July 14 marked two years since the world’s six major powers reached a deal with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. The agreement between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States significantly limited Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The following are remarks and statements by current and former officials, arms experts and others reflecting a range of views on the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“Unfortunately up until now, the United States, while remaining at the very least possible level compliant with the agreement, has failed to observe, in times, the letter and mostly the spirit of the agreement by not allowing Iran to enjoy the full benefits of the nuclear deal. We believe they need to reconsider that position, because it is not conducive to the sustainability of the agreement.”
“The JCPOA is a multilateral agreement that was the result of many years of negotiation.”
“It was also the result of many years of pressure. After all those pressures failed to bring about the results that were expected from those who were imposing pressure on the Iranian people, there was no other choice but to reach a negotiated settlement.”
“I think at the end of the day, everybody will see that the agreement will represent an outcome that was the best possibility for all concerned [parties].”
—July 14, 2017 to journalists upon his arrival in New York City
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi
“The U.S. administration is unable to violate Iran’s nuclear deal on its own, thus it seeks to neutralize the deal’s positive results for Iran by imposing sanctions.”
“That is why the U.S. has turned its focus to imposing anti-Iranian political, economic and psychological measures in other bills, and is interested in neutralizing the JCPOA’s positive outcomes through these channels.”
“Today more than ever, we are ready to take appropriate actions in various fields in response to any anti-Iranian measure by the U.S.”
― July 10, 2017, according to Fars News
Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi
“The continuation of the US’s irresponsible approach to the JCPOA, particularly during the era of the country’s new ruling administration, which reflects the extremist and unilateralist stance of the United States of America on all international issues, is considered as disregard for the international community’s will and demand.”
― July 11, 2017, according to Fars News
The United States
Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), David A. Perdue (R-GA, and Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
We write to urge that you not certify that U.S. sanctions relief for Iran is in the vital national security interests of the United States or that Iran is complying with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ("JCPOA"). In the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of2015 ("INARA"), Congress required that the administration make a national-security and compliance certification determination every 90 days to ensure vigilant enforcement of the JCPOA and a periodic reassessment of U.S. policy toward Iran. We believe that a change in that policy is long overdue.
In April, you certified Iran' s compliance for the first 90-day period of the Trump administration. That certification was understandable, given the need to grant time for the interagency review of the JCPOA that you described in the certification letter you sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
But now as we near the end of another 90-day review period, U.S. interests would be best served by a sober accounting of Iran's JCPOA violations as well as the regime's aggressive and destabilizing behavior. In light of Iran's malign actions since the signing of the JCPOA, the only reasonable conclusion is that the full suspension of U.S. sanctions is not in the vital national security interests of the United States and that Iran has consistently violated the terms of the JCPOA.
Even if we put aside issues related to Iran's violations of the JCPOA, the full suspension of U.S. sanctions falls far short of being "vital to the national security interests of the United States," as required by INARA. Iran continues to wage a campaign of regional aggression, sponsor international terrorism, develop ballistic missile technology, and oppress the Iranian people.
Iran's aggression directly targets the United States. Perhaps the most brazen example was Iran's January 2016 seizure of U.S. sailors, whom Iran proceeded to parade before television cameras in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions' standards on the treatment of detainees. In light of these actions, there is simply no basis on which to make a certification that U.S. national security is bolstered by continued sanctions relief.
In fact, a continuation of current policy would be tantamount to rewarding Iran's belligerence. President Trump has described the JCPOA and its attendant sanctions relief as "the worst deal ever negotiated," one that is "catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East." He is correct.
While the evidence that the JCPOA is a bad deal is overwhelming, we should certainly not put aside Iran's consistent violations of that deal. Iran has engaged in persistent violations in an attempt to weaken the agreement's strictures and gain advantages beyond the agreement's existing loopholes as it progresses toward an industrial nuclear-weapons capacity. Below are merely a few publicly reported examples of lran's violations, a list that does not include instances that might be drawn from non-public or classified sources:
- Iran is currently operating more advanced nuclear centrifuges than it is permitted under the JCPOA, maintains more advanced centrifµges than required for its permitted emichment activities, and has announced the capability to initiate mass production of more advanced centrifuges.
- Iran has repeatedly exceeded the limits the JCPOA places on its heavy water stocks. Heavy water is key to Iran's plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons. However, Iran has twice exceeded the JCPOA's heavy-water cap and has claimed a right to produce W1limited amounts of heavy water and retain ownership of those stocks as long as it claims to be "seeking" an international buyer. In doing so, Iran has effectively read the heavy-water limitation out of the JCPOA.
