Archive for the ‘IAEA’ category

Discussion Of Iranian Violations Of JCPOA Is Futile; The Inspection Procedure Designed By The Obama Administration Precludes Actual Inspection And Proof Of Violations

August 22, 2017

Discussion Of Iranian Violations Of JCPOA Is Futile; The Inspection Procedure Designed By The Obama Administration Precludes Actual Inspection And Proof Of Violations, MEMRI, August 18, 2017

(Obama’s Iran scam was, and continues to be, contrary to the security interests of America and much of the rest of the world. Even if Iranian violations of the JCPOA can not be proven under its terms, we need to exit. — DM)

This ridiculous inspection procedure obviously does not enable any real investigation of Iran’s continuing military nuclear activity, even when there is intelligence information about it. This situation is in direct contradiction with President Obama’s commitment when the JCPAO was announced on July 14, 2015: “Inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.”[2]

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The JCPOA’s Inspection Procedure Precludes Actual Inspection And Proof Of Violations

The public debate in the U.S. over the future of the JCPOA, amid media reports that President Trump has demanded that his national security team provide evidence of Iranian violations of the agreement by October 2017,[1] is a futile debate.

It will not be possible, neither in October nor at any other time, to prove that Iran is in violation of the JCPOA – even if the U.S. has intelligence that proves that it is. This is because the inspection procedure designed by the Obama administration precludes actual inspection – at Iran’s military sites and at any other suspect site, with the exclusion of Iran’s declared nuclear sites.

Accordingly, the demand that intelligence information on Iranian violations be presented as a condition for taking steps against the JCPOA is based on inadequate knowledge of what the JCPOA stipulates. This is because under the agreement, the obtaining of such intelligence information is only the beginning of a detailed and binding process, which delays and in actuality does not enable inspection of a suspected site at all. Instead of an inspection of a site being immediately triggered when such information is obtained, the JCPOA requires a series of preliminary steps before any such inspection will be permitted – if it is permitted at all. That is, under the JCPOA, the U.S. must:

a) Hand over the intelligence information and information on its sources to Iran for the purpose of clarifying “concerns,” both in discussions between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran, and in discussions with the Joint Commission of the JCPOA – which in addition to the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and the IAEA includes Iran, Russia, and China – with the aim of clearing up the concerns via alternative ways that will not involve inspection of the site. The demand to reveal this information and its sources to Iran, Russia, and China is ridiculous and the U.S. cannot agree to it; since these are the conditions of the JCPOA, no further action is actually possible.

b) If no agreement on alternative ways not involving inspection of the site can be reached, there will be an additional discussion in the Joint Commission, where decisions on this matter are to be made by majority vote within seven days. Iran must comply with the decision within three additional days.

This ridiculous inspection procedure obviously does not enable any real investigation of Iran’s continuing military nuclear activity, even when there is intelligence information about it. This situation is in direct contradiction with President Obama’s commitment when the JCPAO was announced on July 14, 2015: “Inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.”[2]

It should be clarified that the heart of the JCPOA lies in the lifting of the nuclear sanctions on Iran, in exchange for Iran’s temporary and targeted suspension of some of its nuclear activity. The inspection procedure is not the heart of the agreement; this procedure is a section of the JCPOA aimed at ensuring that the JCPOA’s conditions are met. Additionally, it should also be mentioned that Iran and the IAEA Iran had, in July 2015, reached a “road map” agreement to resolve the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program – the content of which is secret.[3] Accordingly, every demand by the U.S. administration aimed at changing the inspection procedure, if such a demand is made, will not constitute a demand to change the heart of the JCPOA itself – and in fact will even reinforce the JCPOA by reinforcing its inspection procedure.However, without any change to the inspection procedure itself, Iran will be able to covertly advance its military nuclear development, and there will be no real way of overseeing that development. Even if intelligence information from outside the inspection procedure is obtained, the JCPOA’s provisions make it worthless (see Appendix).

Iranian Regime: We Will Never Allow IAEA Inspectors Access To Military Sites

As soon as the JCPOA was announced, on July 14, 2015, Iranian regime officials, headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders, stressed that IAEA inspectors would not be given access to Iran’s military sites for inspection purposes.

Khamenei, July 25, 2015: “[The foreigners] shouldn’t be allowed at all to penetrate into the country’s security and defensive boundaries under the pretext of supervision, and the country’s military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries or stop the country’s defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection.”[4]

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, July 22, 2015: Inspections of this kind cross “the red lines” and in the [JCPOA] negotiations Iran had “succeeded in fully ensuring” that the agreement would not allow such inspections.[5]

Khamenei’s top adviser for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, July 2015 to the Arabic service of Al-Jazeera TV: “Access of inspectors from the IAEA or from any other body to Iran’s military centers is forbidden.”[6]

More recently, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh, August 7, 2017: “In the matter of the Westerners’ request to inspect our military centers, the answer is clear. We will not allow them to do such a thing.”[7]

IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami, August 12, 2017: “I say to the dear Iranian nation, to America, and to the entire world: If in all of history and in the world, there is [only] one request that will not be complied with and will receive a negative answer, it is this request. And if there is one wish that will be buried with those wishing it, it is the wish that they will visit our military centers.”[8]

Appendix: What The JCPOA Says About The Inspection Procedure

The JCPOA’s “Q. Access” section, paragraphs 74-78, dealing with the inspection procedure:

The agreement specifies that requests for access for inspection “will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities.” Furthermore, if the IAEA obtains secret intelligence information, it “will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification.”

