Is Iran complying with the nuclear deal? The Trump administration has twice certified to Congress that Tehran is indeed in compliance—or so the news media has reported. In reality, the administration has made no such certification, but a classified and largely ignored government report would better illuminate whether Iran is adhering to its obligations. The executive branch should declassify this document so that Americans can know more about Iran’s compliance—or noncompliance—with the agreement.
A well-reported provision of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA) requires the president to determine and tell Congress every 90 days whether Iran has “committed a material breach” of the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
A material breach is a higher standard than mere noncompliance. INARA defines a material breach as a violation that “substantially [emphasis added] (A) benefits Iran’s nuclear program; (B) decreases the amount of time required by Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon; or (C) deviates from or undermines the purposes of [the deal].” Noncompliance, in contrast, merely “means any departure from the terms of [the JCPOA] that is not a material breach.”
The Trump administration has certified two times that Iran has not materially breached the deal—not that Tehran is fully complying with it. This distinction matters because the Iranian regime could violate the JCPOA repeatedly, incrementally, and significantly without committing a material breach. And evidence indicates Iran is doing just that.
For example, Iran has twice exceeded its allotted threshold under the deal for heavy water, which can aid production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Tehran is alsorunning more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium—which, again, can be used for nuclear weapons—than the JCPOA permits. And, contra the nuclear agreement, Iranianleaders have repeatedly made clear that IAEA inspectors will be forbidden access to Iran’s military sites, where Tehran has previously engaged in covert nuclear-weapons work—and could still be.
German intelligence estimates also indicate that Tehran is continuing its “illegal proliferation-sensitive procurement activities” at a “quantitatively high level.” One such intelligence estimate notes that Iran is seeking “[p]roducts and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well [as] missile technology” and that “illegal procurement attempts… involved goods… [that] could be used for a state’s nuclear and missile programs.”
Further, Iran has test-fired multiple ballistic missiles, an indispensable delivery system for nuclear weapons, and is exporting arms to proxies like Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis—in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal.
And these are just many of the violations we know about through open-source reporting. Whether or not the sum of all these Iranian activities materially breaches the deal, it does constitute noncompliance.
Interestingly, most media coverage of the Trump administration’s certifications regarding the deal not only misinterpreted them, but also ignored a more important government document that reveals far greater information about whether Iran is complying with the JCPOA.
INARA mandates that the president report every 180 days to Congress on Iranian behavior across many areas, including Tehran’s nuclear program, ballistic-missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and human-rights violations. Most importantly, the report must include “[a]ny action or failure to act by Iran that breached the agreement or is in noncompliance [emphasis added] with the terms of the agreement.”
If Iran is failing to comply with the JCPOA in ways we don’t already know, the details should be in this document. That information would significantly impact consideration of U.S. policy toward Iran and the nuclear deal.
Unfortunately, the semiannual report is classified, with its distribution limited to several congressional committees and the top leadership of the House and Senate. The Trump administration should declassify and publicly release this report (with a classified annex, if necessary).
The American people and their elected representatives need to know the facts and draw their own conclusions about whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal.
Alan Goldsmith covers policy and Washington outreach for United Against Nuclear Iran.