In what The Washington Post -- no friend of Iran -- has labeled "a silly speech," Donald Trump's new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, provided an American answer to the charge made by French President Emmanuel Macron during his State visit last month that, when it came to the Iranian nuclear agreement (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, or JCPOA), there was "no Plan B." Macron's observations were made in the context of President Trump's threat to withdraw from that agreement, even though Iran had been determined by all parties (including the United States) to be in full compliance.
Trump made his decision to withdraw official on May 8, and since then the United States has been struggling to articulate a strategy to deal with the consequences of that action. Pompeo's speech -- titled "After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy" -- was intended to provide America's "Plan B." Upon reflection, however, Pompeo's speech failed to accomplish this. Worse, the unrealistic demands made upon Iran in Pompeo's address, coupled by the absolute detachment from reality and historical fact and/or context these demands were made, made Pompeo's speech far more dangerous than silly.
In his speech, Pompeo promised that, in the aftermath of the American decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, the United States would be seeking to impose "unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime" to compel change in its behavior. "Iran," Pompeo declared, "will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life-support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both."
Pompeo stated that the Department of Defense was being directed to work closely with America's "regional allies to deter Iranian aggression" and prevent Iranian regional dominance. Moreover, Pompeo noted, "If [Iran] restarts their nuclear program, it will mean ... bigger problems than they'd ever had before." In the face of this aggressive posturing, Pompeo declared the Trump administration's intent to "advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people." But this was disingenuous, being little more than code for regime change.
Pompeo's "advocacy" consisted of little more than citing ongoing economic mismanagement, corruption and political repression, and offering economic opportunity and "liberty" in exchange for mass demonstrations by the Iranian people -- demonstrations designed to overthrow the theocratic regime in Tehran. But "regime change," "Iran" and "the United States" are three terms that historically do not mix, as every Iranian knows. The example of the CIA-led coup of 1953 that replaced democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh with Reza Shah Pahlavi is deeply ingrained in the psyche of modern Iran.
History is not America's friend when it comes to Iran, a fact that resonated in every fiber of Pompeo's bombastic speech. In setting the conditions that must be met before the United States would consider engaging in negotiations for a "new deal," Pompeo only further underscored how detached the Trump administration is from reality when it comes to Iran and its role in Middle East affairs. The 12-step plan outlined by Pompeo as representing the preconditions for any meaningful U.S.-Iranian engagement are little more than a road map toward disaster. What follows is a point-by-point breakdown of each of these conditions, put into context.
- Iran must declare a full accounting of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
Here Pompeo seeks to revive the Prior Military Dimension (PMD) issue that itself was derived from manufactured intelligence provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by Israel through an Iranian opposition group (the Mojahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which is listed as a terrorist group by the Department of State) via German intelligence back in 2004. Many of the documents were subsequently shown to be crude forgeries that misrepresented the work of actual Iranian entities, and others were out-and-out fabrications.
The goal of the PMD issue was to create a red herring around which the United States could build support for the imposition of stringent economic sanctions targeting Iran. This plan reached fruition in 2011, when the U.S. prevailed upon the IAEA to publish the PMD allegations as part of an official report, which in turn was used to justify American sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales. In a tacit acknowledgement that the PMD issue was little more than smoke and mirrors, the United States agreed to have the entire issue resolved through discussions between Iran and the IAEA, discussions that exposed the fraudulent nature of most of the underlying accusations. The fact that both Pompeo and President Trump are compelled to rely upon Israeli intelligence of questionable provenance to bolster their case for continued interest in the PMD issue, and not on the product of the American intelligence services, is itself a cause of concern, since it points to a clear subordination of American national security to the interests of a foreign power.
- Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing.
Mike Pompeo and every other official in the Trump administration would do well to review the history of past American policies built around the notion of "not one spinning centrifuge" in Iran. The genesis of such a policy resides in Israeli -- not American -- concerns, driven by unrealistic expectations of regional exceptionalism that allow for unilateral reinterpretation of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in a way that denies Iran the ability to pursue peaceful nuclear energy, inclusive of the ability to indigenously produce nuclear fuel.
Moreover, under the JCPOA, Iran had already agreed not to pursue plutonium reprocessing and had decommissioned its heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. Pompeo's demands seemed geared toward warning Iran away from any post-JCPOA efforts to reconstitute a plutonium capability, a facial demonstration of the absurdity of Trump's decision to withdraw from the JCPOA in the first place.
Iran has already demonstrated that it has the resolve to take on the world in defense of its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes in conformity with the NPT. Pompeo's demands -- little more than window dressing of long-standing Israeli position -- are non-starters, especially given the reality that the rest of the world has already agreed that Iran can enrich uranium.
- Iran must provide the IAEA with "unqualified" access to all sites throughout the entire country.
Like many so-called American officials who dabble in arms control today, Pompeo seems to operate from a post-Gulf War mindset, where imposed disarmament along the lines of what occurred with Iraq from 1991-1998 (or Libya in 2002-2003) are the norm. Iran is not Iraq -- it has not been defeated in battle and therefore compelled to accept stringent disarmament provisions as a condition for a cease-fire and national survival. As a sovereign nation, Iran has the same right as any other state to define what constitutes its own national security interests, and to determine what access it might provide to outside parties to capabilities that fall within this designation, and under what circumstances.
The JCPOA provides the IAEA with an unprecedented ability to access sites of interest and potential interest inside Iran. Pompeo's notion of "unqualified" access to sites throughout the entirety of Iran brings to mind the "anytime, anywhere" approach undertaken by the United Nations in Iraq from 1991-2003. Such an approach was ultimately counterproductive, having been used by the United States and others for intelligence gathering outside the remit of disarmament -- which, given Pompeo's recent stint as director of the CIA, might be the underlying intent of this demand. The bottom line is that, as a member of the NPT, Iran's relationship with the world regarding its peaceful nuclear program is based upon the letter of the law founded in that treaty, and not the unilateral dictate of the American government.
- Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
The irony of the world's greatest proliferator of military weapons -- including long-range strike aircraft and bunker-busting munitions sold to Iran's regional foes, Israel and Saudi Arabia -- calling on Iran to stop exporting ballistic missiles to its allies is mind-numbing. The United States, through a made-for-television expose' fronted by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen that have been used to launch retaliatory attacks against Saudi Arabia, which has been using its American-supplied air force to pulverize Houthi civilian targets. Iran has not shipped any completed missiles to the Houthis, but rather provided kits that enabled the Houthi to upgrade Russian-made SCUD missiles to fly longer ranges.