By Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East
On September 14, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will brief members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal, in a classified session. Here are the seven questions that we would like to see answered:
1. On August 12, you told PBS that, due to United States sanctions, Iran cannot sell oil on the international market. Yet Reuters reported last March that “China’s purchases of Iranian oil have risen to record levels in recent months, exceeding a 2017 peak when the trade was not subject to US sanctions.” The same article reported that the Biden administration “has so far chosen not to enforce the sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies amid the negotiations on reviving the 2015 deal.” Who’s telling the truth, Reuters or you?
2. If the United States rejoins the JCPOA, will the Biden administration expect Israel to stop conducting military and intelligence operations designed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program? If Israel does continue such operations, will the White House see them as attacks on American interests as codified in the JCPOA? Will you recommend to the president that he immediately provide Israel with the capabilities needed to prevent Iran from going nuclear in case the JCPOA fails?
3. Should the United States promise Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries that it will support their efforts to gain the same access to Russian and Western nuclear technology, the same fuel cycle capabilities, and the same security guarantees for their own nuclear programs that Iran will enjoy under the JCPOA?
4. In October 2025, the JCPOA’s snapback mechanism will expire, meaning that unless all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council agree to reimpose sanctions or restrictions on Iran (a virtual impossibility due to the current geopolitical tensions), the threat of unified international action against Iran will disappear. What makes you think that Iran will comply with the terms of the JCPOA after the threat of snapback is gone?
5. In 2015, your colleague Colin Kahl—who is now the under secretary of defense for policy and who was then the national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden—expressed confidence that the many billions of dollars in sanctions relief that the Islamic Republic stood to gain from the JCPOA would pose little threat to the United States or its allies. The Iranians, Kahl said, “are not going to spend the . . . money on guns, most of it will go to butter.” But today we know that the Iranian defense budget jumped by over 30 percent in the first three years after the JCPOA. Moreover, Iranian funding of terrorist groups and armed extremist groups—including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, the Polisario Front, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—spiked as well. How will Iran spend the hundreds of billions of dollars that a return to the JCPOAwill deliver to it? Is your current analysis based on the same assumptions as Kahl’s analysis from 2015? If not, what recommendations have you made to President Biden about how to mitigate the dangers a newly enriched Iran would pose?
6. Iran’s ability to rapidly violate the terms of the JCPOA indicates that the deal never provided a one-year breakout time and that letting Iran preserve the nuclear infrastructure it used for those violations was a terrible mistake. Over the remaining years of the deal, the JCPOA allows that infrastructure (for which Iran has no peaceful need) to grow while the restrictions on it quickly disappear. Please explain how, in 2031, the agreement “will block all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon,” as its supporters have repeatedly claimed.
7. In previous testimony, you said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran was complying with the JCPOA. But Iran has repeatedly asserted that it will never allow IAEA inspectors into military sites (including sites where, we know, Iran has carried out nuclear weapons–related activity). After the JCPOA’s implementation, did IAEA inspectors ever visit Iranian military sites? Did they ask to do so? If the answers to either of these questions is no, what conclusions can we draw about the value of the IAEA’s certifications and the effectiveness of the “unprecedented” inspections that Obama and Biden administration officials have celebrated?