AFP reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran has deployed the Russian made S-300 missile system to protect its underground nuclear facility at Fordow. The Obama administration has expressed its “concern” for public consumption, but it’s an Obama threefer. Russia flaunts its contempt for Obama; the mullahs put American ransom money to work protecting the nukes they will acquire when they choose as they advance their program under the umbrella of the JCPOA. Omri Ceren writes to provide background with his usual footnotes:
On Sunday Iran state TV broadcast images confirming that the Iranians have deployed their advanced S-300 missiles around Fordow, the underground military bunker they converted into a nuclear facility. The move sharply limits the options any future president will have against Iran’s nuclear program, and functionally takes the military option off the table for Fordow [a].
There are two parts to the story: Fordow and the S-300s. In both cases the Obama administration reversed commitments to block Iran. It’s likely that Congress will now have to take up these issues.
— Background — In 2009 President Obama said Fordow “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime” [b]. In April 2012 the President gave Iran a “last chance” to negotiate a deal, which would have to include what the NYT described as “the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling” of Fordow [c]. In Dec 2013 the President said “we know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program” [d].
— Updated administration position — In April 2015 American diplomats collapsed on those conditions to facilitate Iranian agreement to the nuclear deal framework: the deal not only allows Iran to keep Fordow open but puts it under international sponsorship [e]. Iran is prohibited from using the facility for uranium enrichment until the deal expires, but: 1st, there’s no technical reason the centrifuges there can’t “be reconverted to enriching uranium in a short time,” according to Olli Heinonen at FDD and, 2nd, Iran can “reestablish Fordow as a uranium enrichment centrifuge plant with a capacity far in excess of its current capacity” as soon as the deal expires, according to David Albright at ISIS [f].
— Background — In 2010 the Obama administration told reporters it had successfully blocked the transfer of S-300s to Iran by laying down a red line that the Russians wouldn’t cross [g]. A Daily Beast article notes the administration “crowed” about it “as a major foreign policy coup” [h]. The State Department linked Russia’s decision to a recent US-pushed UNSC resolution: “the resolution calls for States to exercise vigilance and restraint in the sale or transfer of all other arms and related materiel” [i].
— Updated administration position — In April 2015 the Russians flipped on the ban, saying they would deliver the missiles because of “substantial progress” in the nuclear talks [j]. President Obama said he was “frankly surprised” it took the Russians so long to change their stance, prompting CNN’s Jim Sciutto to comment “he’s sort of thanking Russia” [k][l]. State Department spokesperson Harf said “we, look, aren’t going to speculate into Russia’s decision making” [m]. In April 2016 the Russians started delivering S-300 parts. State spokesperson Kirby told journalists “we’re going to continue to monitor this closely. I do not have any specific decisions with respect to… sanctions” [n]. In June 2016 the administration responded to a letter from Rep. Chabot – which had been sent two months before – again refusing to commit to pushing back: “we regret the delay in responding to your inquiry… Both Secretary Kerry and the President take this issue very seriously, and we appreciate your concern” [o].
There are at least 3 separate U.S. statutes imposing sanctions for transferring destabilizing weapons to Iran, but the administration has consistently refused to impose them.