A University of Kansas Law Professor and Middle East expert doesn’t see anything wrong with the Trump administration looking into the Iran nuclear deal, but when they look closely, he believes they’ll see it’s got good safeguards as part of it.
“Just like any business contract between two private parties, any trade agreement or any arms control agreement, especially one that is complex and involving multiple parties like Iran, or one that’s been in force for now, almost a quarter of a century like NAFTA, can be relooked at to see if it can be improved,” said Raj Bhala, the Brennesein Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas Law School, and a Senior Advisor at Dentons. “Technology changes, the nature of transactions change, some illicit activity patterns change, or can change. We do need to reexamine treaties, just like we reexamine contracts.”
From the Iranian perspective, it appears that they are getting what they need.
“Iran wants to stay in the deal,” said Bhala. “Iran was never the country that was the first to say, we want to leave the deal. Iran went to enormous strides internally, in particular the President, to sell this deal to the Ayatollah and conservative clerics in Iran. Whenever talk of withdrawal occurred, or canceling the deal, it came from the United States, and Iran reacted. Iran’s response generally has been, not necessarily exactly in these words, but, we’re in compliance, you, the Trump administration, have said we’re in compliance. In any case, it’s the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that have certified us being in compliance.”
The conflict right now between the U.S. and Iran may not be about actions that fall within the deal itself.
“The reason, I think, the administration is suggesting that Iran is not complying with the spirit of the deal is because there are things Iran has done in terms of ballistic missile tests and actions in the Persian Gulf with the navy, going after some of our ships in a reckless and dangerous way that the administration, understandably, doesn’t like, but they don’t violate the deal,” said Bhala. “Here’s what the deal covers: It covers uranium enrichment at the Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz and Fordow. It covers plutonium at the Arak facility. It covers transparency in inspections. It covers breakout time, it covers sanctions removal, it covers dispute resolution, what to do in dispute resolution and it also covers the arms embargo and the ballistic missile sanctions removals from the United Nations.”
The deal says that the U.N. arms embargo on Iran continues for up to five years and the U.N. ban on Iran importing ballistic missile technology stays in place for up to eight years. The goal is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and extending the breakout time that Iran would need to create a nuclear weapon for at least one year. Other countries must come to the table with the U.S. if there is a sincere belief that Iran is not complying with those terms.
“The dispute resolution provisions, which nobody’s paying attention to are really important,” said Bhala. “An eight member joint commission is created by the deal. The eight members come from the P5 plus one. That’s the five permanent Security Council members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, plus the E.U., plus Iran. Those are your eight members. Any dispute goes to this joint commission. The joint commission has to respond to the dispute within 15 days, two weeks, unless everybody says we need more time. If they still can’t resolve the dispute and the dispute alleges significant non-performance by Iran, which nobody is alleging now, then the P5 plus one can take that claim that’s gone unresolved and it can cease to perform the Iran nuclear deal. Or, it can take the whole matter to the U.N. Security Council, or both.”
As Bhala reads the deal, the Americans cannot go it alone on this one.
“It’s not the U.S. that’s the judge, jury and executioner on this,” said Bhala. “The U.S. should learn from its Iraq experience where it did behave that way, that things didn’t go so well.”
Bhala sees bringing the joint commission together if there is a disagreement as vital, particularly before the U.S. engages in military intervention.
“If we are to get into a significant and potentially violent dispute with Iran, God forbid and I absolutely don’t want that, we have to pay attention to an important theological point in Christian teaching, the just war theory,” said Bhala. “We talked about this before the invasion of Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003. The question came up, has the United States gone through every possible resort, every possible dispute resolution mechanism, before turning to the military option. We haven’t even convened the joint commission yet! Our attacks, if you will, on Iran, don’t comport with our own Judeo-Christian tradition of just war theory of following through all of the steps that we ourselves created in this Iran deal before turning to something that’s more serious.”
The recertification of the deal or lack thereof is due by October 15th. If Trump does not recertify the deal to Congress, then Congress has an opportunity to restore sanctions through its own action, if it so chooses, within 60 days.
FILE PHOTO – In this Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington. If President Trump moves to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s nationalist government can be expected to be the loudest, and perhaps only, major player to applaud. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)