Further: “If Iran’s explanations do not resolve the IAEA’s concerns, the Agency may request access to such locations for the sole reason to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at such locations. The IAEA will provide Iran the reasons for access in writing and will make available relevant information.”

It continues: “Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA’s concerns that enable the IAEA to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the location in question, which should be given due and prompt consideration.

“If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA cannot be verified after the implementation of the alternative arrangements agreed by Iran and the IAEA, or if the two sides are unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA’s original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed 7 days, and Iran would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days.”[9]

 

*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI’s Iran Studies Project.

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[1] October 2017 is the deadline for the U.S. administration to notify Congress whether or not Iran is complying with the JCPOA.

[2] Statement by the President on Iran, July 14, 2015,
Obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/14/statement-president-iran.

[4] English.farsnews.com, July 25, 2015. See also MEMRI Daily Brief No. 57, What Iran Is Permitted To Do Under The JCPOA, September 17, 2015.

[5] Latimes.com, July 22, 2015. See also MEMRI Daily Brief No. 57, What Iran Is Permitted To Do Under The JCPOA, September 17, 2015.

[6] English.farsnews.com, July 25 and August 1, 2015.

[7] Tasnim (Iran), August 7, 2017.

[8] Asr-e Iran (Iran), August 13, 2017.

[9] Apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/world/full-text-of-the-iran-nuclear-deal/1651.

Nikki Haley Increasing Scrutiny of Iran Amid Nuclear Deal Review

August 17, 2017

Nikki Haley Increasing Scrutiny of Iran Amid Nuclear Deal Review, Washington Free Beacon, August 17, 2017

(Please see also, President [of Iran]: Iran Could Swiftly Return to Pre-JCPOA Conditions. Will Ambassador Haley discuss — or be permitted to review — the limitations imposed on the IAEA under the “secret agreements” between it and the Iranian regime?– DM)

Nikki Haley / Getty Images

Haley will meet next week with members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the deal, as part of a fact-finding mission to investigate the extent of Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The trip is part of a policy review ordered by President Donald Trump in April to evaluate Iran’s adherence to the 2015 agreement. The administration said the review will be completed before the deal is up for recertification in October.

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has ramped up pressure on Iran ahead of a trip to Vienna next week, where she will meet with international atomic watchdog officials concerning Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Haley on Tuesday rejected threats from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who warned the country could walk away from its nuclear agreement with world powers “within hours” if the United States continued to impose new sanctions.

Rouhani said recently enacted sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program violated its pact with the United States and five other world powers, which aimed to limit Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions related to the program.

Haley said the sanctions were separate from the deal and were instead imposed “to hold Iran responsible for its missile launches, support for terrorism, disregard for human rights, and violations of UN Security Council resolutions.”

“Iran cannot be allowed to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage,” Haley said in a statement directed at Rouhani. “The nuclear deal must not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Earlier this month, the United States, backed by Britain, France, and Germany, demanded the UN Security Council take action against Iran after the Islamic Republic launched a rocket carrying a satellite into space in late July.

The group, spearheaded by Haley, warned in a letter to the council that the Iranian missile was “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear warhead” and therefore violated an international resolution.

Under UN Security Council resolution 2231, Iran is “called upon” to refrain from conducting “any activity” related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, “including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

The Trump administration, which previously accused Rouhani’s government of failing to comply with the “spirit” of the nuclear deal, swiftly imposed sanctions on six Iranian companies for their role in the country’s ballistic missile program in response to the rocket launch.

Haley will meet next week with members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the deal, as part of a fact-finding mission to investigate the extent of Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The trip is part of a policy review ordered by President Donald Trump in April to evaluate Iran’s adherence to the 2015 agreement. The administration said the review will be completed before the deal is up for recertification in October.

If Trump rejects certification, his administration can reapply sanctions that were suspended under the pact.

Similar to Trump, Haley has repeatedly criticized the deal for empowering Iran and Russia while handicapping U.S. leverage over the Rouhani regime.

US seeks to test Iran deal with its new inspections

July 27, 2017

US seeks to test Iran deal with its new inspections, Times of IsraelJosh Lederman and Matthew Lee, July 27, 2017

(It may be significant that Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, rather than Secretary of State Tillerson, was sent to discuss the proposal with European members of the European Commission monitoring the “deal.” — DM)

US President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 26, 2017. (AFP/SAUL LOEB)

Trump faces another certification deadline in three months, and it’s far from clear that either new inspections or any “fixes” to address whether his concerns will be in place by then. Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week he expects to say Iran isn’t complying, setting a high bar for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other aides to persuade him otherwise.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” Trump said.

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A refusal by Tehran to allow monitors in military sites could give Trump the excuse he wants to cancel the nuclear agreement.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is pushing for inspections of suspicious Iranian military sites in a bid to test the strength of the nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump desperately wants to cancel, senior US officials said.

The inspections are one element of what is designed to be a more aggressive approach to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While the Trump administration seeks to police the existing deal more strictly, it is also working to fix what Trump’s aides have called “serious flaws” in the landmark deal that — if not resolved quickly — will likely lead Trump to pull out.

That effort also includes discussions with European countries to negotiate a follow-up agreement to prevent Iran from resuming nuclear development after the deal’s restrictions expire in about a decade, the officials said. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the efforts publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The inspections requests, which Iran would likely resist, could play heavily into Trump’s much-anticipated decision about whether to stick with the deal he’s long derided.

