Since the signing of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) interim agreement on November 24, 2013, and continuing on past its second extension a year later, a misleading narrative has emerged and crystallized. It is a story used by certain advocates to support the overarching claim that the JPA is emphatically “succeeding.” However, the story is false because it rests on a variety of “myths.” These are articulated in the following key assertions, theories, analyses and predictions – the “Ten Myths of the JPA.” Each myth is refuted by reality, grounded in verifiable facts, quantifiable figures and, of course, actual outcomes and occurrences.
MYTH 1 – ROLLING BACK
The JPOA has “Rolled Back” and “Halted Progress” on Iran’s Nuclear Program
FACT: Throughout the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) period, Iran has continued to conduct extensive research and development related to its nuclear program, including on centrifuges. Specifically, advanced centrifuge research - “aimed at improving Iran’s existing centrifuge technology so it can enrich better and faster” - has continued unabated. Iran has argued that it must retain centrifuges numbering “many thousands more than the 19,000” currently installed. Of course, since the signing of the JPOA, Iran has not dismantled a single centrifuge despite receiving substantive sanctions relief. Furthermore, oil-rich Iran says it wants to operate at least 20 nuclear power plants capable of producing 20,000 megawatts of electricity" which would require 100,000 additional centrifuges. In November 2014, former deputy chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, said Iran “could have up to 4,000 to 5,000 [IR-2m] centrifuges” in locations outside of the two main nuclear sites at Natanz and Fordow. This represents a number five times greater than the figure of 1,008 that Iran has admitted to possessing.
MYTH 2 – Leaders in Moderation
President Rouhani is a Moderate
FACT: While stylistically different from his predecessor, the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President Rouhani’s public statements illustrate that the two are substantively the same. In fact, Rouhani is described as the “ultimate regime insider” – sharing a friendship with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei going back four decades. Indeed, the President “has never been out of power or [Ayatollah] Khamenei’s good graces.” Rouhani was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in the 2003 negotiations, during which he earned the moniker of “diplomatic sheikh” for his deft and deceitful maneuverings. Rouhani described his tactics in 2013 thusly: “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [uranium conversion] facility at Isfahan…”
Unlike other Iranian figures who can legitimately lay claim to a more moderate or reformist stance, Rouhani was notably silent during the brutal 2009 security crackdown in the wake of the fraudulent Iranian presidential elections.
The rate of executions has also increased since the beginning of Rouhani’s presidency. Under his watch, there have been more than 900 executions at an average of more than two every day. Released in September 2014, the UN’s annual report on human rights in Iran states, “President Rouhani has pledged to decrease restrictions on freedom of expression and to ensure security for the press. Unfortunately, those promises have not yet led to significant improvements, and restrictions on freedom of expression continue to affect many areas of life.”
MYTH 3 – Flexible Friends
Moderates President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif Are Constrained by Regime Hardliners
FACT: Since November 2013, Iran’s leaders have continued to adopt a hardline approach in nuclear negotiations. In numerous official statements, including by Rouhani, officials have emphasized the non-negotiability of its nuclear program and its uncompromising stance. Far from illustrating his flexibility, Rouhani has been categorical, declaring, “not under any circumstances” would Iran destroy any of its existing centrifuges, and in response to a question regarding the dismantlement of nuclear facilities, said, “One hundred per cent [no].” Soon after his election in September 2013, Rouhani succinctly proffered his position, saying, “Our government will not give up one iota of its absolute rights” on the nuclear issue.
The record is clear and conclusive: Rouhani is a hardliner. Even if we were to accept the spurious claim that Rouhani is a moderate, in the final analysis, his voice is not decisive on foreign policy matters. Ultimate power rests in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to UANI President Gary Samore, Obama “needs to be able to demonstrate real, long-term constraints on Iran’s ability to produce fissile material, and so far there’s no sign that he [Rouhani] can deliver, even if he wanted to. If a deal is to be had, the supreme leader will have to be convinced to sacrifice his nuclear achievements to save the economy.” Rouhani has himself acknowledged that the sole arbiter of Iranian nuclear policy is Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Supreme Leader is certainly no moderate.
