Here Omri Ceren concludes his email series of comments on the appearances of Secretaries Kerry and Moniz on the Sunday gabfests yesterday retailing the administration’s talking points in favor of the Iran deal:
Again – the administration is scrambling to justify collapsing on conditions related to the three overarching areas of the JCPOA debate: will it work to keep Iran away from a nuclear weapon for a decade (the verification debate); even if it works, is it worth the cost of empowering Iran with advanced weapons and hundreds of billions of dollars (the arms embargo debate); doesn’t the deal make Iran into a nuclear power – the opposite of what it was supposed to do – because it expires and allows Iran’s breakout time to go to zero (the sunset clause debate).
The last two emails had Kerry and Moniz’s talking points about the sunset clause and the verification debate, which presumably as of yesterday were the administration’s talking points. These included fairly transparent falsehoods, including one instance of straight-up gaslighting. The administration’s claims on the arms embargo collapse, which include a particularly strange reading of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), are equally strained.
By far the most unexpected concession made at Vienna involved the Americans bowing to new Iranian-Russian demands to eliminate the United Nation arms embargo. Restrictions on conventional weapons will now expire in 5 years and ones on ballistic missiles will expire in 8 years. The collapse – which has been wrapped into how Iran is also receiving a short-term $150 billion windfall and long-term sanctions relief – was discussed on every one of the Sunday shows [a][b][c][d][e].
Kerry and Moniz had three different responses sprinkled across the shows: (1) that the administration had no choice but to concede on the arms embargo, and it was actually an American diplomatic victory because it’s being phased out rather than lifted immediately (2) that dropping the arms embargo doesn’t matter – “a mountain is being made out of a mole hill” – because there are other restrictions on Iranian arms transfers (3) that Iran won’t get sufficient relief to exploit the arms embargo being lifted.
(1) The administration had no choice but to concede on the arms embargo, and it was actually an American diplomatic victory because it’s being phased out rather than lifted immediately –
ABC This Week
KERRY: The United Nations resolution which brought about the sanctions in the first place said that if Iran will suspend its enrichment and come to negotiations, all the sanctions would be lifted. Now, they’ve done more than just come to negotiations. They’ve actually negotiated a deal. And three of the seven nations thought they shouldn’t therefore be held to any kind of restraint. We prevailed and insisted, no, they have to be.
CBS Face the Nation
KERRY: … [T]he reason that we were only able to limit them to the five and eight, which is quite extraordinary that we got that, was that three of the nations negotiating thought they shouldn’t have any and were ready to hold out to do that. And we said under no circumstances, we have to have those…
Fox News Sunday
KERRY: This is a nuclear negotiation about a nuclear program. The United Nations, when they passed the resolution, contemplated that if Iran came to the negotiation and they ponied up, all the sanctions would be lifted. We didn’t lift all the sanctions. We left in place despite the fact that three out of seven countries negotiating wanted to do away with them altogether. We won the five years for the arms and eight years for the missiles.
CNN State of the Union
KERRY: … [T]his UN process that started the – that allowed the sanctions to be put in place in the first place contemplated the lifting of all sanctions once Iran had lived up to its obligations with respect to the NPT. So if the IAEA found in X number of years that they’ve lived up to this, then all the sanctions would be gone. So we, in fact, succeeded against three countries that didn’t think they should have to do anything.
NBC Meet The Press
KERRY: And by the way, even though the arms and the missiles were put to – by the – they were thrown in as an add-on to this nuclear agreement. It was always contemplated that if Iran did come and deal on their nuclear program, that was going to be lifted.
This claim is false on at least a couple of levels. First, the condition for lifting the arms embargo was not that Iran “come to negotiations.” UNSCR 1929 stipulated that the embargo was to remain in place until Iran had complied with UNSCR 1929 plus past UNSCRs 1696, 1737, 1747, and 1803 ([f] – ctrl-f down to “to persuade Iran to comply with resolutions”). The UNSCRs obligated Iran to stop all uranium enrichment, cease all heavy water plutonium work, and halt all development of proliferation sensitive ballistic missiles. So the arms embargo was to remain in place until Iran dismantled its nuclear program, not until it agreed to negotiate.
