TEL AVIV — Nonproliferation experts are warning that world praise conferred over the week on Iran for abiding by terms of a landmark nuclear deal are premature, and failure to hold Tehran accountable for ostensibly minor infractions will augur major violations to come.

As the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) enters into its second year, Tehran has thus far met milestones prescribed in the agreement, according to the United Nations, the White House and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with monitoring technical adherence to the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

In a Jan. 16 statement marking the one-year anniversary of so-called Implementation Day, Iran has "successfully met the milestone of removing excess centrifuges and infrastructure … demonstrating that the deal continues to limit Iran’s nuclear program so as to provide confidence that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon," US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.

"One year after Implementation Day, the Iran nuclear deal is working, increasing regional and global security," he added.

Similar validation came from IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who confirmed that as of Jan. 15, 2017, "the Agency verified that Iran has carried out … steps within the timeframe stipulated under the JCPOA."

Steps he was referring to include Iran’s removal of all excess centrifuges and infrastructure from its Fordo uranium enrichment facility and their transfer to storage at Natanz; storage of no more than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to up to 3.67 percent purity; and capping of its heavy water stockpile at 130 metric tons.

The White House, while acknowledging persistent missile testing, terrorist support and human rights abuses not covered under the JCPOA, was effusive in its praise of the deal, which it insists "has achieved significant concrete results in making the United States and the world a safer place."

Specifically, the White House noted that Iran has reduced its uranium stockpile by 98 percent, moved two-thirds of its centrifuges, has not enriched any uranium at its Fordow facility nor made use of advanced centrifuges. "In short, Iran is upholding its commitments, demonstrating the success of diplomacy," it noted in its Jan. 16 statement.

Natanz IAEA

An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector disconnects the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at the nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 20, 2014, as Iran halted production of 20 percent enriched uranium, marking the coming into force of an interim deal with world powers on its disputed nuclear program.
Photo Credit: Kazem Ghane/AFP via Getty Images

And as for the U.N., the world body acknowledged "the achievement" of the first anniversary of implementation, which it said marked "a significant milestone in the historic agreement."

Even a senior Israeli intelligence official, in a background briefing to reporters here last month, said Iran "was fulfilling its side of the deal." But like the White House, the officer flagged Iran’s accelerated testing of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and its stepped-up support for terrorist proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region.

But internationally recognized US and Israeli nonproliferation experts contend that while Iran may not have violated the letter of the JCPOA, it has run afoul of the spirit of the deal.

An eight-page memorandum written earlier this month by Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan policy institute, cites a slew of infractions. Based on the the IAEA’s own report from December 2015 and respected scholarly journals, the meticulously annotated memo flags the following:

  • Iran deliberately exceeded heavy water limits of 130 metric tons in November 2016, despite receiving warning from the IAEA.
  • Beginning in the summer of 2016, senior Iranian officials began threatening to resume "large-scale uranium enrichment" if leaders felt the international community was not meeting its sanctions relief obligations; part of a coordinated strategy designed by the supreme leader to extract concessions by crying foul over implementation.
  • The December 2015 IAEA report confirms that despite years of unwavering insistence, Tehran had an extensive nuclear weapons program until 2003 and certain activities continued until 2009.
  • That same IAEA report revealed that Iran provided misleading information in certain cases and refused to answer some of the agency’s most sensitive inquiries. Dubowitz quoted former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen as warning that without a complete understanding "of the extent and scope of Tehran’s nuclear-weapons work, effective verification will be compromised."

Dubowitz devoted a section of his memo to statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on JCPOA adherence. He noted that Khamenei’s demands, in October 2015, to remove renewed sanctions provisions "violate the terms of the agreement, which allows sanctions to be snapped back if Iran is found to be in significant non-compliance."

In Tel Aviv, Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) came out early last week with its own assessment of the JCPOA after its first year of implementation. Authors Emily Landau, Ephraim Asculai and Shimon Stein claim that Iran is operating advanced centrifuges "in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the JCPOA."

The Israeli authors criticized, among other points, the inability of scholars and experts to independently verify conclusions published by the IAEA with regard to Iranian compliance. Incomplete information contained in the IAEA’s public reports "undermine the transparency principle that has long existed and been hailed by" world powers that negotiated the agreement.

Moreover, INSS authors insist that overall Iranian compliance should not be judged merely according to technical steps mandated in the agreement, but by its behavior regarding procurement of missile and nuclear components, which is not checked by the IAEA.

In a Jan. 18 interview, Landau said that according to the IAEA, Iran twice exceeded the 130-metric-ton cap on heavy water stockpiles, if only by a small amount; the first time last February and most recently in November 2016.

"It’s clear from the IAEA’s own documents that they are cheating with minor violations. So if you want to be charitable, you’ll call these technicalities, as the Obama administration is calling them," Landau told Defense News. "But if you follow Iran closely, and the way they tend to behave with agreements, one should be more concerned with minor violations. This is Iran testing the waters; pressing the envelope to see what the level of determination is on the other side."

As for Iran, President Hassan Rouhani hailed the clean bill of health Iran received on the one-year anniversary of JCPOA implementation.

In a Jan. 17 news conference in Tehran, Rouhani was quoted by state-run Mehr News Agency as saying: "The IAEA has admitted that Iran’s nuclear program has not any point of suspicion; the end of the nuclear dossier means a moral high ground for our nation.

"We now have the approval of the U.N. and the IAEA for our peaceful nuclear program. This is a great victory in the international community."


Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at

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