Tasnim – Behrad Nakhai, a New York-based nuclear scientist, said the international community would no longer take US’s commitments seriously if President Donald Trump reneged on the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
“For whatever the reason that he may have, President Trump has consistently expressed his loathing for JCPOA at every opportunity and has repeatedly expressed his desire not to honor US commitments to UN and the world. How would he expect that the world takes future US commitments seriously? For the individual who prides himself as the artful deal maker, wouldn’t it more productive and enhance US standing in the world if he proposes new negotiations with Iran on other subjects that concern him rather than reneging on already agreed commitments?” Dr. Nakhai told the Tasnim news agency.
Dr. Behrad Nakhai is a nuclear scientist. He holds a PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee. He is currently a member of both Speakers Bureau and Public Policy Committee of the American Nuclear Society (ANS).
Following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: Both on his campaign trail and after the presidential election in early 2017, Trump threatened to “scrap” the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). His administration has ordered a review of the historic accord with Tehran. It seems that Trump is looking for pretexts to scuttle the deal. Reports, however, suggest that he is not after dismantling it and he is just seeking to appease certain people at home. Do you believe so? If yes, why?
Nakhai: I would like first address two myths surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.
Myth 1. Sanctions forced Iran to come to the negotiation table
In 2004, Iran had not yet developed the capability to enrich Uranium and possessed only a modest number of primitive centrifuges. At the time, Iran sat at the negotiation table in Paris and offered a freeze on its nuclear activities for duration of the negotiations as a confidence-building measure and agreed to limit its enrichment activities to a laboratory size enrichment research. The reasonable and generous offer by Iran was received favorably by EU 3 (Germany, France, and UK) and was inked as the Paris Agreement. However, the negotiated agreement was rejected by President Bush after his reelection to a second term as the president of USA in November 2004.
Iran remained at the negotiation table waiting for US to return to the table, which it eventually did in 2013 after all its efforts to coerce Iran into submission failed. By 2013, Iran had developed its enrichment program and had installed over 20,000 centrifuges, having successfully enriched over 8,000 Kg of 3.5% enriched Uranium and around 300 Kg of 20% enriched Uranium.
In the span of this nine years, terrorists murdered five Iranian scientists and infested Iranian computer systems with various viruses.
The sanctions, which were instituted to achieve nefarious political goals in Iran, were effective in severely harming and endangering the weakest members of the society: the elderlies, the critically ill people, and children, by denying them the critically needed medicine. I know first hand because members of my family were painfully affected.
Since sanctions failed to achieve their ulterior motives by forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear program, and since the participants in sanctions against Iran were having second thoughts and becoming weary of its purpose and goals, before the sanctions total collapse, US decided to return to the negotiation table with the claim that the sanctions have forced Iran to negotiation table.
A bit of artful diplomacy could have averted much of the enrichment debacle.
The first failure in diplomacy was not honoring an international agreement (NPT) by attempting to alter its terms to exclude enrichment rights to the countries which did not already have enrichment capability. NPT had effectively succeeded in performing its original intents since its inception in 1971, except for serious violations of the five UNSC members. The unlawful attempt to modify NPT to exclude enrichment rights, forced Iran to accelerate the development of its enrichment program to preserve its enrichment rights under the terms of NPT. When in April of 2006, Iran announced that it has successfully enriched Uranium—confirmed by IAEA—the attempt to modify NPT faltered and the scheduled UN meeting for the related discussions were postponed.
The second failure was in 2008, where Iran was denied its rightful access to nuclear fuel for its nuclear research reactor, which was the sole source for providing various isotopes for medical treatment, particularly critical for cancer patients. Subsequently, Iran embarked on an accelerated program to overcome the breach of the international agreement and enrich Uranium to 20% and fabricate its own nuclear fuel.
Honoring the international agreement (NPT), expressing a tad of human decency by not denying the critically ill individuals of their last hopes for survival, along with honoring Iran’s rights to benefit from its fully paid share of Eurodif, probably would have alleviated much of the enrichment saga.
Myth 2. Sunset clause in JCPOA will set Iran on a path to develop nuclear weapons in 10 to 15 years.
Those who make such irresponsible statements, have either not read UNSC 2231 (JCPOA), not understood it, or are willfully poisoning the already tenuous environment surrounding the nuclear issue by spreading erroneous information. JCPOA does not replace NPT, where Iran is bound by its terms which forbid weapon development activities for as long as NPT is in existence. Therefore, the sunset clause is totally irrelevant with respect to the development of nuclear weapons.
