Expert: Iranian Threat to Walk Away from Agreement if Sanctions are Restored Undercuts Touted ‘Snapback’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 23, 2015 | 1:44am EDT
Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif negotiate at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria on July 1, 2015. (Photo: State Department/Public Domain)

( – The Iran nuclear agreement is “fundamentally flawed,” allowing Tehran to use the threat of nuclear escalation to intimidate the West into not using sanctions as an effective tool to enforce Iranian compliance with the deal, lawmakers were told on Wednesday.

While the administration touts the so-called “sanctions snapback” provisions in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as key to ensuring that Iran does not cheat, the same section of the agreement contains what Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz describes as a “nuclear snapback” clause for Iran.

Testifying before the House Financial Services Committee’s terror financing taskforce,  Dubowitz pointed out that in the JCPOA, Iran has indicated that any reimposition of sanctions will nullify its commitments under the deal.

Dubowitz, an expert on Iranian sanctions, told the panel this was a matter of “great concern.”

“This gives Iran an effective way to intimidate the United States, and in particular, Europe into not reinstating sanctions, except for the most severe violations,” he said in his testimony.

“The threat of this ‘nuclear snapback’ will prevent a response to technical and incremental violations for fear that Iran will walk away from the agreement and escalate its program, provoking a possible military crisis.”

According to the JCPOA text, should a U.S. complaint about an Iranian violation lead to a restoring of sanctions – after a convoluted “dispute resolution” process whose outcome is uncertain – Iran can then simply walk away from the entire agreement.

The text says, “Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

An associated concern relates to the fact that reimposing sanctions on Iran is only an option in the case of what the JCPOA calls “significant nonperformance” on Iran’s part – that is, serious cheating. (What constitutes a “significant” violation is undefined, and could give rise to differences among the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.)

Critics say that since the U.S. and its P5+1 partners have invested so much in the agreement, the chances of anyone wanting to jeopardize it over anything less than a major violation look slim.

Iran, according to Dubowitz, typically cheats in small but accumulative ways.

“The Iranian regime cheats incrementally, not egregiously, even though the sum total of its incremental cheating is egregious,” he said.

“Even while incrementally cheating on its commitments, Iran could force the United States and Europe to choose between not strictly enforcing the agreement and abrogating the whole agreement.

“Given the normal political and diplomatic environment, which encourages parties not to undermine existing agreements, it is highly likely that that the United States and Europe would choose not to address incremental cheating,” he said.

“Iran is likely to get away with small-and medium-sized violations, since both the United States and Europe are heavily invested in this deal and would only abrogate it for a major violation,” Dubowitz added.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew provided closed-door briefings to lawmakers on the JCPOA on Wednesday.

On Thursday, they are due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and next Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congress has 60 days, a period that began on Monday, to review and potentially vote to approve or reject the JCPOA. President Obama has promised to veto any resolution that disapproves of the deal.

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