“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” Kofi Abrefa Busia
“A diplomat is a person who thinks twice before he says nothing.” Edward Heath
“Indeed, we’re strongest when the face of America isn’t only a soldier carrying a gun but also a diplomat negotiating peace, a Peace Corps volunteer bringing clean water to a village, or a relief worker stepping off a cargo plane as floodwaters rise.” Colin Powell
Over the past week there have been a series of meetings going on in Vienna, Austria. These are meetings that will have great ramifications for the future of the Middle East, Near East and South Asia, for some time to come.
The meetings are being held to discuss the re-entry of the United States back into the international agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known simply as, the JCPOA. If you remember, then President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the non-binding agreement, under the assertion that it was a bad agreement, and that it should never have been entered into, in the first place.
In my opinion, these “meetings” are not actually meetings. Why? If you are a regular “More than Meets the Eye” reader, you will recall that I have written pretty extensively on this subject in the past. I have tried to produce an even-handed discussion on why the members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany are in support of the agreement and why the United States, most of its Middle Eastern counter-parts and Israel are vehemently against it. You can review my past articles by clicking here and here.
- What is the JCPOA and why is there such a difference of opinion as to how good it is, as an agreement? Does it accomplish what it was intended to accomplish?
- Are the Iranians and the P5+1 honoring the agreement?
From the US State Department’s Website. “On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union (EU), and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. October 18, 2015 marked Adoption Day of the JCPOA, the date on which the JCPOA came into effect, and participants began taking steps necessary to implement their JCPOA commitments. January 16, 2016, marks Implementation Day of the JCPOA. “The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has implemented its key nuclear-related measures described in the JCPOA, and the Secretary of State has confirmed the IAEA’s verification. As a result of Iran verifiably meeting its nuclear commitments, the United States and the EU lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, as described in the JCPOA.”
Written above is the official statement on the US State department’s website. Why did President Trump decertify the commitment of the US to the pact, if the Iranians are complying with the agreement? -Because, in his words, “It is a terrible pact.” His assertion, along with his team’s, is that it unwisely allows the Iranian government the capacity to continue their support of terrorism and the ability to cause instability in the region, while suffering no consequences, as a result. Simply put, the JCPOA was designed to curb Iran’s weapons of mass destruction capability, not their ability to export and fund terrorism. It appears that this was President Trumps biggest rub with this agreement. Major economic powers lifted significant financial sanctions. Doing so only allowed the Iranians to step up their funding of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In his mind this was counter to the best interests of the US, its allies and the rest of the world.
While concurring with President Trump that the agreement had a lot of room for improvement, US allies in Europe lobbied hard for President Trump to stand by the agreement, and even openly stated that they would stand against the US should they decide to leave the agreement. This, in fact, they did—at least their governments did. The larger corporations wholesale abandoned Iran and their governments. They stated, “Why would we risk our stake in a $14 trillion market for a stake in a $500 billion market?” European diplomatic pragmatism and distaste for potential conflict left the EU leadership looking for options, all of which seem to have left the situation in dire straits.
2. Are the Iranians and the P5+1 honoring the agreement?
One of the major contentions is that the UN and EU leaders are saying that the Iranians are abiding by the conditions of the JCPOA agreement. President Trump and his advisors partially agreed, but in principle they said that the Iranians have been lying, and that they have been playing games with the international community. They believe that they have never intended to abide by the conditions of the JCPOA. They pointed to the existence of a secret nuclear research facility that has been exposed by the Israelis and corroborated by the US intelligence community. It is exactly this nuclear research facility that was bombed by someone this past week, putting the Iranian nuclear program back a year or two. Nobody saw that coming, especially in the midst of these negotiations in Vienna this week. There are several disputes, factual ones, that continue to surface. One is regarding the testing by the Iranians, of missiles that are capable of reaching US allies and US bases in the Middle East. There are a couple of ways that the Iranians are in non-compliance of the JCPOA. Even this week, as I am writing this article I am looking over the border into Iran. I have spoken with several people who were at the receiving end of a missile attack just two weeks ago, from the general direction of Iran. When I asked where it came from they told me which city. I did the math. It was over 800 km (497 miles) away. That puts many US facilities within easy reach of the Iranian missiles. That is double the distance capability of previous generations of Iranian missiles.
Are the Iranians in breach of the JCPOA? Technically, no. However, the United Nations Security Council resolution (Paragraph 3 of Annex B of resolution 2231, 2015) is clear. The resolution “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
The second UN Security Council resolution 1929 indicates, “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that the States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.”
In addition, the Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JCPOA) of the nuclear agreement between P5+1 and Iran is crystal clear in stating that Iran should not undertake any ballistic missiles activity “until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”
Are the Iranians in breach of any international agreements? Let’s let the new Iranian Chief of Staff answer that question. “We test-fired a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a margin of error of eight meters,” Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi was quoted as saying at a Tehran science conference, the eight-meter margin means the “missile enjoys zero error,” he told conference participants. This was 10 months after the signing of the JCPOA accord. Has it violated the JCPOA? Perhaps not. UN Resolution 1929? Certainly so.
In 2012, the commander of the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pointed out that all major US bases are “good targets” for Iranian missiles with a 2,000-kilometer range. He also suggested that Iran has “set up bases and deployed missiles to destroy all these [U.S.] bases in the early minutes after an attack,” presumably all with conventional warheads.