- German intelligence agencies in 20153 and 20164 reported that Iran continued illicit attempts to procure nuclear and missile technology outside of JCPOA-approved channels.
- Perhaps most concerning is Iran1s refusal to grant international inspectors access to nuclear-research and military facilities. International Atomic Energy Agency ("TAEA") inspectors are entitled to visit any location in Iran to verify compliance with the JCPOA's ban on nuclear weapons development. However, Iran's refusal to grant inspectors physical access and other forms of access makes it possible-if not highly probable, given Iran's history of duplicity-that it is concealing additional violations of the JCPOA.
Even if we manage to chronicle each Iranian violation, it is highly questionable whether the United States can under current arrangements ever gain high confidence that Iran's nuclear weapons development has indeed ceased. The IAEA has longstanding concerns that nuclear weapons research was conducted, among other places, at Iran's Parchin military complex. Under side arrangements between Iran and the IAEA (arrangements that still have not been provided to Congress as required by INARA), inspectors did not gain physical access to take environmental samples at the Parchin complex and allowed Iran to collect its own environmental samples for nuclear trace testing. As a result of this wholly inadequate arrangement, the IAEA has not-and likely never will-verify the full scope of lranian nuclear-weapons know-how.
We urge you to deliver to Congress a clear accounting of lran's noncompliance with the JCPOA. In addition, we request a description of strong measures the administration plans to take to respond to Iran's violations. For example, numerous individual U.S. sanctions were suspended under the JCPOA and the U.S. Treasury Department-in the waning months of the Obama administration- also took a number of additional steps beyond the four comers of the JCPOA to ease Iran's reentry into the international market. These and other concessions to Iran should be reviewed for possible revocation or revision.
Withholding certification is a necessary and prudent act. It is a course of action fully contemplated under INARA's provisions and, standing alone, does not threaten the continued viability of the JCPOA.
However, if you do decide to deliver a certification to Congress, we hope it is a prelude to the completion of the interagency review of the administration's policy toward the JCPOA, and we trust that it will be accompanied by stronger measures to hold Iran accountable for its nefarious activities. Because what would be highly imprudent is to continue the Obama-era practice of offering sheepish and faint-hearted certifications as a matter of course, hoping no one takes notice. That is the surest way to encourage Iran's campaign of imperial aggression and speed its progress toward nuclear breakout.
—July 11, 2017, in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Representative Keith Ellison
On the 2 year anniversary of the Iran deal, let’s recognize that we’ve avoided the blood and tears of war.— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) July 14, 2017
Let's choose peace. pic.twitter.com/yNzg8hJrb2
Senator Tom Cotton
“The Iran deal was a foolish mistake from the very start, and it certainly hasn't improved with age. Tehran has repeatedly violated the terms of the deal by operating too many advanced centrifuges, exceeding limits on heavy-water stocks, and refusing to grant inspectors access to nuclear-research and military facilities. Continuing sanctions relief for such a recalcitrant regime is directly against our national interest.”
-July 14, 2017, in a statement posted to his website
38 Retired Generals and Admirals
The Iran Deal Continues to Benefit U.S. National Security
As former military officers, we are writing to express strong support for the nuclear agreement negotiated between the United States, world powers and Iran. The international accord successfully blocked Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon and has greatly strengthened the security of the United States and our allies.
On the two-year anniversary of the agreement, we applaud all parties to the deal for remaining in compliance. Iran dismantled two-thirds of its centrifuges, gave up 98 percent of its stockpile of sensitive uranium, and poured concrete into the core of its heavy water reactor. The United States has provided proportional relief from nuclear sanctions and has thus far refrained from enacting significant new sanctions, though our Congress is currently considering legislation designed to politicize our national security rather than make meaningful contributions to it.
As we acknowledge Iran’s compliance with the agreement, we also recognize that Iran’s continued ballistic missile activities, human rights violations and support for terrorism pose a threat to the United States and our allies in the region. However, unilateral military action cannot resolve this threat. Nor would externally imposed regime change.
We urge your administration to establish official diplomatic communications channels with the Iranian government. Diplomatic channels are essential not only to ensure the continued implementation of the nuclear agreement but also to resolve national security crises. We must have the ability to respond quickly and directly to deescalate situations (such as when American sailors were captured by the Iranians in the Persian Gulf in 2016) and continue to deconflict our complementary military activities that contribute to the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
Without diplomatic connections, minor conflicts can easily spiral out of control. Diplomacy is a vital tool for mitigating risk. Diplomacy can prevent military confrontations that would cost U.S. servicemembers their lives – without benefiting U.S. national security.
