Referring to last week’s revelations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran had pursued a nuclear weapons program for years, Trump said that he now has “definitive proof” that Iran was deceiving the world regarding its nuclear program. For that reason, the United States will exit the nuclear deal and impose “the highest level of economic sanctions” on Iran.
Moments after the announcement, Netanyahu made a televised statement saying “Israel fully supports President Trump’s bold decision today to reject the disastrous nuclear deal with the terrorist regime in Tehran”. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain also issued statements in support of the move.
Britain, France, and Germany expressed “regret and concern” over the US decision and urged Iran to “show restraint” in its response. They pledged to remain in the agreement. However, French President Emmanuel Macron has strongly advocated for additions that include preventing weapons development post-2025 (when the current deal expires), improving the monitoring of Iran’s facilities, and an “eco-containment of the Iranian activity in the region“.
These three points highlight the greatest weaknesses of the current nuclear deal with Iran:
- The current deal has a sunset clause that means all restrictions would be lifted by 2030. In a 2015 interview, Barack Obama admitted that when the deal ends Iran could “have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” Allowing for Iran to essentially be able to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in just over one decade is extremely dangerous.
- Iran has so far prevented IAEA inspectors from visiting their military sites. This could be a failure to meet some conditions of the current deal. And the evidence that Israel revealed last week leaves little doubt that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons and may already be doing so. The IAEA reports that Iran has been abiding by the agreement only apply to some of the nuclear facilities, so much better monitoring is required to give meaning to those reports.
- There were no provisions in the deal to prevent Iran from continuing to fund terror groups. In a 2016 interview, John Kerry admitted that some of the billions of dollars in sanctions relief would go to terrorist groups. It is almost certain that is the case and the people of Iran know it because in December last year Iranian protesters chanted “leave Syria, think about us” and “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran”. Iran funneled the money away from infrastructure projects and instead funded military bases in Syria and supported terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
As it currently stands, the Iranian regime can have their cake and eat it too – they can develop nuclear weapons, fund terror, and trade without sanctions. The New Zealand government is proud of endorsing the Iran deal while sitting on the Security Council. There have been no concerns raised about the deal by New Zealand. However, now that there is a Minister of Nuclear Disarmament, it will be interesting to see if there is any comment on the new evidence Israel has revealed or on the flaws of the deal, especially as the same Minister is in charge of trade and has said “we live and die by the capacity of our businesses to go offshore,” and Iran represents a large trade market.
Whether Macron and other world leaders can address these significant flaws in the existing deal, whether Trump will sign on to a revised deal that ensures actual security, and whether any New Zealand leaders will acknowledge the deal has any flaws are all open questions.
Following the US announcement,Iranian leaders lit a US flag on fire in parliament, shouting “Death to America!” in the wake of the announcement. Israel’s military also spotted “irregular activity of Iranian forces in Syria” and ordered bomb shelters open in the Golan Heights. The Iranian aggression may also be related to a strike on their air base in Syria last month, which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said was “Israel’s crime” and would “not remain without response“. Hopefully, there will not be an escalation from Iran on the Syrian border or from their proxies Hezbollah or Hamas – groups sworn to destroy the Jewish state.