Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Reuters

The Iranian regime did not sign the nuclear deal negotiated earlier this year, and the deal itself is not legally binding - that's according to an astonishing letter sent by the US State Department to Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) last week.

The letter, written by State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs Julia Frifield and obtained by National Review, was written in response to the Kansas Congressman's observation that the version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) handed to Congress was unsigned.

In its response, the State Department acknowledged that the version handed to Congress was indeed the final document.

"The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document," it said.

Instead, the State Dept. characterized the agreement as a set of essentially non-binding "political commitments."

"The JCPOA reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1... and the European Union," the letter read.

Attempting to downplay the immense significance of such an admission - which will only increase fears among opponents of the deal in the US and abroad that Tehran can and will easily violate its terms - Frifield continued:

"The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose - and ramp up - our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments."

"Everything in the JCPOA and its annexes are commitments Iran made, and must keep, to remain in compliance. If Iran breaks these commitments, we can snap back both unilateral and UN sanctions," she added.

Critics of the deal have warned however that once lifted, international sanctions in particular will be extremely difficult to "snap back" given how much various actors - particularly Western European firms - have already invested in newly-opening Iranian markets.

The incredible admission sheds new light on recent political machinations in Iran itself, where the JCPOA has been shunted through various parliamentary committees, and with President Hassan Rouhani - who himself initiated the nuclear deal - actively discouraging his parliament from voting for it in order not to place additional legal requirements on the regime.

"If the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is sent to [and passed by] parliament, it will create an obligation for the government. It will mean the president, who has not signed it so far, will have to sign it," Rouhani said in August. "Why should we place an unnecessary legal restriction on the Iranian people?"