Yesterday I asked whether we have reached Peak Clownshoe on the nuclear deal with Iran. Clearly that question came prematurely. Earlier today, Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles in defiance of both the nuclear agreement and existing UN resolutions. Iran defiantly declared that they would continue to test their ballistic missile systems regardless of the UN or its agreements with the US. In fact, Tehran turned it into a must-see-TV event:
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired several ballistic missiles on Tuesday, state television said, challenging a United Nations resolution and drawing a threat of a diplomatic response from the United States.
Two months ago, Washington imposed sanctions against businesses and individuals linked to Iran’s missile program over a test of the medium-range Emad missile carried out in October 2015. …
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s aerospace arm, said sanctions would not stop Iran developing its ballistic missiles, which it regards as a cornerstone of its conventional deterrent.
“Our main enemies are imposing new sanctions on Iran to weaken our missile capabilities … But they should know that the children of the Iranian nation in the Revolutionary Guards and other armed forces refuse to bow to their excessive demands,” the IRGC’s website quoted Hajizadeh as saying.
When asked about the missile tests, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says not to worry — they’ll know if the Iranians violate the agreement, so it’s all good:
No guarantee Iran won't violate nuclear deal, says @PressSec, "but we'll know if they do," citing most intrusive monitoring procedures.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 8, 2016
First, that’s not exactly a comforting thought. Even if we do know if the Iranians cheat, there’s no longer much we can do about it. Iran already has access to $100 billion in unfrozen assets that the West agreed to surrender to get the deal done. Those assets are mainly in foreign banks, the Financial Times reported a month ago, but the Iranians are almost certain to have found ways to get around the US control of banking systems that made the sanctions bite particularly hard. The West could put sanctions on oil sales again, but good luck getting Russia and China to go along with them again. We made it clear that we didn’t want to maintain that pressure on the mullahs, and those two powers will not want to disrupt their own economies for short-term stunts.
Second, as we discovered yesterday, we may know if Iran cheats, but we’re not likely to get the necessary details to deal with it. And this stunt shows that Iran could care less whether we know about it. They turned this series of missile launches into a reality-TV show akin to The Opening of Al Capone’s Vault, only with a much more explosive climax.
The most significant question will be whether the UN takes any action. As Jeff Dunetz notes, this violated existing UN resolutions, and North Korea’s nuclear tests just resulted in the imposition of stiff new sanctions:
The Obama administration claims the firing of missiles did not violate the p5+1 nuke deal. But they admit that if true the missile firings violates UNSCR 2231, the resolution which among other things approved the P5+1 deal. Paragraph 3 of Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015) calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology. So since the two are part of the same UN resolution one can argue that violating one part is violating the whole thing. Or to put on another way saying that it doesn’t violate the P5+1 deal is a trick of semantics.
Semantics is all the White House has left to use to keep justifying its terrible deal with Iran. Don’t expect the UN to pull the Obama-Kerry chestnuts out of the fire either, for the same reason that Russia and China won’t go along with the “snapback” sanctions. We already signaled our withdrawal, and no one will take us seriously on this matter again.