MYTH 4 – Measuring Success
A ‘Good Deal’ Increases Iran’s Breakout Time to One Year
FACT: Negotiators and analysts have placed priority on lengthening Iran’s breakout time from its current period of approximately 2 months. Ultimately, this would mean dismantling Iran’s industrial-scale infrastructure, but under the emerging parameters of a final nuclear deal, the Administration’s goal is limited to extending Iran’s breakout time to one year only, for a period of between 10 to 15 years. According to former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen, one year may be insufficient time for the international community to react if Iran engages in covert nuclear development. Furthermore, Gary Samore, UANI President and former WMD Czar in the Obama Administration, asserts that a “one year breakout period would only benefit the United States if Iran's cheating on its commitments is detected immediately. Detection would assume that inspectors would know where high level nuclear enrichment is being conducted.”
At a minimum, Iran ought to be at least 18 months away from nuclear breakout, and not just for a limited period that will expire after a pre-defined number of years, but for as long as it takes for the regime to cease its aggressive and extremist conduct. Tehran has given no sign it is prepared to reform its behavior.
MYTH 5 – Bold Predictions
Sanctions Relief is “Economically Insignificant” and Iran “will be even deeper in the hole…when the deal expires, than it is today”
FACT: The White House estimated that Iran would stand to receive $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief during the JPOA. Research demonstrates that the true value of the sanctions relief is more than $20 billion. Regarding Iran’s most important source of revenue, the U.S. Administration stated, “Iran’s oil exports will remain steady at their current level of around 1 million barrels per day.” This prediction has also proven false. According to the International Energy Agency, Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports have increased by 28% on average in 2014. Indeed, had oil sanctions remained in place and fully enforced, Iran’s oil exports may have fallen to as low as 500,000 barrels by the end of 2014. Iran has thus benefitted from additional oil revenues of $5.2 billion over what the White House pledged in the JPOA. As UANI CEO Ambassador Mark Wallace stated in testimony before Congress in February, this extra revenue means “there will be far less pressure for Iran to actually make material concessions on its nuclear program.”
In October 2014, the Iranian Central Bank reported a quarterly 4.6% increase in GDP compared to last year – representing the first time the Iranian economy has experienced positive growth in two years. Such a spike cannot be characterized as “economically insignificant.” Clearly the scope of sanctions relief provided to the Iranian regime far exceeds initial estimates. Other signs of a marked economic recovery due to diminishing sanctions pressure include the increasing value of the Rial by 11%, the rise in the value of the Tehran Stock Exchange by over 50%, and a prediction of annual GDP growth for 2014/2015, following two successive years of contraction.
MYTH 6 – Hardliners on Both Sides
Congressional Critics of the JPOA are just as “hard-line” as their Iranian Counterparts
FACT: It is nonsensical and beyond the pale to suggest that a group of bi-partisan U.S. Congressmen and Senators advocating for non-violent policy tools like sanctions are ‘hardliners pushing for war with Iran.’ It is likewise absurd to suggest a moral or political equivalence between members of Congress and theocratic extremists from the security and legislative bodies of the Iranian regime, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In December 2013, 26 Senators proposed additional Iran sanctions in the event of a violation of the JPOA, set out in the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013 (“NWFIA”). These Senators were disparaged for holding so-called “hard-line” views and were equated with Iranian parliamentary and administration extremists. To compare the foreign policy views of U.S. Senators with members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) and Guardian Council is offensive and absurd. For instance, among the leading signatories of the NWFIA is the Democratic Senator for New Jersey, Robert Menendez. The foreign policy platform of this so-called “hardliner” includes, inter alia, fighting for implementation of national security recommendations in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and advocating for the screening of all incoming port cargo. By contrast, Ayatollah Mezbah-Yazdi - a genuine Iranian hard-liner and extremist who leads the ultra-conservative, influential “Steadfastness” bloc in the Majles - publicly supports the use of suicide bombs in terrorist campaigns. Moreover, almost three-fourths of the Majles is dominated by authentically hard-line elements like Mezbah Yazdi, loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Mezbah-Yazdi’s faction comprises one quarter of the Majles, and a further full half is comprised of “principlists,” supporters of the purported values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution which paved the way to an extremist and theocratic constitution still in place.
In October 2014, several Iranian women were attacked by assailants who threw acid in their faces, which “coincided with a law passed in Parliament on Sunday protecting those citizens who feel compelled to correct women and men who in their view do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws.” The attribution of moral equivalence between the U.S. Senate and the Iranian Majles is utterly reprehensible.
MYTH 7 – Sustaining Pressure
Sanctions pressure on Iran has “continued[d] to mount” throughout the duration of the JPA, and existing sanctions have continued to be vigorously enforced
FACT: In the six months prior to Rouhani’s election, there were 183 new Iran-related designations. In the more than 15 months following his election, there have been only 95 new designations. Both the number of sanctions and their rate of implementation have therefore fallen dramatically. The figures prove that the Administration’s claim that sanctions pressure would continue to mount is patently wrong.
