Stiffing Iran on the Nuke Deal

Secretary of State Kerry boasts about how little Iran has gotten from the nuclear deal – accessing only $3 billion of its frozen assets – but that hurts U.S. credibility and endangers the deal, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul Pillar

Evidence continues to mount on how lopsided has been the implementation so far of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iran nuclear agreement, with Iran’s rigorous carrying out of its obligations regarding its nuclear program being unmatched by the sort of financial and commercial opening to Iran that was a fundamental part of the bargain that was struck.

The extensive and complicated U.S.-imposed sanctions are still the chief impediment to implementation, thus continuing to demonstrate how U.S. sanctions can actually reduce U.S. influence [4]. A feature of the latest reporting [5] on the subject is that it is not just the Iranians but also Europeans who are crying foul with good reason.

Secretary of State John Kerry (third from right) with other diplomats who negotiated an interim agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, including Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, (fifth from the right) . (Photo credit: State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry (third from right) with other diplomats who negotiated an interim agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, including Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, (fifth from the right) . (Photo credit: State Department)

Too often forgotten by American opponents of the JCPOA is that it is a multilateral agreement, involving five other states besides the United States and Iran. When the complicated and cumbersome U.S. sanctions scare European banks away from making possible the kind of renewed trade with Iran that the European allies understood to be an intended consequence of the agreement, this presents a problem of U.S. credibility not only with Iran but with the Europeans.

Talk among JCPOA opponents on Capitol Hill about imposing still more sanctions on Iran, in the name of whatever cause, damages U.S. credibility even further.

Further background to the lopsided implementation of the agreement to date concerns Iran getting access to its own money that has been frozen by other states. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, Iran so far has gotten access to only $3 billion of such funds. So much for all that talk by opponents of the agreement about a $150 billion “windfall” that Iran would spend immediately on that nefarious activity that it supposedly loves to do more than anything else.

Some thoughtful observers of the JCPOA, when considering what the Iranians might do in response to U.S. non-compliance, have assessed that Tehran would continue to observe its obligations under the agreement in the hope that it at least would get the benefit of an economic opening to Europe.

But to the extent that U.S. sanctions get in the way of Iranian-European trade, that incentive for continued Iranian compliance goes out the window too. In other words, the Iranians are left with little reason not to renounce the agreement.

Those in the United States who have wanted to kill the JCPOA all along must continue to be called to account and to answer the question of how ending the limitations on, and enhanced international scrutiny of, Iran’s nuclear activities could possibly be in U.S. interests or anybody’s interests. They must continue to be called out on their actual motives, including, for many of them, denying any achievement to Barack Obama and pleasing the Israeli government.

And they must answer for the damage to U.S. credibility with not only Iran and any rogue states in the future but also with the most important European states, not to mention Russia and China.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

18 comments for “Stiffing Iran on the Nuke Deal

  1. Curious
    April 26, 2016 at 01:42

    I can’t seem to find accurate information on ‘the Google’ so I have to ask if anyone is ‘in the know’. These 150 Billion Iranian dollars are not a bribe or some deck shuffling of cards, the money belongs to Iran, plan and simple. So, In the meantime, who has held that money for these years, and perhaps, who has profited from retaining that money in the meantime? We would like some names, and not from Kerry, the Chameleon of our posturing and dysfunctional system of what ever form of democracy is in vogue these days.

    Since Mr Obama has given some tax money as a carrot in the meantime, where is the real Iranian money? Did the US spend it already? I am just wondering.

    • Joe L.
      April 26, 2016 at 16:40

      Curious… Well the latest news that I have seen from PressTV (from Iran) itself is that the US Supreme Court is going to grant $2 Billion to the families of the 1983 bombing in Beirut from Iranian frozen assets (you can do a search for PressTV yourself). I wonder, in the same spirit, if the US Supreme Court will grant the people of Iraq monies for the illegal invasion and destruction of their country which resulted in the deaths of 1/2 Million to 1 Million people (not including those dying from exposure to depleted uranium munitions)? I won’t hold my breath but the US deciding to take assets that do not belong to them and distribute them meanwhile looking at the gross hypocrisy really spits in the face of Iran and the agreement that was made. If that is $2 Billion for, I believe, 299 dead people what would it work out for the US to pay for 1/2 Million to 1 Million people using the same justification (trillions)?