If Iran refuses inspections, Trump would finally have a solid basis to say Iran is breaching the deal, setting up Tehran to take most of the blame if the agreement collapses. If Iran agrees to inspections, those in Trump’s administration who want to preserve the deal would be emboldened to argue it’s advancing US national security effectively.

The campaign gained fresh urgency this month following a dramatic clash within the administration about whether to certify Iran’s compliance, as is required every 90 days.

Trump was eager to declare Tehran in violation, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency that monitors compliance says its infractions are minor. At the urging of top Cabinet members, Trump begrudgingly agreed at the last-minute to avoid a showdown for another three months — but only with assurances the US would increase pressure on Iran to test whether the deal is truly capable of addressing its nuclear ambitions and other troublesome activities.

Trump faces another certification deadline in three months, and it’s far from clear that either new inspections or any “fixes” to address whether his concerns will be in place by then. Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week he expects to say Iran isn’t complying, setting a high bar for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other aides to persuade him otherwise.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” Trump said.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) heads into the Senate Chamber at the US Capitol, in Washington DC, July 26, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

To that end, the administration is seeking to force Iran to let in IAEA inspectors to military sites where the US intelligence community believes the Islamic Republic may be cheating on the deal, several officials said.

Access to Iran’s military sites was one of the most contentious issues in the 2015 deal, in which Tehran agreed to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Last week in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based, Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon floated the proposal to the European members of the Joint Commission that oversees the deal, one official said. Britain, France and Germany joined the US, Russia, China and the European Union two years ago in brokering the deal with Iran.

To force inspections of new sites in Iran, the US would need to enlist the support of the IAEA and a majority of the countries in the deal. But the US has run into early resistance over concerns it has yet to produce a “smoking gun” — compelling evidence of illicit activity at a military site that the IAEA could use to justify inspections, officials said.

Among the concerns about a rush toward inspections is that if they fail to uncover evidence of violations, it would undermine the IAEA’s credibility and its ability to demand future inspections. So the US is working to produce foolproof intelligence about illicit activity, officials said. The officials declined to describe the intelligence activities or the Iranian sites the US believes are involved.

Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the strategy during an event hosted Wednesday by The Washington Post. Corker said the US was trying to “radically enforce” the deal by asking for access to “various facilities” in Iran.

“If they don’t let us in, boom,” Corker said. “You want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the US, because we want our allies with us.”

As a candidate, Trump threatened to rip up the deal that US President Barack Obama brokered. As president, Trump has yet to take that step, as his administration finishes a broader Iran policy review expected to conclude in August.

Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012 (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

The other major step to try and address what Trump has deemed flaws in the deal involves ensuring that Iran can’t revert to old behavior once the limitations on its program “sunset” over the next decade-plus. The US State Department said Trump has directed his administration to “work with allies to explore options” for dealing with that and other shortcomings. Talks are under way with the European countries about a supplemental deal, though it’s unclear how Iran could be persuaded to sign on.

The deal’s provisions for inspections of military facilities, or “undeclared sites,” involve a complex process with plenty of opportunities for Iran to stall. Tehran can propose alternatives to on-site inspections, or reject the request, which would trigger a 24-day process for the Joint Commission countries to override the rejection.

That could drag on for months. And under ambiguities built into the deal, it’s unclear whether Iran must allow IAEA inspectors into military sites, or whether the Iranians can take their own environmental samples and send them to the IAEA for testing, as was allowed under a 2015 side agreement that let Iran use its own experts to inspect the Parchin military site.

Even if Trump declares Iran in violation of the deal — a move that would invigorate his conservative base — he could still leave Iran’s sanctions relief in place.

American businesses are eager for the deal to survive so they can pursue lucrative opportunities in Iran. The aviation industry recently signed billions of dollars of contracts to sell passenger plans to Iranian airlines, including a $16.6 billion deal for Boeing.

Can Trump Lead the Way to Regime Change in Iran?

July 19, 2017

Can Trump Lead the Way to Regime Change in Iran? Gatestone InstituteHassan Mahmoudi, July 19, 2017

(Vocal support for regime change would be good. Declaring that Iran has violated the JCOPA, now that Iran has received all of the financial benefits from America that it will get, would be merely a symbolic gesture. — DM)

What is needed now is a push for regime change, a watering of the seeds of popular resistance that are again budding — after Obama abandoned the Iranian people in 2009, when they took to the streets to protest the stranglehold of the ayatollahs.

American leadership expert John C. Maxwell defines a leader as “one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” During his two terms in the highest office in the world, former U.S. President Barack Obama failed at all three, with disastrous consequences.

There is no realm in which Obama’s lack of leadership was more glaring than that of foreign policy, particularly in relation to the Middle East. His combination of action and inaction — pushing through the nuclear deal with Iran at all costs, while simultaneously adopting a stance of “patience” with and indifference to Tehran’s sponsorship of global terrorism and foothold in Syria — served no purpose other than to destabilize the region and weaken America’s position.

While hotly pursuing the nuclear accord — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and U.S.-led world powers in July 2015 — Obama enabled the regime in Tehran to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad in starving and slaughtering his people (with chemical weapons, among others) into submission. Meanwhile, thanks to Obama’s passivity, and the $1.7 billion his administration transferred to Tehran upon the inking of the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic was able to dispatch its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to recruit and train Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and Syria, as well as militias in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan.

Today, two years after the signing of the JCPOA, and six months into the presidency of Donald Trump, there is a growing rift between America and Europe over implementation of the deal, which officially went into effect in January 2016. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has been wavering on whether to remain committed to the deal, which his administration and members of Congress claim has been violated repeatedly by Iran. The U.S. also has maintained certain sanctions, over Iran’s ballistic-missile tests, human-rights abuses and sponsorship of global terrorism.