It is important to remember the nuclear agreement is not a deal between the U.S. and Iran alone, but rather a multilateral agreement that resulted from years of complex diplomatic negotiations among world powers. It was a strategic, long-term, high-stakes endeavor that was focused on one goal: preventing an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The effort paid off. We must continue to engage our international partners to build on success of the nuclear agreement by using both economic leverage and negotiations to address Iran’s destabilizing behaviors.
Above all, we must not engage in aggressive posturing that could pave the way to war. The lives of our men and women in uniform cannot be put in harm’s way before exhausting every diplomatic option, and diplomacy must not be sacrificed to today’s caustic political discourse.
Many of us have commanded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines during wartime. We know firsthand the tremendous burden you feel when ordering men and women into danger for their country. We ask that before you make one of those tough decisions, you take every step to ensure that sacrifice is necessary.
We urge your administration to recognize the national security benefits of the nuclear agreement and appropriately weigh the risks to our troops of escalating tensions with Iran. Opening a communications channel would be a no-cost, high-reward step that will demonstrate U.S. global leadership, save lives and bolster our security at a time of regional and global instability. The only good war is the one you do not fight.
General Johnnie Wilson, USA (Retired)
Vice Admiral Donald Arthur, USN (Retired)
Lieutenant General Walter Gaskin, USMC (Retired)
Vice Admiral Kevin P. Green, USN (Retired)
Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, USA (Retired)
Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson, USAF (Retired)
Lieutenant General Frank Kearney, USA (Retired)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, USA (Retired)
Lieutenant General Willie Williams, USMC (Retired)
Major General Donna Barbisch, USA (Retired)
Major General Peter Cooke, USAR (Retired)
Major General J. Gary Cooper, USMC (Retired)
Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Retired)
Rear Admiral F. Stephen Glass, USN (Retired)
Major General Richard S. Haddad, USAF (Retired)
Rear Admiral Jan Hamby, USN (Retired)
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, JAGC, USN (Retired)
Major General Dennis Laich, USA (Retired)
Major General Fredric H Leigh, USA (Retired)
Major General Donald E. Loranger, Jr, USAF (Retired)
Major General Randy Manner, USA (Retired)
Major General John Phillips, USAF (Retired)
Major General Gale S. Pollock, CRNA, FACHE, FAAN, USA (Retired)
Major General Maggie Woodward, USAF (Retired)
Brigadier General Ricardo Aponte, USAF (Retired)
Brigadier General David Brahms, USMC (Retired)
Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, USA (Retired)
Brigadier General LeAnne Burch, USAR (Retired)
Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Retired)
Brigadier General John Douglass, USAF (Retired)
Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Retired)
Brigadier General Carlos E. Martinez, USAFR, (Retired)
Rear Admiral Harold L Robinson USN (Retired)
Brigadier General John M. Schuster USA (Retired)
Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, USN (Retired)
Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith, USN (Retired)
Brigadier General Dan Woodward, USAF (Retired)
Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., U.S. Army (Retired)
― July 12, 2017, in an open letter to President Trump
Former White House coordinator for the Middle East Philip Gordon and Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State Richard Nephew
“Where would Iran be today without the agreement? It’s hard to know for sure, but even if Tehran had continued only to steadily expand its nuclear program as it had for the previous two decades, it would today likely be operating the more than 20,000 centrifuges it had at the time of the agreement. Iran would have continued enriching uranium and building its stockpiles, and it would’ve been operating a fully functional heavy-water nuclear reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons per year, all without the additional verification provisions put in place to ensure this was all it was doing.
“What that means: Without the deal, Iran would today likely be only weeks from possessing enough weapons-usable material for a bomb. And without the verification procedures Iran committed to in the agreement, the international community would have no reliable way of knowing if it was stockpiling that material—until it was too late.”
“The Iran deal has bought valuable time. Squandering that time without a better plan would be foolish.”
―July 14, 2017, in an op-ed in The Atlantic
Former Ambassador to the United Nations and former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton
“Over the past two years, considerable information detailing Tehran’s violations of the deal have become public, including: exceeding limits on uranium enrichment and production of heavy water; illicit efforts at international procurement of dual-use nuclear and missile technology; and obstructing international inspection efforts (which were insufficient to begin with).
“Since international verification is fatally inadequate, and our own intelligence far from perfect, these violations undoubtedly only scratch the surface of the ayatollahs’ inexhaustible mendaciousness.”