      • Joe L.
        April 26, 2016 at 17:12

        If the 299 person number is correct, then Iran will be paying $6,688,963.21 (2,000,000,000 ÷ 299) for each dead person. If I applied that math to the Iraqi dead then it would be $6,688,963.21 x 500,000 people dead = $3,344,481,605,351.15 TOTAL OR $6,688,963.21 x 1,000,000 people dead = $6,688,963,210,702.30 TOTAL. It is very interesting when you put things into perspective…

  2. Joe L.
    April 25, 2016 at 16:30

    I think the best way forward for Iran is to become a full Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member and also join the BRICS or I guess, BRIICS. I don’t believe that the US, or the West in general, is trustworthy and there is a ton of history to support that (the Iranian 1953 coup a prime example of this). I believe that we are currently looking at a slow motion coup occurring in Brazil, interesting that one of the people calling for impeachment of Roussef also seems to be under investigation (I believe he was in the Panama Papers), and I think if we could look behind the scenes then I am sure that USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy are somehow linked (or George Soros’ Open Society etc.). I also believe that Cuba will have to be extremely careful in its’ dealings with Washington considering that I believe in 2010 USAID was trying to set up a Cuban Twitter, ZunZuneo, to try to create conditions for “regime change”. I just hope that many countries start moving away from us, the west, as alternatives to our financial dominance emerge and then maybe our politicians will start acting like human beings in the way that we interact with the world instead of dictators.

    I swear that I read somewhere that “There will never be a coup in Washington because there is no American Embassy there” – something to ponder.

  3. Realist
    April 25, 2016 at 01:32

    Not that Iran isn’t being shafted by American duplicity, but I suspect they will not repudiate the deal because it would give Israel a pretext to immediately bomb them back to the stone age. This is not to be interpreted as an American “win,” because it destroys whatever shred of credibility we may have had left in the eyes of the world.

  4. bobzz
    April 24, 2016 at 22:37

    There is no good reason to give Israel $3.1 mil/yr, and even worse to up that because Netanyahu believes we owe to him in view of the Iran agreement—especially if we do not intend to honor it. If Israel could give North Korea $400k in gold earlier this year, they do not need our money.

    • bobzz
      April 25, 2016 at 13:47

      excuse the double post. the first one did not take for quite a while.

  5. Sail
    April 24, 2016 at 16:56

    America has imperial interests, not so much allies. There’s a reason patriot groups in Europe are wary of DC meddling in European affairs.

  6. bobzz
    April 24, 2016 at 16:24

    In any event, there is no good reason to bend to Netanyahu’s blackmail, i.e., squeezing the US for more money based on the Iran treaty, but even more so if we are not going to follow through with Iran. Frankly, Israel does not need our money; they are doing quite well on their own.

  7. Peter Loeb
    April 24, 2016 at 13:06


    ” But to the extent that U.S. sanctions get in the way of Iranian-European trade,
    that incentive for continued Iranian compliance goes out the window too. In other
    words, the Iranians are left with little reason not to renounce the agreement.”
    —Paul Pillar, above

    Mr. Pillar’s article above only underlines the fact that the US has never negotiated
    JCPOA in good faith or anything even close to it. It was never spoken of
    in the US as anything more than something near a military surrender to the
    unilateral force of the US. A close reading of Gareth Porter’s book MANUFACTURED
    CRISIS…. demonstrates persuasively that there was never in fact much to surrender.
    The US never announced its planned lifting of any sanctions at all. It simply
    continued to express its “concern” about Iran’s “destabilizing behaviors” (in
    Saudi Arabia this past week). This follows Israeli policies.

    In my comments going back to the negotiations themselves, this writer has
    doubted that the US ever intended to do more than use JCPOA as another
    weapon in US-Israeli scaremongering in which Iran is defined as the cause.

    The non-response of the US as more eloquently defined by Paul Pillar
    above and by Gareth Porter (op cit) has never put the US in the
    position of any “multilateral” agreement whatsoever. In fact, it
    defined its role as the implementor of Israeli policy which has
    always been to oppose JCPOA.

    The Israeli position is underlined by the key role Israel continues
    to play in US domestic elections. The result in the US is
    typified by the persistent description of Iran as a threat to
    world peace instead of a negotiator of an “historic” deal.
    The position of Israel is not only underlined in is proclamations
    at home but in a major role of financial support to US
    political candidates. It conveniently obscures any and all
    mention of the many crimes against Palestinians and
    international law which Israel continues to perform with
    impunity on a daily basis.

    It is always bad form to say “I told you so.” I do not have
    the resources and talents of either Paul Pillar or Gareth Porter.
    I substituted an instinct for the political landscape which
    is a poor substitute indeed (compared to knowledgeable analysis).

