The Meaning of Verification in Iran, Syria and North Korea

Ronald Reagan said the US must trust & verify with Moscow. Both Iran & Syria complied with verified accords, yet Trump bombed Syria & pulled out of the Iran deal. What message does this send the DPRK, asks Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

Donald Trump bombed Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons last month and he has now officially pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran.

But Syria officially has no chemical weapons and Iran has no nuclear ones. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) verified Syria to be chemical free, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified Iran’s consistent and continued compliance with the JCPOA. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Syria has no chemicals and Iran has no nukes: that’s what verification means.


In 2015, Iran, the United States, Germany and all the permanent members of the Security Council (P5+1) signed the JCPOA. Every ninety days, the president of the United States has the opportunity to certify that Iran is implementing the agreement. If Iran is in compliance, the U.S. has to continue to honor the agreement; if Iran is not in compliance, the U.S. can pull out of the agreement. Iran is in compliance. The IAEA has repeatedly verified – in eleven consecutive reports since January 2016 – that Iran is fully complying with their obligations under the agreement.

In the absence of evidence, America has turned to deception and digging up dirt. Not able to discredit the deal, Trump tried to discredit the deal makers. Trump aides hired the private Israeli intelligence agency Black Cube to “get dirt” on key people in the Obama administration who played a role in negotiating the deal. The agency tried to find anything damaging on personal relationships, involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists or political or personal benefit to the negotiators.

When dirt presumably wasn’t found, the deal killers turned to deceit. Just two weeks before Trump’s most recent opportunity to decertify the deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed to the world “proof” that “Iran lied, big time, after signing the nuclear deal in 2015.” Netanyahu displayed binders with over 50,000 paper files and a wall of CDs that he said were packed with the proof.

But Netanyahu was more Wizard of Oz than statesman. There was nothing behind the curtain. Netanyahu’s “significant new revelations” were a greatest hits tour of old songs that didn’t sell. The binders and discs contained nothing that the IAEA hadn’t seen and dismissed the first time around. Those old attempts to discredit Iran have been carefully discredited by many experts, including Gareth Porter in his book, Manufactured Crisis.

That Israel tried so hard to find evidence that Iran has worked on a nuclear weapons program in any way since the signing of the JCPOA and found nothing new is perhaps the best proof that Trump needed to certify that Iran is in compliance with all of its obligations under the agreement, rather than pull out of it.

Olli Heinonen, the chief inspector of the IAEA at the time of the JCPOA negotiations – and not someone who was in

Heinonen: Saw this picture before.

any way soft on Iran – said that the IAEA first saw the “significant new” evidence that Netanyahu revealed in 2005. Watching Netanyahu’s revelation, Heinonen could only say, “I just saw a lot of pictures I had seen before.” Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,  said that, based on first reports of Netanyahu’s presentation, it “has not put into question Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.” Mogherini said that the final word had to go to the IAEA. The final word was given. The day after Netanyahu’s presentation, the IAEA said that there was “no credible indications” of Iran working on a nuclear weapons program for several years before the JCPOA.

But, as in Syria, Trump accepted the word of a biased source with a significant interest in claiming that Iran has an active clandestine nuclear weapons program over the IAEA’s verification team. Dismissing the IAEA, Trump boasted that Netanyahu’s revelation “showed that I’ve been 100 percent right.” And now, citing only Netanyahu’s presentation as evidence, he dismissed the IAEA’s weapons inspectors and verifications and betrayed an international agreement with a partner who was verified to be in full compliance with its agreements.


On September 14, 2013 the United States and Russia finalized a Russian brokered agreement on the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. On January 4, 2016, the OPCW declared the completion of the destruction of all chemical weapons in Syria.

Nonetheless, on April 14, Trump ordered the bombing of Syria because of a claimed chemical attack in Duma, near Damascus. Only days before the missile strikes, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the U.S lacked the intelligence that Assad was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack. Mattis admitted that the U.S. was “still assessing the intelligence… We’re still working on it.”

Days after, however, the U.S. bombed three particular buildings that they claimed housed specific chemicals and chemical production equipment. That’s very precise, specific intelligence. Armed with that proof, why would the U.S. rush to bomb Syria? Why not take that intelligence to U.N. inspectors? Why not hand it over to the OPCW? Why not reveal the illegal Syrian clandestine chemical weapons program to the world?

