As part of President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House must certify to Congress every 90 days that our Islamic friends on the other side of the world are in compliance with the major terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If no such certification is made, the decision is kicked to Congress, who must then decide if it is appropriate to “snap back” sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal’s terms.
So far, despite reports of reluctance on Trump’s part, the White House has twice certified that compliance. But Trump’s hostility towards signing the certification has many wondering if Iran really is living up to the terms of the deal. Experts opposed to the agreement say they aren’t. Others insist that their violations are overblown and that the basic framework of the agreement remains in place.
What is the truth?
Here’s the sticking point. There are two levels of “noncompliance.” There is what we might call “spiritual noncompliance,” which are those actions on Iran’s part that violate the “spirit” of the deal. There is no question at all that Iran is guilty of this. In their continued sponsorship of terrorism, their continued pursuit of ballistic missiles, and their ongoing threats of destruction towards Israel and the United States, they have done everything possible to retain their rogue global status without technically destroying the deal.
The other level of noncompliance is, or would be, a “material breach.” This would mean that Iran has violated one of the specific terms of the deal in order to benefit their nuclear program, decrease the amount of time it would take them to achieve a nuclear weapon, or otherwise undermine the entire point of the agreement. By signing certification notices, President Trump is affirming that while Iran may be guilty of the first level of noncompliance, they have not yet committed a material breach of the deal.
Unfortunately, this largely comes down to a judgement call on the part of the administration. We know already that Iran has violated several precepts of the deal. They have gone over their allotted amount of heavy water, they are running more advanced centrifuges than is prescribed in the deal, and they have refused inspectors access to their military sites. Trump would arguably be within his rights to de-certify the deal based on these violations alone.
Even if you think those violations are not enough to warrant scrapping the agreement, the fact remains that we don’t know the full extent of Iran’s activities. They have been hidden in classified reports, and thus far those reports have not been released or leaked to the public. So Americans are forced to simply trust that things aren’t actually worse than public reporting suggests.
And given Iran’s reputation, we can’t put a lot of faith in that.