Provoking Iran into Tearing up the 2015 Nuclear Deal

Former International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano

by Peter Jenkins

How easy will it be for President Donald Trump to use the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provoke Iran to “tear up” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aka the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran?

Annex 1 of the JCPOA spells out the basis on which the IAEA may request extraordinary access to Iranian locations:

Requests for access pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made in good faith, with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities under this JCPOA. In line with normal international safeguards practice, such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities, but will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran’s other non-proliferation and other safeguards obligations.

In other words, if the United States decides to submit to the IAEA information designed to trigger a request for access to a certain Iranian location or locations, this information must relate to activities involving the use of nuclear material or activities prohibited by the JCPOA.

If and when such information is submitted, the IAEA secretariat will want to assess whether it is reliable—all the more so in light of recent leaks from the White House. In 2003 the secretariat reacted with commendable skepticism to information submitted by the United Kingdom that purported to be evidence of Iraqi acquisition of uranium from Niger. On several occasions it turned a deaf ear to claims about Iran originating with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

In 2005, the IAEA secretariat was reluctant to believe in the authenticity of information on a laptop supposedly obtained from an Iranian scientist. When it came round to accepting the information’s authenticity two or three years later, the circumstances were exceptional and, for all any outsider can know, the judgement may have been right. The IAEA can be relied on for high standards of professionalism. Its reputation for impartiality and integrity contributes a great deal to the durability of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

Let’s suppose that the secretariat decides to believe in the authenticity and reliability of information submitted by the United States. What will the secretariat do next? 

In furtherance of implementation of the JCPOA, if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities, or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA, at locations that have not been declared under the comprehensive safeguards agreement or Additional Protocol, the IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification.

76. 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.

At that point Iran will have two options: to cooperate with the secretariat or to withhold cooperation.

If, despite the secretariat’s positive assessment of the information submitted by the United States, that information is in fact fabricated or from an unreliable source, Iran will have every incentive to cooperate to the full. The officials accompanying IAEA inspectors to undeclared locations will have to struggle to control their pleasure in demonstrating the falseness of US allegations, but they will be ready to make that sacrifice.

During the dark years when the IAEA was investigating the laptop material and other possible indications of a “military dimension,” Iran frequently withheld cooperation. But during that period Iran was being asked to prove a negative: the absence of alleged activities. Now the burden of proof (through access to locations) would rest on the IAEA’s inspectors.

On the other hand, Iran might decline access or offer the IAEA unreasonable alternative arrangements for verification—to avoid detection of a JCPOA inconsistency or a safeguards violation. Then, what began as a US attempt to provoke Iran into walking away from the nuclear deal will have turned out to be an inspired service to the nuclear non-proliferation community.

One other possibility must be considered:

If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA cannot be verified,,,,,,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.  

In other words, the United States, claiming that the absence of verification of US-supplied information was not proof of the information’s unreliability, could seek to involve the Joint Commission. The composition of this commission, however—USA, UK, France, Germany, European Union, Russia, and China—is such that there is little or no chance of it abetting a US attempt to provoke Iran by feeding fabricated or unreliable information to the IAEA.

As others have written on this site, the European Union, France, and Germany see no interest at all in provoking Iran into renouncing the JCPOA. Nor do Russia and China.

Those who value the JCPOA as a well-balanced non-proliferation achievement cannot afford to be complacent. No doubt the US government employs many ingenious minds. But it looks as though destroying the JCPOA by provoking Iran will be a tall order.

Photo: IAEA head Yukiya Amano in Tehran

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. Mr. Trump is seeking a relief from his domestic problems and care less about the integrity of his accusations on Iran. He is behaving more like a clown than a president.

  2. Great to see Peter Jenkins joining in on this important matter. Agee with the argument, as I commented yesterday. Also pleased that Mark Fitzpatrick’s IISS piece was posted on LobeLog. A solid, factual account of the situation is being published here.

  3. The Americans forget that as time passes millions of ‘traumatized’ Iraqi youth and children will mature into highly ‘disturbed’ adults who unable to lead a normal life might join armed groups to take out their ‘hatred’ on their former invaders – peace is elusive as long as hatred prevails in the region. As long as the American politicians and their warmongering media backers enjoy ‘immunity from prosecution’, savage wars and ecological disasters in the Middle East will be impending disasters leaving millions of civilians killed, disable and mentally disturbed and traumatized for life.

    Had President Bush, his administration and those who had fabricated the false information with the intent to invade Iraq, including their aggressive pro war media, had they been prosecuted at ICC and charged with ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’, we would have had a very different US Foreign Policy today.

