US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Source: US State Department YouTube screen grab
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Source: US State Department YouTube screen grab

Comply or face the consequences – that was the message sent from Washington to Tehran courtesy of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 points on the Iran deal outlined in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, on May 21.

Pompeo’s 12 points or conditions – which are more like additional terms for a new deal – have merit, though many media outlets have been criticizing these points and trying to salvage the inadequate Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Unqualified access to all sites

Under the deal, Iran had agreed to the inspections inside the country’s nuclear plants. However, there was a serious oddity in the agreement.

Under the deal’s terms, in response to the demand of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access a suspected Iranian site, Iran will be able to delay the inspection by 14 to 24 days – which certainly would give it ample time to hide or destroy evidence of any nuclear weapon program that it might have been pursuing secretly.

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This satellite image purports to show a nuclear reactor facility in early 2002 near Bushehr, Iran.

What’s more, the JCPOA does not clarify whether the IAEA inspectors have access to Iranian military sites, and the Iranian defense minister and foreign minister clearly proclaimed that military sites were off limits.

It is necessary that IAEA inspectors are allowed to access suspected military sites so that there is transparency as to whether Iran is conducting any activities related to a nuclear-weapons program inside those sites.

Hence there is no doubt that Pompeo’s condition that “Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country” is a rational one and should be included in the deal.

Uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing

Under the JCPOA, Iran was allowed to keep a small nuclear program, pursue limited uranium enrichment at its facility at Natanz, and continue its nuclear research (except the use of fissile material) in its nuclear enrichment plant near Fordo.

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Nuclear power plant in Natanz, Iran.

That research on fissile material, which is required to build a nuclear weapon, was “not allowed” under the deal, and that uranium enrichment was “allowed in limited scale” do not entirely eliminate the risk of Iran building a nuclear weapon.

This is because the deal gave Iran the opportunity to continue its research on advanced centrifuges, albeit with some limits imposed. Such research would certainly allow Iranian nuclear scientists to master advanced centrifuge-related technology.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the US-based think-tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), wrote a piece for Politico magazine on this issue. He wrote:

“A small cascade of the so-called IR-8 centrifuges can quickly enrich vast quantities of uranium to weapons-grade quality. Because so few of these centrifuges would be required to complete the task, they can be housed in small facilities that may evade detection in a timely manner.

“Iran is a vast country, and should the clerical oligarchs choose to litter their territory with numerous such small installations, they can effectively conceal their activities from prying [IAEA] inspectors.”

Thus Iran would be able to create sufficient fissile materials using only a few hundred advanced centrifuges thanks to this research. They could then use these fissile materials to complete their nuclear weapons program and thereby achieve their long-desired nuclear bombs.

All of which backs those who argue that the JCPOA has provisions that implicitly favor Iran’s path to nuclear bombs.

Hence with the condition of “Iran must stop uranium enrichment,” Pompeo is trying to ensure terms that would effectively close off Iran’s path to nuclear bombs.

At the same time, Pompeo demanded Iran must “never pursue plutonium reprocessing.” Though the existing deal prohibits Iran from reprocessing plutonium, it should be on the IAEA’s priority list to ensure Iran is actually in compliance, because such reprocessing serves the purpose of extracting plutonium for producing nuclear weapons.

Ballistic missiles

The nuclear deal, which was agreed by the international community with the intention of bringing about regional and world peace, failed to impose adequate restrictions on Iran’s ballistic-missile program.

Despite widespread accusations that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, the deal provided for withdrawing sanctions on the Iranian missile program within eight years. Some critics argue that this alone is a threat to world peace.

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Moreover, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Iran has already launched as many as 23 ballistic missiles since the deal was signed.

Pompeo’s demands for an end to Iran’s “proliferation of ballistic missiles” and the cessation of “further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems” should be taken into consideration by the other big powers who are signatories to the deal.

Acts of destabilization, support for terrorism

Before the deal was reached, decades of international economic sanctions had seriously weakened the Iranian economy. Yet the economically weak Iran continued to destabilize large parts of the Middle East, with its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military, Hezbollah and Houthi terrorists, and Iraq-based militias.

During the final stages of negotiations for the deal, the other signatories to it perhaps expected that Iran would behave in a civilized manner once the deal was signed, and stay away from dirty geopolitics and from backing terrorism.

But these expectations were never fulfilled.

After the deal was signed, Iran, on the contrary, started behaving more aggressively in its attempt to destabilize further the Greater Middle East, and in particular West Asia.

Growing economic confidence due to the lifting of sanctions encouraged Iran to continue its region-wide aggression, including bolstering Assad.

Furthermore, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has allegedly been training terrorists and militia forces across West Asia. With Assad’s approval, the IRGC has been operating inside Syria.

Based on all of the above, Mike Pompeo’s following points appear to have some credence:

  • “Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups,” including Hezbollah.
  • “Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work toward a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.”
  • “Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout Syria.”
  • “Iran must end IRG support for terrorists and militant partners around the world.”
  • “Iran must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.”

Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq

Before the emergence of ISIS, the continuous protests by Sunni Arabs in Iraq’s Anbar province (including in Fallujah) and sporadic armed clashes between Sunni protesters and security forces demonstrated the rising frustration of the Sunni Arab population. The Sunnis contend they were being neglected by the sectarian regime in Baghdad and tortured by sectarian elements in the Iraqi army and Iran-backed Shia militias.

After the rise of ISIS, a substantial portion of Iraq’s Sunni Arab population, who were angered and frustrated over perceived maltreatment at the hands of Shia militias and sectarian Iraqi army personnel, either directly joined ISIS after embracing its ideology or at the very least actively cooperated with ISIS.

But once the administration of Haider al-Abadi (who succeeded Nouri al-Maliki) managed to bring the Sunni Arabs on board by marginally winning their trust, the situation took an about-turn. The Sunni Arabs joined forces with the US Army, the Iraqi army, the Kurds (the other Sunni ethnic population in Iraq), Iran-backed Shia militias and the militias of Muqtada al-Sadr to fight ISIS.

The result was obvious. ISIS’ presence was substantially diminished.

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Shia militia in Iraq.

Now that ISIS’ presence in Iraq has been largely reduced, the Iran-backed Shia militias might turn their guns back on the Sunni population, a scenario that would pave the way for either the revival of ISIS or the emergence of a new ISIS-like group, one that would surely capitalize on the renewed sufferings of the Sunni Arabs.

It is therefore vital to reduce Iranian influence on these militias and to disarm them, so that they can cause no harm to not only the Sunni Arabs, but also Shiites from schools of thought that differ from those of the militias.

Pompeo’s demand that “Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias” is something that should be taken seriously by governments of stakeholder nations (including Iraq), which then should put pressure on Iran to do exactly what Pompeo, and by extension the United States, demands.

Other points

Pompeo’s other conditions, that Iran must declare the military scale of its nuclear program, release all citizens of the US and its allies detained on spurious charges, and end support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, have obvious merits.

Wrapping up

The Trump administration’s decision to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal was an appropriate step toward achieving a renewed accord that should be based on additional provisions.

If Pompeo’s conditions are included in the deal as additional provisions, Iran’s scope for achieving a nuclear-weapon-building capability will diminish. What’s more, Iran would then feel the pressure to step back from its region-wide destabilization efforts, including alleged support for terrorist organizations.

Bahauddin Foizee is a threat/risk intelligence analyst focusing on the assessment of investment, legal, security, political and geopolitical threat/risk. His articles on these areas as well as on social, environmental, financial and military affairs in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions have been widely published.

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