European countries, however, have taken a very different approach, pointing to International Atomic Energy Organization reports confirming Iran’s compliance, and rushing to do business in and with Tehran.

At a ceremony on July 14, 2017 to mark the anniversary of the deal, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the JCPOA a “success for multilateral diplomacy that has proven to work and deliver,” adding, “This deal belongs to the international community, having been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, that expects all sides to keep the commitments they took two years ago”

Meanwhile, when reports emerged about Trump being “likely” to confirm on July 17 that Iran has been complying with the deal — and because the law requires that both the president and secretary of state re-certify the deal every three months — four Republican senators sent a letterto Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with a copy to Trump, urging him not to do so.

The letter reads, in part:

“…In April, you certified Iran’s compliance for the first 90-day period of the Trump administration. That certification was understandable, given the need to grant time for the interagency review of the JCPOA that you described in the certification letter you sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“But now … U.S. interests would be best served by a sober accounting of Iran’s JCPOA violations … of regional aggression, sponsor international terrorism, develop ballistic missile technology, and oppress the Iranian people. Iran’s aggression directly targets the United States…a continuation of current policy would be tantamount to rewarding Iran’s belligerence… German intelligence agencies in 2015 and 2016 reported that Iran continued illicit attempts to procure nuclear and missile technology outside of JCPOA-approved channels.

“… Perhaps most concerning is Iran’s refusal to grant international inspectors access to nuclear-research and military facilities. International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) inspectors are entitled to visit any location in Iran to verify compliance with the JCPOA’s ban on nuclear weapons development. However, Iran’s refusal to grant inspectors physical access and other forms of access makes it possible-if not highly probable, given Iran’s history of duplicity-that it is concealing additional violations of the JCPOA.

“…it is highly questionable whether the United States can under current arrangements ever gain high confidence that Iran’s nuclear-weapons development has indeed ceased. …”

The senators are correct. Iran never had, nor has to this day, any intention of forfeiting its bid for regional and global hegemony.

Nevertheless, Trump decided, after all, to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. Ahead of his doing so, however, the administration issued a series of reassurances — in the form of talking points — that the Treasury Department would impose sanctions on Iranian government entities and individuals, to punish the regime for its nefarious activities. According to BuzzFeed, these include ballistic-missile development, support for terrorism and the Assad regime, cyber-attacks against U.S. targets, the unjust arrest and imprisonment of American citizens and others.

A few months into the current administration in Washington, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps strategist Hassan Abbasi boasted that Iran would lead “global guerilla organizations” against American military and vulnerable targets:

“If only 11 people carried out 9/11, do you realize that the possibility exists for us to do what we want? We don’t need nuclear weapons. … It won’t even be an Iranian-only guerrilla movement, but from all Islamic countries. You can deport all the Muslims, but we are involving and working on Mexicans as well, and Argentinians too. We will organize anyone who has problems with the United States.”

It was Obama’s refusal to recognize, let alone acknowledge, this Iranian ambition that led to his utter appeasement of Tehran and subsequent signing of the JCPOA. It is up to Trump to do more than merely keep the nuclear accord at bay by leaving certain sanctions in place — or even canceling it.

Hassan Abbasi, a strategist for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, recently boasted that Iran would lead “global guerilla organizations” against American targets: “If only 11 people carried out 9/11, do you realize that the possibility exists for us to do what we want? We don’t need nuclear weapons…” (Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

What is needed now is a push for regime change, a watering of the seeds of popular resistance that are again budding — after Obama abandoned the Iranian people in 2009, when they took to the streets to protest the stranglehold of the ayatollahs.

At the annual “Free Iran” rally, held in Paris on July 1, 2017, an estimated 100,000 Iranian dissidents and hundreds of politicians and other world dignitaries gathered to call for a renewed effort to topple the regime in Tehran. Members of the U.S. delegation to the event — among them former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and Commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq General George Casey — issued a joint statement saying, in part:

“We believe that change is within reach, not only because the regime is becoming engulfed in crisis, but also because there is a large and growing movement organizing for positive change. A viable organization capable of ending the nightmare of religious dictatorship by establishing freedom and democracy, tolerance, and gender equality has steadily gained visibility, popular support and international recognition.”

Let us hope that Trump takes heed and turns out to be the leader who “knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Hassan Mahmoudi is a human rights advocate, specializing in political and economic issues relating to Iran and the Middle East. @hassan_mahmou1

Obama Admin Did Not Publicly Disclose Iran Cyber-Attack During ‘Side-Deal’ Nuclear Negotiations

June 7, 2017

Obama Admin Did Not Publicly Disclose Iran Cyber-Attack During ‘Side-Deal’ Nuclear Negotiations, Washington Free Beacon, June 7, 2017

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on April 22, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump, during his trip to the Middle East in late May, talked tough against Iran and its illicit ballistic missile program but has so far left the nuclear deal in place. A Trump State Department review of the deal is nearing completion, the Free Beacon recently reported, and some senior Trump administration officials are pushing for the public release of the so-called “secret side deals.”

Infiltrating State Department emails and internal communications about where the United States stood on a number of sensitive issues could have given the Iranians an important negotiating advantage, according to David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] had a lot of loose language at the time and the question was whether the U.S. was going to accept it,” he told the Free Beacon, referring to the weeks immediately following the Congressional Review Period, which ended Sept. 17, and Iran’s own review process, which ended Oct. 15.

