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Iran to IAEA: U.S. in Material Breach of Nuclear Agreement

Iran has taken action under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last week, sending a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accusing the United States of being in “material breach” of the understandings. The letter (.pdf), which was posted on the IAEA’s website yesterday, cites July 17 statements from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest as the source of the complaint.

“The military option would remain on the table, but the fact is, that military option would be enhanced because we’d been spending the intervening number of years gathering significantly more detail about Iran’s nuclear program.  So when it comes to the targeting decisions that would be made by military officials either in Israel or the United States, those targeting decisions would be significantly informed, and our capabilities improved, based on the knowledge that has been gained in the intervening years through this inspections regime.” [Emphasis added].

After quoting Earnest’s statement, the complaint continued:

The threat or use of force under any circumstances except in self-defense is a violation of the fundamental principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, and such statements constitute a breach of erga omnes obligations under Article 2(4) of the Charter. Moreover, at a time when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is successfully concluded between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1, such a statement is totally unwarranted and seriously undermines the very basic principles required for its implementation that is expected to begin soon. These statements amount to a material breach of the commitments just undertaken by all JCPOA participants …

However, a complete reading of Earnest’s remark show that it was not a threat but a hypothetical. The previous paragraph in Earnest’s statement was:

But the point is, is that if over the course of this 10-year agreement, at some point Iran’s leaders change course and they decide that either they want to cheat or they just want to publicly indicate that they’re going to break out and try to obtain a nuclear weapon, it would take a year for them acquire enough fissile material to build a bomb.

Earnest was discussing how the military option would be enhanced from years of intelligence gathering in the event that Iran violated the agreement down the road.

Iran may have other goals in lodging this complaint, which continues:

Additionally, this statement jeopardizes the role of the IAEA under the JCPOA which provides that, “in implementing this procedure as well as other transparency measures, the IAEA will be requested to take every precaution to protect commercial, technological and industrial secrets as well as other confidential information coming to its knowledge.” Furthermore, the statement and the information it is referring to, can only be gained in grave contravention of the principle of confidentiality regarding all information related to the implementation of safeguards, and in particular violates profoundly the provisions of Article Vll (F) of the Statute of the Agency and the undertakings of its Member States thereunder…

Iran has claimed that it will not allow inspectors access to its military sites due to security concerns. Iran is using Earnest’s statement to bolster arguments that information learned about Iran’s illicit nuclear program during inspections has the potential to be used to illegitimately target Iranian interests. The complaint could be a way of creating a pretext for Iran not to be forthcoming about details of its nuclear research, which it is obligated to provide under the JCPOA. Iran has also claimed that the IAEA’s findings about its past nuclear work have been manipulated by doctored evidence. The complaint reinforces Iran’s stand that it does not trust the IAEA.

It could also be possible that Iran is looking to exit the agreement, which states that if a party to the JCPOA (.pdf) is unhappy with the resolution of a conflict “then that participant could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance.”

David Hazony, editor of The Tower, observed earlier this week that the language of the JCPOA allows Iran to pull out of the deal in response to any American re-imposition of sanctions, meaning that “with regard to the whole discussion of reimposing sanctions—one of the most crucial selling points of the deal from the administration’s perspective—the document may be more accurately described as the record of a disagreement.”

[Photo: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äusseres / Flickr ]