This fall, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran had begun uranium enrichment activities at its Fordow Facility, a statement confirmed in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late September. In an analysis of the agency’s report, the nuclear watchdog group Institute for Science and International Security details a number of Iran’s violations of the Iran Deal, noting “some of which are not fully reversible.”
Although the United States withdrew from the Iran Deal in 2018, the Trump administration had kept sanctions waivers for certain foreign firms operating at Fordow. These waivers–continued at the urging of the Treasury and State Departments–had allowed certain Chinese, Russian, and European companies to continue to work on Iranian nuclear development.
As a result of Rouhani’s admission, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the United States will terminate the waiver program related to the facility, effective on December 15, 2019. Given Iran’s flagrant breach of the terms and spirit of the Iran Deal, the administration’s response was indeed the correct one.
As one State Department official explained on background, “Iran’s latest step here [to begin enrichment activities at Fordow] is highly provocative and could help Iran to reduce its nuclear breakout timeline if it decides to pursue nuclear weapons.” Under the Iran Deal, enrichment activities had been banned at Fordow, but Iran’s latest move signals an attempt to put pressure on Washington to end the sanctions program, a ploy the State Department rightly labeled “nuclear extort[ion].”
Per Pompeo’s statement released Monday, “The right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s top sponsor of terrorism is zero.” While more than two dozen countries have nuclear programs, only eight have confirmed openly that they possess nuclear weapons. Given Iran is the largest state sponsor of terror, there is no reason for it to become one of those entities in possession of nuclear weapons.
In a joint statement on the move, House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), as well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), stated, “The administration should now end the waivers for the remaining projects related to the deal, especially the Arak reactor, Iran’s heavy water reactor. There is no justification for extending that waiver in light of recent confirmation that Iran is violating its heavy water obligations, let alone for letting Iran continue to build up its program – not at Fordow, and not at Arak.”
Pompeo’s recent decision to end nuclear waivers for the Fordow Facility marks a smart departure from Obama-era policies of Iranian appeasement under the guise of striking a deal with Iran’s mullahs. Under the Iran Deal, promises had been made that the Fordow Facility would be refashioned to serve academic purposes; however, as indicated by Iran’s latest announcement, it seems such a transformation was far from ever reaching fruition.
The sanctions waiver program for certain facilities — the Fordow Facility represents just one of four — continues to keep the Iran Deal on life support. The sanctions waivers for these Russian, European, and Chinese companies also provide crucial support for maintaining the deal, as these corporations pressure their respective governments to undermine President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s nuclear program.
The other three facilities currently receiving waivers—Bushehr nuclear power station, the Arak heavy water plant, and the Tehran Research Reactor—have been the focus of congressional Republicans, who would like to see such waivers ended in what would amount to a complete termination of the Iran Deal.
The Fordow facility, however, is unique. Unlike Iran’s other nuclear sites, it is located in a bunker deep underground, rendering it virtually untouchable by most conventional weaponry.
The Trump administration’s latest moves to end the Fordow waiver program unequivocally signal that breaches of the Iran Deal will be met with serious reproach, even if the United States is no longer a partner in the agreement. As Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies noted when advocating for an end to the Fordow waivers, “Sustaining the Fordow waiver even after Iran violated its JCPOA obligations at that facility risks underwriting additional, more destabilizing Iranian nuclear violations.”
Those who initially were most critical of the Iran Deal warned that the Iranian regime was a hopelessly bad faith actor with little hope of adhering to the provisions of the deal. Given Iran’s recent attempts to engage in what amounts to nuclear extortion, it seems such critics were largely correct.