“It would be to Iran’s great benefit to know where the U.S. would be” on a number of these issues dealing with the possible military dimensions of the Iran nuclear program, he said. “If they could tell the U.S. was going to punt, they could jerk around the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] a bit.”

“That’s essentially what happened with the IAEA,” he added.

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State Department officials determined that Iran hacked their emails and social media accounts during a particularly sensitive week for the nuclear deal in the fall of 2015, according to multiple sources familiar with the details of the cyber attack.

The attack took place within days of the deal overcoming opposition in Congress in late September that year. That same week, Iranian officials and negotiators for the United States and other world powers were beginning the process of hashing out a series of agreements allowing Tehran to meet previously determined implementation deadlines.

Critics regard these agreements as “secret side deals” and “loopholes” initially disclosed only to Congress.

Sources familiar with the details of the attack said it sent shockwaves through the State Department and the private-contractor community working on Iran-related issues.

It is unclear whether top officials at the State Department negotiating the Iran deal knew about the hack or if their personal or professional email accounts were compromised. Sources familiar with the attack believed top officials at State were deeply concerned about the hack and that those senior leaders did not have any of their email or social media accounts compromised in this particular incident.

Wendy Sherman, who served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs for several years during the Obama administration and was the lead U.S. negotiator of the nuclear deal with Iran, could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for Albright Stonebridge LLC, where Sherman now serves as a senior counselor, said Tuesday that Sherman is “unavailable at this time and cannot be reached for comment.”

Asked about the September 2015 cyber-attack, a State Department spokesman said, “For security reasons we cannot confirm whether any hacking incident took place.”

At least four State Department officials in the Bureau of Near East Affairs and a senior State Department adviser on digital media and cyber-security were involved in trying to contain the hack, according to an email dated September 24, 2015 and multiple interviews with sources familiar with the attack.

The Obama administration kept quiet about the cyber-attack and never publicly acknowledged concerns the attack created at State, related agencies, and within the private contractor community that supports their work.

Critics of the nuclear deal said the Obama administration did not publicly disclose the cyber-attack’s impact out of fear it could undermine support right after the pact had overcome political opposition and cleared a critical Congressional hurdle.

The hacking of email addresses belonging to State Department officials and outside contractors began three days after the congressional review period for the deal ended Sept. 17, according to sources familiar with the details of the attack and the internal State Department email. That same day, Democrats in Congress blocked a GOP-led resolution to disapprove of the nuclear deal, according to sources familiar with the details of the attack and the internal State Department email. The resolution of disapproval needed 60 votes to pass but garnered just 56.

President Trump, during his trip to the Middle East in late May, talked tough against Iran and its illicit ballistic missile program but has so far left the nuclear deal in place. A Trump State Department review of the deal is nearing completion, the Free Beacon recently reported, and some senior Trump administration officials are pushing for the public release of the so-called “secret side deals.”

State Department alerts outside contractors of cyber-attack

State Department officials in the Office of Iranian Affairs on Sept. 24, 2015 sent an email to dozens of outside contractors. The email alerted the contractors that a cyber-attack had occurred and urged them not to open any email from a group of five State Department officials that did not come directly from their official state.gov accounts.

“We have received evidence that social media and email accounts are being compromised or subject to phishing messages,” the email, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, states. “Please be advised that you should not open any link, download or open an attachment from any e-mail message that uses our names but is not directly from one of our official state.gov accounts.”

“We appreciate learning of any attempts to use our names or affiliations in this way,” stated the email. Shervin Hadjilou, the public diplomacy officer in the Office of Iranian Affairs, sent the email and cc’d four other State Department officials who deal with Iran issues, including one cyber-security expert.

Two sources familiar with the details of the hack said the State Department and outside contractors determined that Iranian officials were the perpetrators. The hack, which began Sept. 21, had compromised at least two State Department officials’ government email accounts before they regained control of them, as well as private email addresses and Facebook and other social media accounts, the source said.

“They had access to everything in those email accounts,” the source said. “Everyone in the [State Department Iranian Affairs] community was very upset—it was a major problem.”

The hack also stood out because cyber-warfare between Iran and the United States, which had been the weapon of choice between the countries for years, had cooled considerably in 2015 during the nuclear negotiations in what cyber-security experts have described as a limited détente.

Since Iran discovered the Stuxnet virus—a cyber-worm the United States and Israel planted to degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities—in 2011, the countries have been engaged in escalating cyber warfare as Tehran’s cyber capabilities become increasingly sophisticated and destructive.

Since 2011 Iran has attacked U.S. banks and Israel’s electric grid. In 2012, Iranian hackers brought down Saudi-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, erasing information on nearly 30,000 of the company’s work stations and replacing it with a burning American flag.

Cyber-security experts have long believed that Russia helped Iran quickly build up its cyberweaponry in response to Stuxnet. A team of computer-security experts at TrapX, a Silicon Valley security firm that helps protect top military contractors from hackers, said in April they officially confirmed that Iranians were using a cyber “tool set” developed by Russians.

Tom Kellerman, a TrapX investor who also served on a commission advising the Obama administration on cyber-security, said Iranian cyberwarfare has dramatically improved over the last two or three years in large part due to Russian technical assistance.

“Much like you see the alliance between Syria, Iran, and Russia, the alliance doesn’t just relate to the distribution of kinetic weapons,” he said, but extends into cyberwarfare.

Uproar among private contracting community over cyber-attack

In the late September 2015 hack, at least two State Department officials and a handful of outside contractors lost control of access to their email and social media accounts, which were automatically forwarding emails to work and personal contacts. This spread the hack to a wider network of victims.