Second, there was nothing forcing U.S. to agree to lift the embargo. The JCPOA allows Iran to continue doing all of the activities prohibited by previous UNSCRs. The Americans could and should have argued that Iran was already receiving a Get Out Of Jail Free Card on its UNSCR obligations via sanctions relief, and that there was no reason to also gift them with the removal of the arms embargo.
(2) Dropping the arms embargo doesn’t matter – “a mountain is being made out of a mole hill” – because there are other restrictions on Iranian arms transfers –
ABC This Week
KERRY: But we have ample other resolutions that allow us to hold them accountable for moving any weapons. President Obama is committed to doubling down on the enforcement of those measures. So I really think that a mountain is being made out of a molehill here.
CBS Face the Nation
KERRY: … [T]hey add on to additional mechanisms that we have to hold them accountable on arms and missiles. We have the missile control technology regime. We have other missile restraints on them. We also have other UN resolutions that prevent them from moving arms to the Houthi, prevents them from moving arms to the Shia, prevents them from – to the Shia militia in Iraq, prevents them from moving arms to Hizballah.
CNN State of the Union
QUESTION: … Why is lifting the embargo part of this deal?
KERRY: Well, we’re not lifting it. It has eight years out of a 10-year component of the UN resolution. Eight years it will be applied, and we have other UN resolutions and other mechanisms for holding Iran accountable on missiles.
Fox News Sunday
KERRY: But we have many other sanctions still applicable, and we can bring other sanctions to push back against any of their behavior. They’re not allowed to send arms to Hizballah. That’s a separate resolution. They’re not allowed to send arms to the Shia militia in Iraq. A separate resolution. They’re not allowed to send arms to the Houthis. Separate resolution. So we, in fact, have a huge ability to be able to bring any number of efforts against Iran for any bad behavior here whatsoever.
This claim is misleading because the JCPOA will make it functionally impossible to reimpose economic pressure on Iran, regardless of what laws remain on the books [g]. Paragraph 25: “If a law at the state or local level in the United States is preventing the implementation of the sanctions lifting as specified in this JCPOA, the United States will take appropriate steps… with a view to achieving such implementation.” Paragraph 26: “The EU will refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions that it has terminated implementing under this JCPOA… The United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA and to prevent interference with the realisation of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.” Paragraph 29: “The EU and its Member States and the United States, consistent with their respective laws, will refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent with their commitments not to undermine the successful implementation of this JCPOA.”
The punchline is the very last line of the very last paragraph of the main agreement, which gives Iran its own snapback mechanism against the United States by allowing it to return to enrichment if sanctions are even partially reinstated. Paragraph 37: “Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” Maybe the administration will say that the passage was only intended to refer to nuclear sanctions. That’s not how it’s written, and the Iranians have a 100% success rate of winning interpretation debates vs. the Americans over vague language in agreements and factsheets.
(3) Iran won’t get sufficient relief to exploit the arms embargo being lifted
Fox News Sunday
QUESTION: Under this deal, we lift the arms embargo on Iran being able to buy weapons and even ballistic missiles between five and eight years. And the sanctions against General Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, are also lifted. What we end up with, Secretary Kerry, is an Iran with billions, hundreds of billions of dollars more, able to buy weapons, and a Revolutionary Guard with fewer restraints. Isn’t that potentially an even more dangerous state sponsor of terror in the Middle East?
KERRY: First of all, Chris, don’t exaggerate. It’s not hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s $100 billion.
QUESTION: That’s in the first year.
KERRY: But – it’s their money that they have had frozen.
QUESTION: I understand. But it’s a hundred —
KERRY: Well, let me – but let me just finish.
QUESTION: A hundred fifty billion is the first year.
KERRY: Please. Chris, this is not supposed to be a debate. You’re supposed to ask a question and we’re supposed to be able to answer it.
This is a strange stance to take. The $100 – $150 billion windfall will occur within months of the deal being implemented, but while that happens the sanctions regime will be shredded, allowing the Iranian economy to skyrocket to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. The lifting of economic sanctions will trigger a gold rush into Iran [h]. The administration used to claim that worries over Iranian noncompliance would dampen enthusiasm – because no company wants to enter the market if they have to leave a year later – but the final JCPOA has a loophole so snapback doesn’t apply to companies that set up shop in Iran before noncompliance [i]. Snapback is a fiction anyway [j]. Meanwhile the delisting of banks will remove the last economic lever that the West has over Iran, and those financial sanctions are never coming back [k].