Russian chemical weapons specialists who were on site found no trace of chemical weapon use. Neither did Red Crescent doctors who treated people. The OPCW inspectors might quickly have answered the question, but their access to the site was delayed by the United Nations department of Safety and Security.

The evidence for Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people came from rebel-affiliated and Western-financed groups like the White Helmets. The Trump administration has publicly offered nothing further as evidence despite the precise nature of their bombing.

Fisk: Heard a different story.

But investigative journalist Robert Fisk has offered something further. Fisk was the first western journalist to make it to Duma. Fisk heard from no local who knew of a chemical weapons attack. He heard a different version of the story in Duma than the one put out by the White Helmets and accepted by Trump.

The video of victims of chemical attack is real, but the interpretation is false. The suffering is real, but they are not suffering from chemical exposure. They are suffering from oxygen starvation. There was heavy shelling by government forces that night. But on this particular night, there were also strong winds and huge clouds of dust choked the tunnels and basements people were hiding in. The suffering people in the video were struggling from hypoxia, or oxygen starvation. Then a White Helmet “shouted ‘Gas!’” The panic, and the propaganda begun.

When Russia brought seventeen witnesses from Duma to The Hague to testify before the OPCW, the U.S., U.K., and France not only did not listen to the evidence, they boycotted the event. The witnesses from Duma supported the story that Fisk had heard. Each witness was either a victim of that night’s events or a doctor who treated them. Some of the victim witnesses even show up in the White Helmet videos. They all said that there had been no chemical attack: they were sucking in dust, not gas.

The OPCW has verified that Syria has no chemical weapons. The United States and its allies accepted the word of a biased and unreliable source over the OPCW verification team with no additional evidence. They then bombed Syria before they gave the OPCW inspectors a chance to return to Syria. Trump invested in the word of the White Helmets – a group with a significant interest in pinning a chemical weapon attack – over the word of the OPCW, wanting the U.S. to intervene militarily on their side.

North Korea

So what does North Korea understand from this? The North Koreans could learn two things. The first is to be wary of signing deals with America. Both Syria and Iran gave up their programs only to have Trump and America ignore verification of their compliance in favor of biased sources and turn on them: in Syria with bombs and in Iran with pulling out of the JCPOA. How can North Korea confidently agree to give up its only deterrence against American aggression with no assurance that the U.S. will honor a agreement?

The second lesson North Korea could draw from Iran is that, though you may not be able to trust that you can profit from signing an agreement, you can profit by holding off on signing it. In the book, Losing an Enemy, Trita Parsi argued that the difference between sanctions and nuclear escalation is that the former is finite and the latter is not. North Korea knows, as Iran did before, that America will eventually run out of things to sanction. But North Korea will not run out of uranium to enrich or missiles to test. North Korea can outlast the United States unless the United States is really prepared to go to war.

Trumps bombing of Syria and pulling out of the JCPOA with Iran can only reinforce North Korean anxiety that they can’t trust Trump and the U.S. to honor any nuclear disarmament agreement, much as the world needs it.

A version of this article was first published at

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.

26 comments for “The Meaning of Verification in Iran, Syria and North Korea

  1. May 11, 2018 at 12:26

    How do you describe the behavior of the Lofton’s of the world. Whatever the evidence, they stick to the same line. The Assad gassed his own people is simple to grasp. Repeat it over and over again whatever the evidence. Call anything that might be persuasive to rational humans BS. Throw out on sight investigation by Robert Fisk, the certification by OPCW, the many reports of reporters on the scene and then repeat Assad gassed his own people. I don’t know who .Lofton is, a provocateur or a media star wannabe or just a site to site jumper.. The reaction on this site by most is a good one. Ignore what he or she has to say and consider carefully why he or she says it. Above all, don’t respond.

    As to what Mr. Snider has to say, it is persuasive as is what most of the commenters have to say. It also once again highlights how vulnerable our what is on paper democracy is to corruption and the theft of people’s power by the very few. It also points up how such as system as exists now is so difficult to change because the people who have robbed the people of their power have no intention of giving it back.

    Some will say it was always so. Perhaps so, but those in power now have grown so arrogant and greedy that they endanger the world. That we talk of a tiny country in the Middle East having so much to say about how America relates to the rest of the world is also unique, I think. In the past, the tiny minority, however greedy, put America’s interests first. Can we say that now?