    In the past weeks I have recommended that Iran withdraw
    from all agreements under which it is expected to function
    (NPT, Additional Protocols etc) until such time as Israel
    enters similar airtight agreements.

    I am in no position to assess the economic pros and cons
    for Syria and the SCO nations of a closer relationship. There
    must of course be benefits for all parties. It is pertinent to
    note that Russia invited Iran to become a full member of
    SCO some time ago. Once more, the results must be
    negotiated by the respective parties.

    New York Times reports have indicated continued
    activity by Russia in taking Syria’s largest city, Alleppo
    (4/22). US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed
    his strong disapproval. It seems as though He is saying
    (in other words) that B. Assad would then be seen to have
    been victorious and would be unstoppable.(His regime
    could not be changed.)

    In thanks to Mr. Pillar for this excellent article,

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  8. TellTheTruth-2
    April 24, 2016 at 12:43

    How did John Kerry go from a Vietnam War protester to the # 1 War Monger for the neoCON Zionists? Like the neoCONs, his word is worthless. It’s like the old saying, “If their word is no good; their paper is no good either.

  9. Joe Tedesky
    April 24, 2016 at 09:19

    Hypocritical, arrogant, ignorant, wrong headed, or unfair, it’s all the same thing when it comes to making a deal involving the U.S.. If you don’t believe that, then ask any Native-American, or ask an American Black if their post Civil War relative ever received that 40 acres and a mule. Nixon told the Vietnamese how America would give them 3 billion dollars to rebuild their worn torn nation, never happen. James Baker promised the Russians how NATO would not place another missile any further to Russia than the already NATO armed Germany. Bill Clinton undone that Baker promise rather quickly, as the geopolitical calendar goes, and then we call Russia the aggressive one. This nuclear agreement with Iran is as flimsy as the Syrian ceasefire. Both of these Middle East travesties have been critically hard on Europe, and their our allies, for crying out loud. I guess between this Iran deal, and the Syrian ceasefire, not to mention the tons of MidEast refugees fleeing to Europe, this all should divert the EU populace from worrying about the blowback from Ukraine. I sometimes think, that Russia and China are not as much the designated target, as much as Europe is. With all these balls in play, not to worry, because possibly with a little luck Queen Hillary will ride to the rescue and become the next U.S. President, as she will do what needs done. Is it any wonder how good her word will be?

    • TellTheTruth-2
      April 24, 2016 at 12:40

      Queen Hillary .. for President of Israel.

    • Zachary Smith
      April 24, 2016 at 14:45

      Hypocritical, arrogant, ignorant, wrong headed, or unfair, it’s all the same thing when it comes to making a deal involving the U.S..

      I believe you left out “dishonest”.

      A deal with the neocons obviously mean not what the words on the agreement say, but what the neocons want out of the deal. Seems that they want a lot more.

      Washington- During the Tuesday New York meeting, holding both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, each of Washington and Tehran laid forth a score of heated issues for discussion.

      Washington employed a ‘carrot and stick’ approach throughout its discussions with Zarif.

      They’re blackmailing Iran with their own money, despite the signed agreement. Stop testing missiles. Help us with Assad.

      That Obama isn’t quite as bad as the Repubicans or Hillary isn’t much of a defense of him – in my opinion. He’s still a disaster.

    • Joe L.
      April 25, 2016 at 12:59

      Joe Tedesky… You know what makes me wonder sometimes is if the “hypocrisy, arrogance, ignorance, wrong-headedness, or unfairness” will come back to bite the US, and the West, in the ass someday? I think that the West’s time of being so brash with the world, and expecting it to bow to our interests, is coming to an end. China is already the world’s largest economy by Purchasing Power Parity and it is looking that it will be the largest economy by nominal GDP in the early 2020’s. At the same time the BRICS countries are setting up new monetary institutions and their own SWIFT style mechanisms. I just wonder when the West no longer controls the world’s finances, will the rest of the world forget about how badly we have treated them or will they do to us what we have done to them for so long – sanctions etc.? The next few decades are going to be interesting unless the Neo-con warhawks goad us into a World War.

  10. dahoit
    April 24, 2016 at 09:18

    Our leaders are absolutely the worst ever foisted on a people.
    Trump,save US.

    • BraveNewWorld
      April 24, 2016 at 12:24

      There is very little any president can do against Congress where the real problem is.

    • Steve
      April 25, 2016 at 23:36

      Your savior Trump won’t help you here. He opposes the Iran nuclear deal. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a strong supporter of it.

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