Liam Fox (Telegraph): The Iran nuclear deal is dead in the water - it has been flawed from the start

Liam Fox (Telegraph): The Iran nuclear deal is dead in the water - it has been flawed from the start

Writing in today's Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/09/17/iran-nuclear-deal-dead-water-has-flawed-start/)  on 18th September 2019, Dr Fox wrote:

In September 2015 there was an air of optimism about the recently negotiated Iran deal, or JCPOA. There was a hope that it would not only lead to the end of the Iran nuclear program but to a new relationship with the country itself.

It was not an optimism I shared.

I believed President Hassan Rouhani could only have a very limited influence on a regime dominated by the hardline Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and it was neither credible nor responsible to see Iran’s nuclear ambitions outside the context of its support for terror proxies.

The whole approach was fundamentally flawed because the original aim of stopping Iran from ever having nuclear weapons had morphed into a deal that merely put its ambitions on hold for a decade.

Rather than a graduated lifting of sanctions as a reward for full cooperation in the implementation of the agreement, Iran got the lifting of sanctions and the immediate un-freezing of $150bn of Iranian assets. It made little sense.

The frontloading of the financial elements of the settlement meant that Iran effectively got what it wanted immediately in terms of economic relief in return for promises to be delivered later.

But the main reason the agreement was bound to fail politically was that the target itself, the Iranian nuclear programme, while not wrong, was certainly much too narrow in scope. It failed to tackle the main problem of malign Iranian actions beyond its own borders.

Even as European countries sought ways to try and finance trade with the Iranian regime, Iranian-inspired terror groups increased their activities across the continent.

In the Netherlands, two Iranian diplomats were expelled, in June 2018, for plotting political assassinations in the country. A bomb plot to target a rally of opposition groups in Paris was foiled by French intelligence and in the UK it was revealed by the Telegraph earlier this summer that a terrorist cell with links to Iran had been caught stockpiling tonnes of ammonium nitrate explosives on the outskirts of London at a secret bomb factory.

Iran has been a consistent supporter of US-designated Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas.  

Lebanese Hezbollah remains Iran's primary terrorist proxy. Last month, the group's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, bluntly declared that "Hezbollah gets its money and arms from Iran, and as long as Iran has money, so does Hezbollah." Through its proxies Iran continues both direct attacks on Israel itself and on Israeli targets in other parts of the world. They give effect to the hatred of the Supreme Leader for the very existence of the Israeli state.

But perhaps the biggest reason why the whole deal was doomed to failure lies in the Gulf region itself and Iran’s long-term aim of destabilising its neighbours with the aim of establishing a regional hegemony.

One of the main obstacles to Iran’s regional strategy has been the strong sense of nationalism among Arab peoples. The Shia population in Bahrain have traditionally seen themselves as Bahrainis first and Shia second. The same is true in Iraq where the majority of the forces ranged against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war were drawn from the Shia community.

Iran’s objective is to reverse this relationship so that young people, in particular, come to define themselves by their religious affiliation and not their national identity. Their aim is to see a whole generation become radicalised, in line with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s aim of being the leader of all, not just Shia, Islam. It is to this key strategic end that all Iran’s efforts in the Gulf region are directed, a policy that is prosecuted by all means possible – political, financial and military. The fact that the JCPOA has not diminished this real, present and existential threat is one of the main reasons why it has never had any real buy-in from the main allies of the West in the region.

Following the decision of President Trump to withdraw, the JCPOA is dead and European attempts to salvage it are futile. Britain should follow the US lead and operate a policy that would reduce Iranian oil exports to zero in an attempt to force a change of behaviour from the Khamenei regime.

The agreement has been shown to give scant, and only short term, reduction in Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. The original aim of halting Iran’s nuclear weapon programme now offers merely a delay with the problem left as a toxic legacy to future governments.

The ballistic missile tests that are still being carried out breach United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.

The Khamenei regime continues to brutally repress its own people with widespread human rights abuses.

Billions of dollars unfrozen by the JCPOA have enabled Iran to support the Assad regime in Syria, fund Hezbollah’s terror activities and support the Houthis in the tragic conflict in Yemen.

The IRGC is complicit in the global drugs trade and has supported numerous terrorist acts against the regime’s opponents across the world.

Illegal maritime actions in the Gulf pose a threat to global oil supplies and therefore to the global economy.

The recent attacks on Saudi oil refineries show how emboldened the Iranian regime and the IRGC have become.

The current approach is not working. The twelve points set out by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could form the basis of a ‘grand bargain’ but only if a way could be found to enable ordinary Iranians to prosper from any liberalisation of trade, rather than pumping money into the Khamenei regime.

The biggest problem for Iran’s regional neighbours and the international community is the near-complete breakdown in trust. It is almost impossible to believe what the regime says, leaving their actions alone to be judged for their intent. Khamenei has been consistent in his views for decades – his belief in the values of the revolution, his detestation of the United States and the United Kingdom and his contempt for the existence of the State of Israel. The rest of the world needs to match this fanaticism with more consistency and resolve.

Dr Liam Fox MP is Conservative MP for North Somerset and a former International Trade Secretary     

PLEASE NOTE THERE IS ALSO A NEWS ARTICLE ON THIS OP-ED WHICH CAN BE SEEN AT: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/09/17/irans-supreme-leader-says-talks-us-level-question/