However, there is an ethical reading of the JCPOA which could benefit the world. JCPOA gives the world 10 to 15 years to develop an objective, comprehensive, and effective nuclear disarmament program. It must be emphasized that nuclear weapons are the most brutal tools for terrorism in anyone’s hand. Mere possession of nuclear weapons raises serious moral questions, because nuclear weapons not only massively and indiscriminately murder all living beings, they also condemn generations not yet born.
Now the response to your questions:
UNSC Resolution 2231 (JCPOA) is a UN agreement drafted and signed by United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) five permanent members—US, UK, France, Russia, and China– plus Germany and Iran, replacing all previous UNSC’s resolutions associated with Iran’s nuclear program. All parties have entrusted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the sole monitor of Iran’s nuclear facilities and the determinant of Iran’s compliance with its commitments as specified in JCPOA. The JCPOA is the how to realize the resolution. It is important to keep reminding that it is not just an agreement but in fact an agreement detailing the terms of SC Resolution 2231. Therefore, any changes and or modifications must be approved by the UNSC. I should emphasize that JCPOA addresses only and only Iran’s nuclear program and does not in any ways or means intrudes into Iran’s national defense.
The importance of JCPOA is that it is based on measurable metrics and verifiable technical steps. It is specific in its objectives, alleviating the role of personalities and personal wishes. Because of its objective nature, JCPOA should be used as a model for drafting future resolutions in dealing with international conflicts.
For whatever the reason that he may have, President Trump has consistently expressed his loathing for JCPOA at every opportunity and has repeatedly expressed his desire not to honor US commitments to UN and the world. How would he expect that the world takes future US commitments seriously? For the individual who prides himself as the artful deal maker, wouldn’t it more productive and enhance US standing in the world if he proposes new negotiations with Iran on other subjects that concern him rather than reneging on already agreed commitments?
Strangely, even the Republicans who initially opposed JCPOA, are urging President Trump not to renege on US commitments. The generals in control of the White House, US armed forces Trump’s generals thwart him on the Iran deal and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are supporting JCPOA as an agreement that is working. The majority of American people are supportive of JCPOA.
In addition, scientists, politicians, and academics in US and abroad have fully supported JCPOA and have urged President Trump to honor US commitments to the rest of the world. UN General Secretary fully supports it.
JCPOA represents the US agreement committed to by US President as the representative of majority of Americans, in other words, USA’s credibility and its resolve to honor its international commitments id on the balance. President Trump’s decision on 15 October, will dramatically affect US’s success in future international agreements. President Trump would accomplish quite a lot in honoring US commitments by applying JCPOA’s model to resolve North Korea’s nuclear standoff peacefully.
Tasnim: In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump said that the internationally-negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran is an “embarrassment” to the United States. As you know, Trump’s team now faces an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress whether it will continue to certify that Iran is in compliance with the deal. If Trump refuses to certify, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose US sanctions on Iran. What do you think?
Nakhai: As long as Iran complies with its obligations and IAEA confirms Iran’s compliance, the team of “searchers” can continue their quest to nowhere. Their failure would indeed be a success for US by not causing it to lose face and credibility in the eyes of the world. Otherwise, US will become isolated from the rest of the world, and will have to find its way back out of isolation from an inferior position.
Tasnim: American officials have reportedly told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the United States may abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord. What is your take on this?
Nakhai: As I stated above, only UNSC can reopen UNSC Resolution 2231 or issue a new resolution to modify Res-2231.
Once before, EU abandoned its commitments under Paris Agreement and surrendered its sovereignty to US and followed the unfortunate US directives to bring harm to the Iranians by imposing sanctions against Iran. Will EU again surrender its sovereignty to US wishes, or will EU stand up to protect its honor and values? Ms. Mogherini has repeatedly stated that EU is fully committed to JCPOA. She has recently stated that Iran deal must not be dismantled. Russia, China, Germany, UK, and France have also stated that they fully support JCPOA.
If EU remains committed to JCPOA, JCPOA will succeed as expected. The world should remember that President Trump’s motto is US first. EU members too, must first guard their own interests. US will not succeed in coercing the rest of the world to do as it wishes under the threat of sanctions, which is hostage-taking by a different name. US will not succeed in taking the rest of the world as hostages, unless the rest of the world is willing to be taken as hostages, again.