The private-contracting community involved in State Department Iran programs—approximately 40 private firms, some of which are based in Washington and others located throughout the United States—were outraged by the infiltration.

“They were saying ‘We’re mad—we’re angry,'” the source recalled. “We all got compromised.”

Eric Novotny, who served as a senior adviser for digital media and cyber security at the State Department at the time, was involved in trying to shut down the hack and help affected officials and private contractors regain control of their accounts. Novotny was one of the four government officials copied on Hadjilou’s Sept. 24 email.

Critics: Obama administration’s silence on hacking was needed to secure nuke deal

Critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal argue that the State Department stayed silent about the hack because acknowledging it could have publicly undermined the pact right after it became official.

“Within hours of the Iran deal being greenlighted, Iran was already conducting cyberattacks against the very State Department that ensured passage of the [nuclear deal],” said Michael Pregent, a senior Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute. “Acknowledging a cyberattack after the [nuclear deal] was greenlighted would be something that would immediately signal that it is a bad deal—that these are nefarious actors.”

Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Iran’s hacking of State Department personnel at such a critical period is “just one of many of Iran’s malign activities that continued and the State Department essentially ignored while the Obama administration was working out the fine points of the nuclear deal.”

“The Obama administration didn’t acknowledge it publicly out of fear that public outrage could threaten the nuclear deal,” he said.

In early November 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guard military had hacked email and social-media accounts of Obama administration officials.

Yet that report wrongly tied the beginning of the uptick in Iranian cyberattacks to the arrest October 29, 2015 of Siamak Namazi, a businessman and Iranian-American scholar who has pushed for democratic reforms. Namazi and his elderly father remain imprisoned in Iran and face a 10-year sentence on espionage charges.

The Journal report also did not indicate that the attacks had occurred more than a month earlier, within three days of the end of the congressional review period, nor did it indicate any specific individual targeted nor how officials and contractors reacted to it.

The Sept. 24 email obtained by the Free Beacon shows the Iranian hacking of State Department officials occurred much earlier—the weekend after Republicans in Congress failed to push through a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear pact, effectively sealing the foreign policy win for Obama.

The late September time period was particularly important for negotiating critical details of the nuclear deal’s implementation, what critics, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have labeled “secret side deals” allowing Iran to evade some restrictions in the nuclear agreement in order to meet its deadline for sanctions relief.

Among other non-public details of the pact, the side agreements involved the controversial exchange of American prisoners held in Iran for $1.7 billion in cash payments.

Infiltrating State Department emails and internal communications about where the United States stood on a number of sensitive issues could have given the Iranians an important negotiating advantage, according to David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] had a lot of loose language at the time and the question was whether the U.S. was going to accept it,” he told the Free Beacon, referring to the weeks immediately following the Congressional Review Period, which ended Sept. 17, and Iran’s own review process, which ended Oct. 15.

“It would be to Iran’s great benefit to know where the U.S. would be” on a number of these issues dealing with the possible military dimensions of the Iran nuclear program, he said. “If they could tell the U.S. was going to punt, they could jerk around the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] a bit.”

“That’s essentially what happened with the IAEA,” he added.

The IAEA is charged with verifying and monitoring Iran’s commitments under the nuclear agreement.

According to Albright, the IAEA ultimately accepted far less access to nuclear sites than it originally wanted. The United States and other world powers also accepted other concessions involving “loopholes” allowing Iran to exceed uranium enrichment and heavy water limits for a certain time period in order for Iran to meet implementation deadlines, he said.

“The IAEA didn’t know much at all and had to write a report [in December 2015] that it was content in knowing so little,” he said.

Others who credit Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard with the cyber-attack say it may not have focused entirely on gaining leverage in the negotiations but simply demonstrating a resistance to the deal among hardline factions in the country.

“Iran has two personalities, and I think you were seeing the other personality shine through,” Kellerman said of the hack during a critical phase of the nuclear deal.

Hack used common spear-phishing technique

Sources said the September 2015 hacking incidents compromised email accounts by sending spear-phishing messages, or efforts to gain unauthorized access to confidential data by impersonating close contacts.

The phishing emails targeted both State Department and private contractors’ personal email and social media accounts, including Facebook, shutting down the users’ access and sending out emails to some of the hacked individuals contacts and forwarding other information to unfamiliar emails with Persian-sounding names, two sources told the Free Beacon.

Samuel Bucholtz, co-founder of Casaba, a cyber-security firm that conducts test-hacking for Fortune 500 companies, said the hackers were likely trying to gain access to contacts and emails. The hackers also may have tried to install malware that would provide greater access to information held on computers or the entire computer network of the organizations, he said.

“If it’s a phishing account that installs malware on your machine, then they have access to all the information on your machine,” he said. “Then they start using that foothold to start exploring access throughout the entire organization.”

Iran Developing Advanced Nuclear Capabilities, Reducing Time to Weapon

June 5, 2017

Iran Developing Advanced Nuclear Capabilities, Reducing Time to Weapon, Washington Free Beacon, June 5, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani holds a press conference in Tehran on May 22, 2017. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, bragged in April that Tehran is prepared to mass-produce advanced centrifuges on “short notice.” Work of this nature would greatly increase the amount of nuclear fissile material produced by Iran, prompting concerns the country could assemble a functional nuclear weapon without being detected.

The issue is complicated by the lack of access international nuclear inspectors have to Iran’s contested military sites, according to the report.