  4. It was reported in the 

    Washington Post that the US Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson, said the following words,
    “I would like to assure the North Koreans that the USA is not their enemy; does not want any harm to come to them; they have nothing to be afraid of; the US does not seek regime change or the forced unification of the Korean peninsula, and the North Koreans need have no fear of any military invasion from the USA.”
    He then went on to say that the North Korean ballistic missile program is a serious threat to the US. Therefore, it is exerting peaceful pressure on North Korea and would urge them to come to the negotiating table and start peaceful negotiations with the US.

    He also confessed that,
    “The US does not have any good options available for it to limit the North Korean ballistic missile program.”
    These are very conciliatory words from the foreign minister of the most powerful country in the world directed to Kim Jong Un, a puny military dictator of an economically bankrupt country.
    On the face of it, one would think that such a speech would allay any fears the North Korean have and that the US would come around to adopting a more reasonable stance. This is more so since there have been open hints that a peaceful settlement of such matters could be accompanied by significant economic incentives.
    So, what does the little guy have to lose? On the face of it, it seems to be a perfect win-win situation.
    However, during the same briefing, Tillerson went on to say that the US is examining the P5 +1 nuclear agreement with Iran very closely to find out how it can prove that Iran has violated the agreement. This could then become grounds for it to tear up the agreement.
    He made this statement only days after the State Department had certified that the Iranians had held up their end of the bargain. However, Tillerson said that even though this may be so, they have not adhered to the spirit of the agreement in view of their involvement in several regional conflicts which expose their regional ambitions.
    It appears that if a country enters into an agreement with the US on a particular issue, it should also follow their lead on all other peripheral issues – even if these matters may have nothing to do with the issue on which the original agreement had been signed on.
    This seems like a pact with the devil. You succumb to one temptation and find yourself sliding down to hell.
    The saving grace in the case of the nuclear deal is that the US is not the only power with whom the agreement has been signed. Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are also a party to it. The other powers are content that the agreement managed to end a major area of uncertainty and instability in the world. They are sure that its signature and continued adherence are essential for Iran to not be able to develop nuclear weapons, for a short while at least. They view this as a very positive development for regional and world peace.
    Numerous people in the world, including myself, applauded the signing of the Iran nuclear deal and complemented former President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for their foresight and statesmanship.
    However, in view of the unfolding attitudes of the US and some Arab nations in the region, there is an alternative view taking hold, one that believes that it may have been a “historical mistake” on the part of Iran to sign this agreement. This view is based on the fact that many of the concessions made by Iran are irreversible.
    As a result of this deal, Iran has dismantled most of its centrifuges and given up the stock pile of nuclear fissile material it had accumulated. Furthermore, it has agreed to open its nuclear facilities for international inspection in order to assure the world that it has no plans to back out of this agreement. In return for their actions, the United Nations lifted previous sanctions off of some embargoed funds.
    In view of the inspections, it would be extremely difficult for Iran to reassemble the bank of centrifuges or build up a stockpile of fissile material. Even if Iran was to back out of the agreement, any attempt to reassemble its nuclear potential would most likely be met with military action from the US, Israel and some Arab states. They may be able to get the support of the Europeans also.
    On the other hand, the concessions made by the other powers are not irreversible.
    The “snap-back” provision in the deal allows the sanctions and other economic restrictions to be reinstated immediately in case of any violations by Iran.
    As of now and despite arguments emerging from Washington, the rest of the world still believes that the Iran nuclear deal was a great measure for world peace and to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
    The Iranian regime continues to say that the agreement was accepted in order to demonstrate that it never had any intention of making nuclear weapons. It was not agreed upon because of some clever negotiations by the other powers.
    If the US does decide to take unilateral action in breaking the agreement under some pretext, despite Iran’s adherence to the deal, Iran’s views on the deal being a big mistake would gain unanimity.
    In any case, the US’ attitude towards the Iranian deal has dealt a fatal blow to their credibility. This should serve as a lesson for any country negotiating issues with the US.
    It has also made potential negotiations with the North Koreans all the more difficult. It gives Kim the message that all this sweet talk from Tillerson may just be a subterfuge to get the North Koreans to the table, make some irreversible concessions and then leave them high and dry.
    At a time when the whole world is watching the US with a close eye, the last thing they need is another nail in the coffin to worsen the already negative light the world views them in.

  5. Note also that the team can only comprise inspectors from countries that Iran maintains diplomatic relations, which excludes USA inspectors.

    There is a possibility that if Trump insists on a snap-inspection of Camp XYZ he’ll find Iran stiching up a deal that sees a team of IAEA-accredited Brits, Frechies and German inspectors coming over for a nice cup of tea and biscuits and some laughs at The Donald’s expense.

    Dear Diary: today I got invited to Camp XYZ. They were ever so nice and it was the best day ever!

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