The spirit of the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Did anything happen which was unforeseeable? Was the "spirit" of the agreement misleading?

Lt.Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham

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Way back in 2001, on July 25, to be exact, The New York Times recognized and exposed a fundamental attribute of Iran by stating: ‘‘Iran would not be signing a document that prevents her from cheating.’’ 

Fifteen years later, the President of the United States of America criticized Iranian leaders in comments following the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, for undermining the “spirit” of last year’s historic nuclear agreement - the so called 'Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - even as they stick to the “letter” of the pact.

“Iran so far has followed the letter of the agreement, but the spirit of the agreement involves Iran also sending signals to the world community... that it is not going to be engaging in a range of provocative actions...” Obama said at the press conference, like “when they launch ballistic missiles with slogans calling for the destruction of Israel."

Was he, or anybody, really surprised or disappointed? Did anything happen which was unforeseeable? Was the "spirit" of the agreement misleading?

Iran is playing a lingering, colossal, meticulous, and attritional chess match, which is scarcely graspable in real time.
The "spirit" of any signed agreement is normally the unwritten commitments which stem from the written text of the agreement, and one is fully compatible with the other. With the Iranians, cynically, it is just the opposite. The spirit of an agreement signed by Iran is simply a platform for evading sections of the written parts which it considers undesirable.

Iran would always endeavor to formulate those written parts and shape the interplay between them and the spirit of the agreement in a way that enables minimizing written obligations and, consequently, leaves room for maximizing the unwritten maneuvering space in its favor. This, as a matter of fact, is the antithesis of the spirit of a proper agreement spirit. This Iranian orientation is inherently well-established, particularly since the North Korean nuclear model is the guiding 'Guru' for Iran. Is there indeed any sense in expecting Iran to follow the ostensible proper "spirit" of the agreement?

Moreover, meticulous Iranian-Russian coordination brought about a meaningful drift in the formulation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which said “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” In Annex A of Resolution 2231, which lifted international sanctions on Iran when it agreed to the JCPOA, this turned into: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for a period of up to eight years after the JCPOA goes into effect. Secretary of State John Kerry observed, nevertheless - probably in consultation with President Obama - that the language was indistinguishable. Was it?

Regardless of the genuine, fanatic manifestation represented by the Iranian slogan “Israel must be wiped off the Earth,” as was written in Hebrew on the launched missiles, no less important, certainly, is the fact that the two types of launched missiles are capable of carrying nuclear weaponry.

Actually, at the present phase of Iranian nuclear strategy, Tehran focuses on upgrading ballistic missiles having the capacity, or shall we say the intent, in the long run, of being tipped with nuclear warheads. This was the principal reason for the drift that took place in formulating the 'updated' context of the Iranian ballistic activities, as described above. Obviously an antithesis of the hypothetical "spirit" of the JCPOA.

Iran has been seeking to soberly, flexibly, and steadily read and anticipate its opponents’ attitudes and moves, in terms of both initiatives and reactions, for a long time. This result of this longtime effort was applied methodically with regard to the JCPOA. Iran is hence the chief, ostensibly visible, yet practically unapparent, shaper of a magic cycle of cause and outcome underlying its nuclear sphere in general.

In practical terms, it clearly acts the way it does to camouflage and save time, concurrently concentrating on the ballistic component of its nuclear program, if not on additional related components. But its conduct extends far beyond that effort: Iran is playing a lingering, colossal, meticulous, and attritional chess match, which is scarcely graspable in real time.

It is to be hoped that expecting Iran to follow the accepted spirit of the agreement reflects a diplomatic tactic, rather than an authentic strategic outlook. The best case scenario - the prospects of which are doubtful in any case – is that only the unequivocal formulations of the  the agreement will be met by Iran, not its underlying spirit.