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Iran is believed to be developing advanced nuclear-related capabilities that could significantly reduce the time it needs to build a deliverable nuclear weapon, according to statements by Iranian officials that have fueled speculation among White House officials and nuclear experts that the landmark accord has heightened rather than reduced the Islamic Regime’s nuclear threat.

The head of Iran’s nuclear program recently announced the Islamic Republic could mass produce advanced nuclear centrifuges capable of more quickly enriching uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. Work of this nature appears to violate key clauses of the nuclear agreement that prohibits Iran from engaging in such activity for the next decade or so.

The mass production of this equipment “would greatly expand Iran’s ability to sneak-out or breakout to nuclear weapons capability,” according to nuclear verification experts who disclosed in a recent report that restrictions imposed by the Iran deal are failing to stop the Islamic Republic’s nuclear pursuits.

The latest report has reignited calls for the Trump administration to increase its enforcement of the nuclear deal and pressure international nuclear inspectors to demand greater access to Iran’s nuclear sites.

It remains unclear if nuclear inspectors affiliated with the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, have investigated Iran’s pursuit of advanced centrifuges, according to the report, which explains that greater access to Iran’s sites is needed to verify its compliance with the deal.

The report comes amid renewed concerns about Iran’s adherence to the nuclear agreement and its increased efforts to construct ballistic missiles, which violate international accords barring such behavior.

“Iran could have already stockpiled many advanced centrifuge components, associated raw materials, and the equipment necessary to operate a large number of advanced centrifuges,” according to a report by the Institute for Science and International Security. “The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) need to determine the status of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing capabilities, including the number of key centrifuge parts Iran has made and the amount of centrifuge equipment it has procured.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, bragged in April that Tehran is prepared to mass-produce advanced centrifuges on “short notice.” Work of this nature would greatly increase the amount of nuclear fissile material produced by Iran, prompting concerns the country could assemble a functional nuclear weapon without being detected.

The issue is complicated by the lack of access international nuclear inspectors have to Iran’s contested military sites, according to the report.

Salehi’s declaration highlights the “profound weaknesses in the JCPOA which include lack of inspector access, highly incomplete knowledge of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing capabilities and output, and too few centrifuge components being accounted for and monitored,” according to the report.

Iran already has manufactured more centrifuge parts than needed for the amount of nuclear work permitted under the agreement.

The terms of the agreement permit Iran to operate one advanced IR-8 centrifuge. However, Iran is known to have assembled more than half a dozen such centrifuges.

Iran also is working to construct IR-6 centrifuges, which also point to an increased focus on the production of enriched nuclear materials.

“These numbers are excessive and inconsistent with the JCPOA,” according to the report. “Moreover, in light of Salehi’s comments, the excessive production of [centrifuge] rotors may be part of a plan to lay the basis for mass production.”

Iran’s work on “any such plan is not included in Iran’s enrichment plan under the JCPOA,” according to the report.

Inspectors affiliated with the IAEA should immediately investigate the total number of centrifuge parts in Iran’s possession and determine exactly how many of these parts are currently being manufactured, the report states. The IAEA also should attempt to keep tabs on any clandestine nuclear work Iran may be engaging in.

Iran may be misleading the world about its centrifuge production and it still has not declared all materials related to this work, as is obligated under the nuclear deal.

“A key question is whether Iran is secretly making centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows at unknown locations, in violation of the JCPOA, and if it takes place, what the probability is that it goes without detection,” the report concludes.

Additionally, “the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) need to determine the status of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing capabilities, including the number of key centrifuge parts Iran has made and the amount of centrifuge equipment it has procured,” the report states.

“They need to ensure that Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing is consistent with the intent of the nuclear deal as well as the deal’s specific limitations on advanced centrifuges,” according to the report. “Moreover, the Iranian statement illuminates significant weaknesses in the Iran deal that need to be fixed.”

When asked to address the issue, a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon that Iran’s centrifuge work remains very “limited” under the nuclear agreement.

“Under the JCPOA, consistent with Iran’s enrichment and enrichment and [research and development] plan, Iran can only engage in production of centrifuges, including centrifuge rotors and associated components, to meet the enrichment and R&D requirements of the JCPOA,” the official said. “In other words, Iran’s production of centrifuges and associated components are limited to be consistent with the small scale of R&D that is permissible under the JCPOA.”

If Iran is in violation of the deal, the United States will take concrete action to address this once the Trump administration finishes its interagency review of the Iran deal.

“The Trump administration has made clear that at least until this review is completed, we will adhere to the JCPOA and will ensure that Iran is held strictly accountable to its requirements,” the official said.

Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: On Course, Underground, Uninspected

April 25, 2017

Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: On Course, Underground, Uninspected, Center for Security Policy, Clare M. Lopez, April 24, 2017

The Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons program, born in secrecy and kept hidden for years, has never skipped a beat and today continues on course in underground and military facilities to which inspectors have no access. On 21 April 2017, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the oldest, largest, and best organized democratic Iranian opposition group presented startling new evidence that the jihadist regime in Tehran is violating the terms of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement reached in July 2015 among the P-5 +1 (Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), and Iran.

