The Iran deal and the misinformation campaign

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There is a lot of misinformation hovering over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to between the United States, its P5+1 (the five members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany) coalition allies and Iran. Yet because there is so much at stake in this agreement — a document that provides inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with more investigatory power and access inside of Iran’s nuclear facilities than the agency has ever had before — the misinformation campaign that has been levied by groups opposed to the JCPOA is not only an obstruction to uncovering the facts, but a disservice to millions of Americans who want to assess on their own whether the arrangement is strong enough to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

{mosads}This is not to say that all critics of the JCPOA are being disingenuous or purposely releasing false information in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to vote against the deal when the matter comes up for debate in September. Indeed, there are plenty of things in the JCPOA that Republicans, Democrats and independents don’t like: the delayed access to undeclared nuclear sites; the extremely vague Iran-IAEA road map that seeks to clarify concerns that the Iranians worked on components for a nuclear weapon in the past; the large batch of sanctions relief that the Iranians receive once the IAEA certifies Tehran’s compliance under the agreement; and the permitting of research and development work on advanced centrifuges after an eight-and-a-half-year hiatus. Reasonable people can disagree on whether any or all of these terms are good enough or strong enough from the standpoint of the U.S. and the rest of the international community: Won’t the testing of advanced centrifuge machines, for instance, allow Iran to exponentially increase their production of low- and medium-enriched uranium after year 15 of the agreement?

What opponents of the JCPOA cannot do, however, is make up their own facts and put them out in the public domain as if they are hard truths. But this is exactly what a number of Republican lawmakers have done since the agreement was signed in July.

One of the more effective arguments that has been used by congressional Republicans in an attempt to boost their case is the notion that the Obama administration is either deliberately misleading the American people about what the JCPOA provisions mean or is purposely withholding sensitive documents signed between Iran and the IAEA to cloud Congress’s ability to adequately review the deal. By repeatedly bringing up the Iran-IAEA “side agreements” and demanding that the White House make those agreements available to members of Congress, the American people are led to believe that President Obama and his national security staff are keeping instrumental provisions of an arms control accord secret. Headlines like “Obama’s secret Iran deals exposed,” “What Kerry and Obama Tried to Keep from Congress and the Public: Iran Will Collect Its Own Samples for the IAEA” and “Kerry: We Can’t Reveal Contents of Secret Side Deals to American People” are not only false, but dangerous.

Headlines, of course, are one thing: basing legislation or letters to Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry on the assumption that the administration is not being transparent is something else. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have all sent letters to the administration asking them to hand over the Iran-IAEA side agreements to the Congress without further delay. “Failure to produce these two side agreements leaves Congress blind on critical information regarding Iran’s potential path to being a nuclear power and will have detrimental consequence for the ability of members to assess the JCPOA,” McConnell and Boehner wrote in a July 22 letter to the White House. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), perhaps the most vocal opponent of the JCPOA in Congress today, went a step further, practically alleging in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Obama was violating the law by not sending all of the documents to Capitol Hill. “[T]he president expects Congress to cast this vote without the administration’s fully disclosing the contents of the deal to the American people,” Cotton wrote. “This is unacceptable and plainly violates the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act — a law the president signed only weeks ago.”

Cotton is absolutely right in calling for access to all of the JCPOA documents, regardless of where they originated, which party did the drafting or whether they were part of the main JCPOA agreement or separate from it. It is well within Congress’s purview and responsibility to study the JCPOA. The people’s representatives cannot carry out that responsibility without every single piece of paper in front of them.

Cotton, McConnell, Boehner, Corker, Royce and Cardin are wrong, however, to conclude that the administration is refusing to fax all of JCPOA annexes to members of Congress, which is precisely what Cotton’s op-ed seems to imply. If the White House or the State Department actually had a physical or electronic copy of the Iran-IAEA side agreements in a secure vault somewhere, all of these complaints about White House stonewalling would be on much firmer ground. Yet the fact of the manner is that there is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. Indeed, various administration officials have testified to members of Congress that the United States is not allowed to keep the documents outlining Iran’s “possible military dimensions” arrangements with the IAEA, nor has Kerry seen the document himself. Either the Republican leadership believes that Kerry isn’t telling the truth, or they are content with requesting documents that the White House simply does not have.

Here is the bottom line: The administration cannot give something to Congress that the administration doesn’t have. So the next time you hear a member of Congress or a senator implying that there is some dishonesty going on, don’t buy the spin or the hype.

The U.S. Congress deserves each and every document related to the JCPOA, as spelled out in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Members should stop wasting their time and appeal to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano directly rather than continue to send their fire in the wrong direction.

DePetris is a Middle East analyst for Wikistrat, Inc, a geopolitical risk consultancy, and an independent foreign policy consultant.

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Corker Ed Royce Iran Iran agreement Iran deal Iran nuclear agreement Iran nuclear deal John Boehner John Kerry Mitch McConnell Nuclear program of Iran Tom Cotton

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