    I have always resented people calling leaders they don’t like, Hitler. But our leader has something in common with Hitler. The military always worried about Hitler as he rose to power as he took chance after chance in Sudetenland, Austria, Poland. The military knew at any point if challenged, Germany would be destroyed. I think it is also fair to say if he had been challenged, the military would have used it to get rid of Hitler

    What Hitler did and what Trump is doing are obviously quite different, but the risks he takes in unilaterally scrapping agreements, making bellicose threats against countries runs the risk not of only America’s demise but the world. He is provoking Russia to come to the aid of the Iranians and to draw the lines in Syria with the expectation, likely accurate, that Russia will back down and allow us to have our way in Syria and Iran. But he could be wrong as could those that now have his ear.

  2. Realist
    May 11, 2018 at 01:05

    And you were there when “Assad gassed his own people?” You know because you witnessed it? Did we miss your testimony before congress?

    Israelis have “captured ‘proof’ of intentions?” You must be in possession of some recorded Iranian government statements on the matter–either official documents or intercepted communications. I’m sure you presented those before congress too and had them authenticated. Not important enough for the U.S. media to divulge, however.

    I’ve got 10,000 acres of prime real estate in the Everglades you might like to purchase.

  3. Petouche
    May 10, 2018 at 22:29

    Claiming to have proofs is not the same as having proofs.

  4. Cassandra
    May 10, 2018 at 14:07

    The United States has broken every treaty it ever signed, starting with the Native Americans. If anyone thinks they are dealing with an honest partner they are delusional.

  5. May 10, 2018 at 12:52

    The only positive I can see is that North Korea were already well aware the USA is completely untrustworthy. It’s not news to them.

  6. mike k
    May 10, 2018 at 11:28

    Power and extreme wealth corrupt those who have committed untold crimes against others to acquire it. Those at the apex of the Power Pyramid are truly Satanic in their disregard for all precious human values of truth, love, and sharing. Mad with power, they are not rational now, and do not care if they destroy the world in their obsession with ultimate world domination.

  7. Joe
    May 10, 2018 at 08:53

    We now have multiple entities invading and murdering in a sovereign State. State(s) actually. Almost certainly at the behest of israel’s motivations. Israel has, as it always has, been lying in a manner that would out Pinocchio Pinocchio. And America wags along with the malfeasance. I am going to focus here on the domestic (American) situation. No outrage. No protests. No talk of organizing a ‘march’. On the contrary, the government and the kosher media has again bamboozled the people. They have convinced the sheep that Iran, Syria, NK, Russia, etc. are indeed enemies. The overnight attacks in the Golan should be more than enough to enrage the public. There was never any doubt that the ‘Jewish State’ has been making a move to completely take ‘ownership’ of the place. The acceptance of the israeli concocted Iran lie by America was the green light for israel to go full bore on this. I see the West Bank/Golan becoming part of ‘israel’ in the near future. Indeed, the news reports are worded that this latest violence is from Syria to ISRAEL (although in the Golan). They wordsmith and manipulate. Furthermore, I am positive that the latest incident was BS anyway, to facilitate more israeli and Western intervention. They have been hell bent on this for years. I fear that Syria will fall by year’s end. And it is a G*d damned shame. I apologize for any disjointed writing here. This time I am really upset. Thank you.

  8. mike k
    May 10, 2018 at 08:03

    If Russia waits to draw it’s red line until Syria and Iran are destroyed, it will be too late to counter the Empire. Russia has little choice but to respond to the Empire’s aggressions NOW! S400 air defense systems should be installed in Damascus right away, and any Israeli attacks should be responded to by shooting down their aircraft. If the US fleet launches a massive missile attack, those ships should be targeted and sunk by Russia’s new missiles. Putin needs to understand that there is a point beyond appeasement where only a forceful response is adequate. We are at that point now. Avoiding nuclear war requires a strong conventional retaliation against conventional attacks.

    • rosemerry
      May 10, 2018 at 15:28

      I have been disappointed in Putin’s slowness or refusal to react-even to allow Netanyahu in Moscow for the great march to plan another attack on Syria, which needs the defences the Russians have promised publicly. Act, not talk, and act soon against the constant attacks by Israel and others on what remains of Syria.

  9. Jose
    May 10, 2018 at 07:17

    Knowing that US has wanted to destroy North Korea and send it to the Stone Age for decades, it would make perfect sense to arm as much as it can to the teeth. It’s plain survival to do so.