“Accordingly, withdrawing from the JCPOA as soon as possible should be the highest priority. The administration should stop reviewing and start deciding. Even assuming, contrary to fact, that Iran is complying with the JCPOA, it remains palpably harmful to American national interests. It should not have taken six months to reach this conclusion. Well before Jan. 20, we saw 18 months of Iranian noncompliance and other hostile behavior as evidence. The Trump transition team should have identified abrogating the deal as one of the incoming administration’s highest policy priorities.”
—July 16, 2017, in an op-ed on The Hill
International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick
“Accusations that Iran is violating JCPOA rely on fact-challenged analysis.”
―July 12, 2017, via Twitter
Arms Control Association
“While there have been some minor issues over the course of implementation – Iran slightly exceeded the heavy water limit twice in 2016 – the deal is working. In addition to blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons, the deal is also paving the way for much-needed cooperative work to enhance the safety and security of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities, a benefit shared by the entire region.”
―July 11, 2017, in a blog post
E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
Today marks the second anniversary of the deal on the Iranian nuclear program: the 14th of July 2015 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed by the EU, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, and Iran.
This was an historic achievement for the security of the region and of the whole world, a success for multilateral diplomacy that has proven to work and deliver.
Eighteen months after its entry into force, the deal has been successfully implemented by all parts, including Iran as confirmed by the six reports issued by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). Through the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, that I coordinate, we are monitoring very closely the full implementation of the deal in all its parts. The regular meetings of the Joint Commission, the next one taking place in Vienna next Friday 21 July, are essential to ensure transparency, constant dialogue and implementation by all. In my capacity as coordinator, my task is and will stay to ensure that the deal is fully and effectively implemented by all sides.
At a time when the world is faced again with threat of unchecked nuclear capabilities, the JCPOA stays as an important contribution to global non-proliferation efforts. This deal belongs to the international community, having been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, that expects all sides to keep the commitments they took two years ago.
The European Union is and will stay committed in preserving and implementing it, and building on it to address the remaining unresolved sources of tension and conflict that are still afflicting the region. A stable and peaceful environment in a conflict-free and cooperative regional order remains our ultimate objective.
—July 14, 2017, in a statement
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov
“That the US administration has questioned continued commitment to the JCPOA is highly worrying to us but the Russian government and all those who were present in the negotiations to agree on the JCPOA are trying to convince the US administration that there is no alternative for the JCPOA.”
“The JCPOA is a fruitful and useful agreement which both meets the interests of Iran and the regional and international stability and security and we dismiss any attempt to rewrite or reinterpret it.”
“We continue emphasizing to the government in Washington that there is no substitute for the JCPOA and this agreement should be maintained by the US and other sides.”
― July 11, 2017, according to Fars News
“My assumption is that Trump’s administration is still considering its policies toward Iran in regard to the nuclear deal’s capacities and its appropriateness.”
“We denounce any attempt at rewriting or re-interpreting the nuclear deal and believe that the agreement is balanced and positive.”
― July 11,2017, according to Mehr News
“We agree basically with Iranian point that the US not only underperforms during the whole period of JCPOA implementation, but we believe and we see signs of US acting in contradiction and in contravening he requirements of the JCPOA.”
“That is an action or lack of action that constitutes what I would describe as noncompliance with requirements of the JCPOA.”
― July 11, 2017, in an interview with Tasnim News Agency
The United Kingdom
Foreign Minister Boris Johnson
“In the troubled landscape of the Middle East, success is measured by the crises we avoid. The JCPOA has neutralized the supreme danger of a nuclear-armed Iran for at least a decade. That’s one less threat to worry about.”
―July 13, 2017, in an article for the Washington Post
Former Direct of Israel’s General Security Service Carmi Gillon
“Now, as the world marks the two-year anniversary of the adoption of the nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is more remote than it has been in decades. Thanks to the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program has been defanged and all its pathways to a bomb blocked.
“While no agreement is perfect, this achievement must not be underestimated. For decades, leaders and experts in Israel and among our allies contemplated the drastic steps we might have to take to restrain or destroy Iran’s nuclear program. That included potential military operations that might have triggered a major escalation and cost many lives — with no guarantee of achieving their goal.”
“Of course, Iran remains an extremely dangerous regime and a bad actor across the Middle East. Its support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and regimes like that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continue to contribute to regional chaos and present a major threat to Israeli security and U.S. interests. Israel and its allies must remain extremely vigilant and active to counter the Iranian threat.”
“By ensuring that such a dangerous regime can never possess nuclear weapons, the deal makes it easier for Iran to be confronted for its other malign behaviors.”
― July 13, 2017, in an article for Foreign Policy