that a final agreement offers the best hope for rigorous monitoring and vetting of Iranian procurement activity.  For example, some experts have proposed the creation of a specific procurement channel to enable Iran to obtain parts and supplies for authorized nuclear activities while providing oversight to guard against illicit transactions.  Such proposals are promising, but can only be realized in the context of an overall grand bargain on Iran’s nuclear program.   

It’s regrettable that Iran continues to engage in bad behavior, but no serious observer ever expected that a partial and interim agreement to halt Iran’s most provocative actions regarding its nuclear program would serve as a comprehensive solution.  Make no mistake:  as the IAEA has repeatedly affirmed over the past year, Iran has complied with its commitments under the JPOA.  Shredding this agreement and abandoning diplomacy will do nothing to produce closer oversight of Iran’s procurement activities.  It is for that reason why the P5+1 are well advised to continue its efforts to work with Iran to fashion a permanent agreement in 2015.  

Joseph worked on U.S. policy towards Iran’s nuclear program at the White House as a director for Nonproliferation on the National Security Council staff from 2011 to 2013.

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