  10. backwardsevolution
    May 10, 2018 at 05:44

    From Paul Craig Roberts:

    “We can now dismiss all hope that Trump’s campaign promises to pull out of Syria, normalize relations with Russia and stop the offshoring of American jobs will ever become US policies. By dishonoring the US government’s word and pulling out of the Iran nuclear non-proliferation agreement, an agreement signed by the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran, President Trump has revealed that his regime is totally in the hands of the Zionist warmongers.

    It was already evident, but America’s renewal alone in the world of the fabricated conflict with Iran is proof that US foreign policy is in the hands of Israel. All you have to do is to watch Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, groveling at the feet of AIPEC, to watch US Secretary of State Pompeo groveling at the feet of Netanyahu, to see the glee all over the face of neoconservative Israeli agent John Bolton, the National Security Adviser to the President of the United States, from his realization that his conflict agenda with Iran has prevailed. Indeed the entire Trump regime are such dedicated grovelers at Israel’s feet that the Trump regime comes across as a barbaric tribe groveling before the King of Kings.”

    • rosemerry
      May 10, 2018 at 15:29

      Unfortunately the “Democrats”, led by Hillary Clinton, have shown the same devotion.

      • Realist
        May 11, 2018 at 01:11

        Yes, we were snookered into believing that there was an actual difference in the projected foreign policies of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president. In retrospect, there was not. If the people have been attentive to events and want a policy that does not put the world at risk for nuclear annihilation they will never vote for either party ever again. They will vote only third party or independent.

  11. KiwiAntz
    May 10, 2018 at 04:51

    Pulling out of the Iran deal is just part of America’s planned Invasion’s of 5 x Middle Eastern Countries within 7 yrs? Regime change in 1. Afghanistan? Tick. 2. Iraq? Tick. 3. Libya? Tick. 4. Syria? Work In progress? 5. Iran? Next on the list? Russia threw a spanner in the works in Syria which has altered the completion Timeline deadline out from 7yrs to perhaps 20 yrs but the plan remains unchanged? Trump is just a another figurehead, puppet dummy, a stupid talking head taking orders from his Deepstate masters? Next stage is for Israel to soften up Iran with continued air strikes in Syria currently underway & supervised under US command & then create some fake International, nuclear crisis blaming Iran, as a invasion pretext, like the lies about Iraq, & the False flag chemical attacks in Syria providing the excuse that will usher in the full blown, American Military invasion of Syria & Iran to change those regimes & destroy their sovereignties? They are so predictable in the stupidity of their plans it’s laughable? There’s only one Nation on Earth or possibly two if you count China, who has the Military power to postpone or stop this plan in its tracks & that is Russia, who have just celebrated their Victory in the Great Patrotic War of WW2! This a Country that has never received credit for Hitlers defeat & should have been given that acknowledgment as they are the sole reason why the Nazi’s lost? Russia stands up to cowards & bullies & defeated the Nazi tyrants, paying the ultimate price of losing 26 million of their own people in the process? The American Govt, by its arrogant, ignorant & disasterous foreign policy decisions is behaving like cowardly Nazi bullies, but need to stop this Empire building nonsense as Russia will not tolerate another tyrant threatening their people & region, ever again? Watch this space for the American “exceptionalism” goals of Middle East Regime change & it’s action plan updates? Will Russia intervene to stop this plan & bring America back to its senses? Only time will tell?

    • Steve ABBOTT
      May 10, 2018 at 11:59

      According gto Wesley Clark, it was to be 7 countries in 5 years. As Afghanistan was already a fait acompli, the 3 additional were Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia.

  12. john wilson
    May 10, 2018 at 04:07

    The Yankee gangsters will demand of North Korea that it abandons ALL its nuclear material including any weapons now in service. Needless to say, the North Koreans will refuse to get rid of current serviceable weapons, which the US knows, so the exercise is just a publicity stunt by the Yanks. Trusting the US is like trusting a monkey to look after a bag of bananas !

    • KiwiAntz
      May 10, 2018 at 05:00

      I love your line about trusting the US is like trusting a monkey with a bag of bananas? Great stuff? If that’s the case perhaps monkeyman Trump is like Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of Apes” & America rules over a Kingdom of apes that he wants to extend on a Global scale? But I wouldn’t want to denigrate apes & monkeys who have more brains than the current POTUS & his Govt of primates?

