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Iran nuclear deal is unraveling

By Struan Stevenson
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses the media after his arrival from Teheran at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on February 21, 2021 after meeting with Iranian officials for talks over Iran's nuclear program. File Photo by Florian Wieser/EPA-EFE
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses the media after his arrival from Teheran at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on February 21, 2021 after meeting with Iranian officials for talks over Iran's nuclear program. File Photo by Florian Wieser/EPA-EFE

June 13 (UPI) -- The Iran nuclear deal is finally beginning to unravel.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency's director-general, last week said that Iran had removed 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country. His statement followed a meeting of the IAEA's board of governors, who censured Iran for failing to provide "credible information" over man-made nuclear material found at three undeclared sites in the country.

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It also followed months of stalled talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran. Grossi warned that if an agreement cannot be reached to restore the cameras in three to four weeks, "this would be a fatal blow" to the tattered nuclear deal.

For the past two decades, warnings have been given to the West that Iran was engaged in a clandestine campaign to produce a nuclear weapon. In April, the former deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Motahari, said in an interview on state television: "There is no need to beat around the bush. When we began our nuclear activity, our goal was indeed to build a bomb as a means of intimidation and to strike fear in the hearts of the enemies of Allah."

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He was confirming information that has been known for years and was first revealed to astonished Western intelligence agencies in 2003, at a press conference in Washington, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. From underground sources within the Iranian regime, the NCRI was able to point to the existence of illicit nuclear development sites, including the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Arak heavy water facility, the Kalaye Electric centrifuge testing facility near Tehran and the Lashkar Ab'ad laser enrichment facility.

It was based on this information that the West began moves to curtail the mullahs' nuclear ambitions, triggering, for the first time, the inspection of Iranian sites by the IAEA. Sadly, the strategy of appeasement by political leaders desperate to avoid offending the theocratic regime meant that the mullahs' nuclear development accelerated up to 2015, when U.S. President Barack Obama, keen to leave a foreign policy legacy, signed up to the deeply flawed JCPOA.

The Iranian regime insisted that access to all military sites should be prohibited, virtually neutering the JCPOA at a stroke, as most of their nuclear activity was taking place in these heavily guarded locations. There was also no mention of human rights violations, oppression or proxy wars in the cripplingly one-sided agreement.

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Despite clear evidence that Iran has never stopped secretly working to construct a nuclear device and ballistic missiles capable of carrying a primed atomic warhead, the United States, United Kingdom and European Union remain ludicrously committed to reinstating the JCPOA without demanding an end to the clerical regime's destabilizing proxy wars in the Middle East and without insisting on an end to repression, torture and executions in Iran.

U.S., U.K. and EU attempts at appeasement have simply encouraged the mullahs to further aggressive behavior at home and abroad. The total cost of the regime's nuclear project is estimated at $2 trillion, which is one of the most important causes of the terrible poverty of the Iranian people today.

The mullahs' pretext of negotiations in Vienna were only ever a masquerade to hide that reality from the West. They are demanding the lifting of sanctions and the delisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. American participation in this charade has become a circus, based on President Joe Biden's determination to reinstate the JCPOA after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018.

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The Americans know that the Iranians have no intention of slowing their development of a nuclear bomb. They know that all they want is for sanctions to be lifted so that they can continue to fund Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Shi'ia militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

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For Russia and China, ending sanctions and rebooting the nuclear deal is strategically important, enhancing their influence in the Middle East, while undermining the West. The Russians have kept the civil war in Syria going for more than a decade by siding with the Iranian regime. Now, Tehran is openly supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin's inhuman war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, China has signed a 25-year $400 billion "Belt & Road" deal with Iran, to bypass sanctions imposed by Trump's "maximum pressure campaign," effectively turning Iran into a client state.

The JCPOA was only ever destined to run until 2025, after which the Iranians were to be allowed to re-commence their full nuclear program. It is now abundantly clear, following the recent revelations by the IAEA, that in the three years that remain of the original deal, there is no likelihood of the mullahs opening their doors to maximum, unfettered inspections of their nuclear facilities. They have boasted that their uranium enrichment program has achieved 60% purity, a hair's breadth from weapons grade, and any pledges or guarantees they may provide in Vienna would be worthless.

The behavior of the Iranian regime is so egregious and threatening, it is time for France, Germany and the United Kingdom, three of the signatories to the nuclear deal, to inform the EU that they intend to invoke the trigger mechanism clause in the JCPOA, to expedite a debate in the United Nations Security Council, without the facility for a vote and its inevitable veto by Iran's allies, Russia and China.

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The U.N. must hold Iran to account for its criminal behavior. The regime's nuclear and enrichment sites must be shut down and unconditional inspections must be carried out. The barbaric war in Ukraine and the Iranian regime's support for the Russians should have sent a resounding wake-up call to Western appeasers. We need to act now. There can be no question of waiting until the next meeting of the IAEA's board of governors in September. If we continue to pursue this policy of appeasement, we will plunge Europe onto a fast track to nuclear disaster.

Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is also chair of the "In Search of Justice" committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and serves as president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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