As will be recalled, it was the NCRI that first blew the lid off Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2002, at a time when it had been in progress for at least fourteen years (since 1988), unbeknownst to most of the world, including the IAEA. Virtually all of the Iranian nuclear sites now known publicly were only retroactively ‘declared’ by the mullahs’ regime after exposure: the Natanz enrichment site, Isfahan conversion site, Fordow enrichment and Research and Development (R&D) site, Lavizan-Shian, and more. Regularly corroborated additional revelations since 2002 by the NCRI have built a record of credibility that should prompt a closer official look at these new reports by the U.S. State and Defense Departments, National Security Council (NSC), and White House.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of NCRI’s Washington office, provided a devastating expose of the ongoing activities of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), the Tehran-based element of the Iranian Ministry of Defense that has primary responsibility for the regime’s nuclear weapons development. The SPND, established in February 2011, was officially sanctioned by the U.S. Department of State in August 2014 for engaging in nuclear weapons R&D.   Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (aka Dr. Hassan Mohseni), the founder and director of the SPND and a veteran IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) brigadier general, was designated individually under UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1747 in 2007 and by the U.S. in July 2008 for his involvement in Iran’s proscribed WMD activities. Despite these designations, and the IAEA’s failure to resolve the many critical indicators of “Possible Military Dimensions” related to Iran’s nuclear program as specified in the November 2011 IAEA Board of Governors report, the July 2015 JCPOA inexplicably lifted sanctions against the SPND.

It is hardly surprising, then, to learn that the SPND not only continues critical weaponization research involving nuclear warheads, triggers, and explosives, but has expanded that work at each of seven subordinate locations. One of these, revealed by the NCRI in 2009 but never declared to the IAEA, is the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies on Explosions and Impact (Markaz-e Tahghighat va Tose’e Fanavari-e Enfejar va Zarbeh or METFAZ), which works on triggers and high-impact, non-conventional explosives. The current METFAZ director is a Ministry of Defense engineer named Mohammad Ferdowsi, whose expertise is in high explosives. Ferdowsi also serves as chairman of the board of directors of the High-Explosive Society of Malek Ashtar University (affiliated with the Defense Ministry).

After conclusion of the July 2015 JCPOA, much of METFAZ’s personnel and work was moved to the Parchin military facility for better cover and security. Parchin Chemical Industries, an element of Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO), was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2008 for importing “a chemical precursor for solid propellant oxidizer, possibly to be used for ballistic missiles.” Parchin is the location where the IAEA long suspected Iran was conducting test explosions for nuclear detonators. In October 2014, Iran finally admitted to using Parchin to test exploding bridge wires, but implausibly claimed they were not for weapons development. Equally incredibly, the IAEA concluded a secret side deal with Iran that allowed it to collect its own samples at Parchin—in which the IAEA in fact did find evidence of enriched uranium. But despite that and more evidence, the JCPOA was concluded and sanctions against Parchin Chemical Industries were lifted.

Within Parchin are twelve separate military and missile complexes. According to the NCRI’s new information, METFAZ has established a new location within one of these that is near the center of Parchin and referred to simply as the “Research Academy” in SPND internal communications. Located on the sprawling Parchin complex some 30 miles southeast of Tehran, the new METFAZ center is called the Chemical Plan of Zeinoddin and is located in a section called Plan 6. It’s completely fenced in and protected by heavy security under control of the IRGC’s Intelligence Service. What goes on there is concealed from the IAEA, and likely with good reason.

Old and New Locations for the SPND

METFAZ’s Research Academy Location within Parchin Plan 6 Area

Lambasting the Iranian regime for its ongoing regional aggression and support to terrorist organizations, as Secretary of State Tillerson did on 20 April 2017, is certainly a step in the right direction. Noting that after ten years, Iran can break out and build all the bombs it wants is also a useful observation. But neither of those comes close to fulfilling the Trump campaign pledge to “rip up” the JCPOA – or hold Iran accountable for its violations of the JCPOA. Secretary Tillerson’s 18 April letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, certifying that Iran was in compliance with the 2015 deal, simply cannot be squared with the NCRI’s latest revelations, which it has shared with both the U.S. government and the IAEA. Indeed, the independent Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) issued a March 3, 2017 report in which it explicitly states about the IAEA’s 24 February 2017 Quarterly report, “Nowhere in the report does the IAEA state that Iran is fully compliant with the JCPOA, and it should not make that judgement.”

The real problem with the JCPOA—and why it needs to be ripped to shreds—is not what’s in it: it’s what’s been left out or exempted in any number of secret side deals that the U.S. and IAEA concluded with the Iranians. Among critical issues either explicitly permitted or simply not covered in the JCPOA are the following:

  • Iran keeps its entire nuclear infrastructure intact
  • Iran keeps all its centrifuges and is allowed to work on newer models
  • Iran can deny IAEA inspectors access to any site it seeks to keep off-limits
  • Iran can continue its ballistic missile nuclear weapons delivery system research, development, and testing
  • Iran’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and ballistic missile collaboration with North Korea is not mentioned in the JCPOA
  • Iran’s ongoing support for terrorism is off-limits for the JCPOA

The Trump administration must make good on its campaign promises with regard to Iran, its nuclear weapons program, and the JCPOA. The U.S. with its international partners and the IAEA must demand that Iran fully implement all UN Security Council Resolutions (including the one prohibiting Iran from any nuclear enrichment activities); accept the Additional Protocol; and allow unhindered access for IAEA inspectors to all suspected centers and facilities.

Beginning to fill relevant USG positions with officers untainted by association with the failed JCPOA or Iran Lobby affiliates like NIAC (National Iranian American Council) is an imperative and urgent first step. Announcing U.S. intent to end all activities associated with the JCPOA, hold Iran to account for its human rights abuses, involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and continuing support for terrorism would be natural subsequent policy positions.

We look forward to the results of the JCPOA policy review that Secretary Tillerson has announced.