    • Jose
      May 10, 2018 at 07:12

      I agree with your post. If North Korea were to disarm to please US, they will find themselves in a world of hurt. In layman’s term, they will become dog food. If I were them, not only would I keep my nuclear arsenal but I would increase it even further,

    • Jose
      May 10, 2018 at 07:28

      Dear John: If I were North Korea, I would not abandon my nuclear weapons specially considering that US wants to decimate the country. As a matter of fact, after reading US imperial world wide record regarding it’s foreign policy, I would escalate the production of nuclear weapons in order to defend myself. North Korea only needs to see Libya, Iraq, or Siria to get an idea.

  13. David G
    May 10, 2018 at 03:01

    Well, at least she used her real name?

  14. David G
    May 10, 2018 at 02:20

    Not to disagree with anything in Ted Snider’s cogent piece, but I’m not too worried that the DPRK will be duped into disarming only to have the U.S. whipsaw them, nor that they will have been shocked by Trump’s ditching of the JCPOA into reversing the recent North-South détente: whatever the two Koreas have in mind for the road forward, they will have factored U.S. perfidy and rigid maximalism in from the start.

    And moreover, the DPRK didn’t need the recent developments with respect to Syria and Iran to clue them in on the American Way, since they already experienced an even more pertinent instance when the U.S. undermined and eventually abandoned the perfectly workable nuclear freeze agreement negotiated during the Clinton administration.

  15. Realist
    May 10, 2018 at 01:59

    Israel has been blasting Syrian assets, including its air defense systems, with missiles fired from Lebanese airspace ever since Trump broke the treaty Washington had signed with six other world powers to contain nuclear arms development by Iran. The Israelis blame Iran. The strategy sounds an awful like that employed by Washington when it mounts a full scale invasion of a country. Why no commentary from the international community on THIS outrage?

    Instead pundits in both the United States and Russia suggest that Putin has decided to basically surrender to Washington. Syria and Iran will be left to their own devices if this is true. Not a finger is ever lifted by Russian forces to protect Syrian assets, nor is Netanyahoo dissuaded from his aggression even while in Putin’s presence in Moscow. More like Netanyahoo mocks Putin with these raids. Assad simply cannot win his country back that way. The planes delivering the missiles need to be targeted, not just the missiles or the past several years of effort, investment and lost lives will be totally wasted. The entire Syrian population could have just evacuated to Europe and turned the keys over to ISIS if this was to be the outcome. But both the Russians and Syrians seem afraid to effectively defend against Israel (or Washington).

    How edifying, with Israel providing the pretext, Washington is about to put on another “Shock and Awe” performance for the world’s viewing enjoyment, though this time using Israeli and Saudi supporting players, to trash both Syria and Iran. Now we know why the carrier task force is in the Mediterranean–to attack both Syria and Iran. To attack it in turn is to invite World War III which Russia will not do. I will not blame Iran one bit if they take out the world’s entire supply of crude oil from the Persian Gulf. I hope their missiles are accurate and elusive. Maybe they can bring down the rotten monarchy of the KSA in the bargain. Some New York judge can issue a monetary judgement against them later, which would be worth every penny.

    • john wilson
      May 10, 2018 at 04:12

      What I don’t get, Realist, is why are the Russians having some kind of friendly relationship with Netanyahoo (this criminal is currently taking part in the Russian parade), Yet Israel is currently bombing Iranian assets in Syria who are helping Assad as part of the Russian effort.

      • Patrick
        May 10, 2018 at 04:43

        Good Q. I think that Russia is afraid of being overwhelmed by Israeli power in the middle-east. And there are many Russians living in Israel but the country is not neighboring Russia, so it’s out of reach for Little Green Men.

    • mike k
      May 10, 2018 at 07:46

      Kim would be crazy to make a deal with Trump now, and so would China. If the major powers decide to appease the Empire, it will be a classic mistake, leading to WWIII nuclear. Only if Russia and China stand up to the US with conventional forces, will there be a chance that nuclear Armageddon can be avoided. Syria
      should be considered the red line to be defended at all costs in this resistance to Empire; anything less will be suicidal. The US realizes that time is not on their side now, and so is going to act very aggressively from here on. If Russia does not draw and defend a red line now, it will be pushed back and back, until there is nowhere to retreat to – and then it will be too late.

  16. Abe
    May 10, 2018 at 00:48

    “Verification” has been outsourced to Eliot Higgins and the Atlantic Council’s Bellingcat team of fake “citizen investigative journalists”, and disseminated by obliging “First Draft” coalition propaganda “partners”.

    F.UK.US “Government Assessment” documents are little more than officially sanctioned Bellingcat “investigation reports”.

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