Joel Gehrke writing at the National Review has published a copy of a letter from the US Department of State to Representative Mike Pompeo in which the State Department admits that the Iran deal is not legally binding upon Iran. Pompeo demanded the answers in September, and is only now receiving a reply. The Iranians have been quite clear about that fact ever since the deal was negotiated, so the information from the State Department is merely an admission of reality.
It is an admission that is especially striking given that President Barack Obama went through the motions of signing the deal as if it were exactly the kind of agreement that the State Department now admits it is not. So when the State Department writes that “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” that is only partly true: Barack Obama signed it.
It’s also the case that President Obama has presented the deal as legally binding — on us. As IranTruth reported more than a month ago, Iran was openly defying its alleged commitments and its parliament had refused to “sign” the deal.
This is the context in which Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is proceeding with the eliminations of sanctions on Iran as if he had a diplomatic agreement with a cooperating partner. Iran has in no way endorsed the JCPOA, let alone the UN Security Council ruling respecting it. It is openly violating the agreement according to his own close adviser. Nevertheless, he gave a short speech to commemorate his issuance of waivers of the sanctions:
Today marks an important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward…. I have directed that the heads of all relevant executive departments and agencies of the United States begin preparations to implement the U.S. commitments in the JCPOA, in accordance with U.S. law, including providing relief from nuclear-related sanctions as detailed in the text of the JCPOA once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has completed all of its nuclear steps. We will also be closely monitoring Iran’s adherence to its commitments, working closely with the IAEA and the other JCPOA participants, to ensure Iran fully fulfills each and every one of its commitments.
Iran’s parliament altered the terms of the deal, endorsing only a law that committed Iran to pursue the end of Israel’s nuclear program, not its own. Even this law was nonbinding until endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who further altered the deal with his instructions that Iran was to regard any non-nuclear related sanctions to nullify any Iranian commitments to the deal. Such sanctions, to be imposed as for example should Iran continue to practice state sponsorship of terrorism, are explicitly permitted by the negotiated text of the JCPOA. Iran’s leadership has made clear that it considers the deal utterly nonbinding.
Amir Taheri of the Gatestone Institute correctly predicted this outcome when he wrote that “Obama may end up being the only person in the world to sign his much-wanted deal, in effect making a treaty with himself.” The truth is even a little worse: it is a treaty with himself that the Ayatollah Khamenei is free to revise at will.
Nor can we take comfort in the promises of the State Department that “verification” and “sanctions” will enforce the deal. Snap-back sanctions will not exist. President Obama has pursued legally binding status not only by signing the deal, but also by seeking a UN Security Council resolution imposing its terms upon the United States. That ruling, 2231, calls upon this and any future US administration to do its best to restrain Congress from imposing snap-back sanctions of the kind the US State Department is promising to consider.
“The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA, without prejudice to the dispute resolution process provided for under this JCPOA. The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions specified in Annex II, or such an imposition of new nuclear related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”
So the United States is bound by a Security Council ruling it signed to refrain from re-imposing existing sanctions OR allowing new nuclear-related sanctions without a new Security Council vote. Iran, meanwhile, has pledged to defy the ruling from the beginning, as we have been reporting since September:
Three different top Iranian leaders have openly declared that Iran may violate the United Nations Security Council Ruling enforcing the Iran deal, Resolution 2231. President Rouhani stated that “There is nothing about the topic of missiles, defense, and weapons in the JCPOA. Whatever we have about it is in Resolution 2231… Moreover, we have formally announced that we are not committed to all the sections that appear in the resolution , and we specified in the JCPOA that violation of the resolution  does not mean violation of the JCPOA.”
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, and senior negotiator of the deal, made a separate statement that considered Iran’s obligations under the Security Council resolution nonbinding. He noted that Iran has not obeyed Security Council resolutions in the past, and felt that this one was no different. “Just as we refrained from complying with [earlier] UN Security Council resolutions,” he said, “we can do so with regards to 2231.”
His boss, Foreign Minister Javed Zarif, agrees. “There is a difference between the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231. Violating the JCPOA has consequences, while violating UNSCR 2231 has no consequences.”
Indeed, Iran is constitutionally obligated to ignore any Security Council ruling that imposes limits upon its freedom of action because of the unusual feature of its constitution that specifies a foreign policy. Its constitution obligates it to reject “all forms of domination,” and to preserve “the independence of the country in all respects.” It further states that “[a]ny form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, army, or culture of the country, as well as other aspects of the national life, is forbidden.”
And as for verification, the Iran deal allows Iran to inspect itself and to limit the nationalities of inspectors to nations it considers friendly. The IAEA side deals regarding Iran’s military program are transparently worthless.
President Obama has negotiated and signed an “agreement” that legally binds the United States but not Iran, and his own State Department admits it. It is an example of diplomatic incompetence probably unmatched in the annals of history.