Similarly, in November 2013, the U.S. Treasury asserted that - like sanctions pressure - economic pressure would in fact increase (not merely continue) over the course of the 6 months comprising the JPOA, deepening Iran’s sanctions-induced economic crisis. It contended that “Iran will be even deeper in the hole… when the deal expires, than it is today.” In light of developments since the signing of the JPOA, this is clearly false. Overall economic pressure on Iran eased beginning with Rouhani’s election in June 2013, well before the JPOA began.
MYTH 8 – Reputational Risk
Western Firms Remain Extremely Wary of Doing Business in Iran, since Reputational Risk Remains Severe
FACT: Responding to reports in 2014 that European companies would be exploring business opportunities in Iran during the interim agreement period, President Obama said, “we will come down on these companies like a ton of bricks.” Yet, the number of companies that has visited Iran with the intention of expanding, renewing or starting business in Iran is staggering. When questioned, the companies themselves refer obliquely to “tentative” arrangements or (as one company wrote to UANI) “refreshing our business image” in Iran. However, euphemistic language does not hide the fact that a very large number of western companies are irrefutably holding talks with Iranian companies, government agencies and ministries, with the obvious intention of making huge investments in Iran - and in spite of the “interim” nature of the agreement. In October 2014, London hosted the inaugural “Europe-Iran Forum,” which explicitly refers to the “prospect of improved political relations and a new business climate between Europe and Iran, [entailing] a momentous commercial opportunity...”
MYTH 9 – Standing Firm
The Signing of the JPOA has had no Bearing on the Commitment of the International Community to Break the Consensus on Iran
FACT: Since the signing of the Geneva agreement on November 24, Iran has been receiving trade delegations from countries eager to rekindle commerce with Iran. The pace of these missions and delegations has only increased since the agreement commenced on January 20. According to The New York Times, “In the first two weeks of the year, Iran welcomed more delegations from Europe than in all of 2013.” The rush by western companies into Iran has taken place with the full blessing of their home nations. State-sanctioned trade delegations from Austria, France, Germany and Italy have all journeyed to Tehran for talks with Iranian counterparts, with the view to restoring trade relations. As the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator has admitted, once the major sanctions are suspended, “the world will flood into Iran.” In October 2014, the Czech Republic joined this list, as prominent Czech companies follow the broader European trend under the auspices of an official country trade delegation.
MYTH 10 – A New DEtente
A Nuclear Deal is the Gateway to Improved U.S.-Iran Relations and Cooperation Combating ISIS
FACT: Iran has expressed the possibility of trading cooperation with the U.S. to counter the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) for concessions on its nuclear program. The U.S. should continue to reject such a prospect. In September 2014, a White House spokesman made it clear that “the United States will not be in a position of trading aspects of Iran’s nuclear program to secure commitments to take on ISIL.” Depictions of Iran as a source of stability are wrong and short-sighted, as are assertions that increased Iranian involvement in Iraq will serve American and Iraqi interests. Tehran's objective is to leverage any chaos to its advantage by consolidating its control in Iraq via its violent and sectarian Shi'a proxies and militias. The objectives of the U.S. and moderate forces in Iraq and the region are completely different – they seek a stable, secure and politically inclusive Iraq that fights extremism and protects the rights of all its citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity.
Moreover, in February 2014, State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman stated that “Even as we pursue negotiations of a comprehensive solution on Iran’s nuclear program, we will not relax our efforts to hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations and abuses, support for terrorism, and interference across the region.” Iranian support for Hezbollah, opposition to Israel, support for the Assad regime in Syria, and its quest for military dominance in the Persian Gulf will continue, detached from developments relating to the JPOA. Ayatollah Khamenei’s pathological distrust of the U.S. is also deeply entrenched. It is therefore unlikely a nuclear deal will engender a significant change in the overriding dynamic characterizing U.S.-Iran relations, absent substantive and permanent changes in the regime’s anti-American outlook and extremist ideology.
Commentators also note that “Obama keeps insisting in media interviews that he’s not banking on an Iranian transformation. In reality, he is.” The President’s long-term vision of rapprochement through engagement does not comport with the true nature of the regime, which remains dominated by “the strength of Iran’s deep state – the Revolutionary Guards, the reactionary clergy, the hard-line judiciary… it’s difficult to find an expert who believes Iran will soon evolve into a more benign power…”