The major US bases within 2,000 kilometers of the three Iranian cities include Ali Al Salem base in Kuwait, Al Dhafra base in the United Arab Emirates, Al Udeid base in Qatar, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Camp As Saliyah in Qatar, Camp Buehring in Kuwait, Fujairah base in the UAE, Jebel Ali port in the UAE, Kandahar base in Afghanistan, Kuwait Naval Base, NSA Bahrain, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, Izmir Air Base in Turkey, and Thumrait Air Base in Oman. Since Iran has been certain that launching ballistic missiles is not going to elicit robust reaction from the US and other members of the UN Security Council, the IRGC is more likely to continue its advancement and launching of ballistic missile activities more publicly.
Clearly from these documents and statements by Iranian military leadership, the Iranians see themselves as being in a position to continue developing missile technology with immunity from the international community. Why is that so? The language in the JCPOA is vague and confusing. It was one of the reasons that President Trump was so adamantly resistant to the agreement.
According to the UN decision, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” until October 2023. As they’re only “called upon not to” test missiles, but not expressly forbidden from doing so, Iran has used that loophole to increase its testing with impunity.
The history of conflict between the US and Iran goes back over 40 years, back to the fall of the Shah of Iran. There has been no peace between the US and Iran since the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the clerical revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Understanding the modern history of Iran and its relationship with its neighbors is a difficult and arduous task.
The strategic impasse between President Trump and almost everyone else is one of the most pressing issues of this decade. The ramifications of the coming decisions can and will effect the whole world. Let me address just a few relationships that are being deeply effected by this unilateral departure from the JCPOA.
- The relationship between the US and Iran has of course, been deeply effected. Both President Trump and President Rohani have been tweeting threats back and forth for a couple of years now. This battle of words should not be naively mistaken as rhetoric. The cost of missteps are too great to be miscalculated.
- Concerning the relationship between the US and Europe, there is a great chasm between the presidents of the EU and President Trump. This chasm cannot be taken lightly. There were already tensions after President Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum on EU businesses, coupled with the President’s accusations of cheating on NATO defense spending. This has merely added fuel to the already raging fire. The Europeans were not so eager to give up the billions of Euros which were being made by the grand-opening of Iran’s 80 million person market. As disconcerting, is the new phenomenon where Global Corporations were being put at odds with their own governments by being forced to go down bumpy political roads where they would prefer not to go. The French Oil Company, Total has told their government that they were shutting down their operations in Iran in response to the US sanctions. Their reasoning? As you read above, they are not willing to jeopardize their position in a $14 trillion market for a tenuous one in a $500 billion market. Other major industries are following suit in direct action against their governments. This opens a whole new set of possibilities for the future as global conglomerates begin to dictate policy over the policies of their governments.
- The relationship between the US and Russia: Historically, whatever is bad for the US is good for Russia. It appears that this situation is consistent with that axiom. The tension will lie in the fact that the US, with its suspicions of Iran building new advanced missile systems, has been compelled to emplace advanced anti-missile systems in and around countries which are contiguous to Russian sovereign territory. The Russians will view this as a significant threat. An entire book could be written on the possible scenarios which could emerge out of this relational breakdown. Just this week I have seen evidence of such sophisticated anti-missile systems deployed in Northern Iraq.
- The relationship between the US and China. Clearly the Chinese see themselves as the winners in this scenario. They will be free to exploit Iranian oil extraction for their own industrial purposes. Already they have stepped in, and agreed to buy out the French Total petroleum field development project that Total had agreed to drop out of.
- The relationship between the EU and itself: The difficultly of EU leadership has been, to hold themselves in unity around whatever decision they may make. As sanctions are implemented and the Iranians unilaterally decide to openly re-start uranium enrichment (even though US and Israeli intelligence claims that it has never halted) the premise for the entire agreement will fall apart. The Iranians did indeed re-instate the processing of nuclear fuel, a program that they swear is only for peaceful purposes. Already the graded level of processing exceeds that required for peaceful technologies. The EU will find itself unable to enforce an agreement that has fallen apart and will have to either continue to believe that nothing is happening or they will have to re-implement sanctions, which would force them to admit that President Trump was right. This will clearly be a difficult decision for the EU leaders.
- So far these discussions in Vienna have revolved around everybody’s national self-interest. Not a strange place for diplomacy to begin, but whether or not even ground will be found, is another story. The Iranians insist that they will not even sit down face to face with the US diplomats until the US, in good faith, lifts all the sanctions imposed by President Trump. The US has said that it will not negotiate until Iran agrees to address the “real” concerns of the agreement, and that is the obfuscated language around the support of terrorism and the development of ballistic technology. In other words, they are miles apart. Just trying to get them to define what a terrorist is, or what a ballistic missile is, would be a mammoth task. We can expect these shuttle discussions to go on for months. It will be interesting to see what the fall out is, from the bombing at the Nathan’s Nuclear Research facility. Many other relationships will be affected.
What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?…https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: email@example.com
If there was ever a time that we should be praying for a global situation and for all the leaders involved, it is now! The costs of the decisions which are being made daily are immense. If we as Christians want to impact what is happening, our primary tool is prayer. The potential consequences are staggering. Should there be an escalation of armed conflict between the US and Iran, the loss of life would be greater than anything we have seen since World War II.
We need to pray:
- That the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran would be renegotiated as a gesture for peace and that an agreement which would suit all parties would be reached in accordance with the wisdom of God.
- Pray for President Trump, President Macrón, (France) Chancellor Merkel, (Germany) Prime Minister May, (United Kingdom) Prime Minister Putin, (Russia) Prime Minister Li Keqiang (China) and President Rouhani (Iran). Pray that they will lay down their pride, and genuinely pursue peace.
- Pray for global peace. Pray that our leaders will seek peace foremost. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I Timothy 2:1-2
- Pray that God will give these leaders wisdom. “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6