Baden-Wurttemberg is a bucolic state in southwest Germany but its capital is Stuttgart, one of the world’s great high-tech centers. Like other German states, Baden-Wurttemberg has its own intelligence agency.
That agency, the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, last week released a lengthy report. An accompanying press release neglected to mention this nugget uncovered by my Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) colleague, Benjamin Weinthal: The Islamic Republic of Iran, which for years has sworn that its nuclear research is exclusively for peaceful purposes, has been deploying agents in Baden-Wurttemberg.
Their mission: to acquire the “products and relevant knowhow” necessary “to complete existing arsenals, perfect the range applicability and effectiveness of their weapons and develop new weapons systems.”
This revelation comes at an inconvenient moment for those Americans and Europeans inclined to give the clerical regime the benefit of every doubt. Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report revealing that Iran’s rulers, in violation of their legally binding commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have been preventing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from searching for undeclared nuclear materials and evidence of continuing work on nuclear weapons.
On Friday, the IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution demanding Tehran provide “prompt access” to sites where nuclear weapons research is suspected to have taken place in the past. The Islamic Republic reflexively dismissed the appeal as “unconstructive and disappointing.”
You need to understand that the NPT is entirely separate from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal President Obama concluded — despite congressional disapproval — with Iran’s rulers in 2015. Spin aside, the JCPOA was not designed to permanently shut down Tehran’s nuclear weapons program — only to put it on ice for a few years. In exchange, the Islamic Republic received hundreds of billions of dollars, and the promise that the river of funds would continue to flow.
President Trump and his advisers regarded the JCPOA as can-kicking, and withdrew the U.S. from it in 2018. But Iran’s rulers remained in the deal, along with France, Britain, Germany (the E3), Russia and China. That means that Tehran has continued to be bound by the commitments it made under the JCPOA. In response to violations of those commitments, E3 leaders have mostly turned a blind eye. Russia and China’s leaders seem to be enjoying the West’s predicament.
Iran’s rulers also have curated a nuclear archive to preserve information on weapons development, and created a secret organization, which is chaired by the founder of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and employs scientists who worked on that program.
In other words, we now have overwhelming evidence that the nuclear weapons development program whose existence Iran’s rulers have consistently denied continues to progress.
Activities not clearly prohibited (e.g. the development of missiles that can deliver nukes to targets anywhere on the planet) have been carried out overtly. Activities unambiguously restricted have been carried out covertly.
That should trigger a response, specifically: The re-imposition of the international sanctions that were lifted under the JCPOA.
It would be best if our European allies on the U.N. Security Council would demand such a “snapback.” But if they won’t, the United States has the power to do the job on its own.
Simply put — and giving credit where credit is due — Mr. Obama’s negotiators succeeded in passing a U.N. Security Council Resolution that authorizes any of the original parties to the JCPOA to re-impose international sanctions in response to Iranian violations. Nothing in the resolution suggests that America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA changes that.
The larger issue underlying this controversy merits a brief discussion. For decades, American and European strategists on both the left and the right have embraced the comforting notion that those who self-identify as our enemies can be transformed into friends through patient diplomacy and the prospect of economic rewards.
Mr. Obama had faith that Iran’s rulers, once in receipt of his respect and U.S. taxpayer cash, would decide they’d rather lead a nation than champion a cause (to borrow one of Henry Kissinger’s concepts). That would mean they’d focus on alleviating poverty at home, while ending the pursuit of regional hegemony (in the near-term) and “Death to America!” (in the long-term).
Similarly, both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump bet that visions of detente and economic benefits would mellow the dynastic Kim dictatorship in North Korea. In truth, the despots in Pyongyang have always taken whatever goodies were offered, while never contemplating serious concessions in return.
And, of course, for nearly half a century we’ve labored under the delusion that China’s Communist rulers were evolving into responsible stakeholders in the “liberal, rules-based, international order.” To that end, we provided them a seat on the U.N. Security Council, brought them into the World Trade Organization and elaborately intertwined their economy with ours.
To demonstrate their gratitude, they’ve been stealing our intellectual property, accelerating military buildups, aggressing against their neighbors, and brutally oppressing their subject peoples — China’s ethnic and religious minorities especially.
The hard reality that should now be apparent is that America’s adversaries are fanatical ideologues, not material girls (to borrow one of Madonna’s concepts).
In an election year, and at a time when Americans are deeply divided on a range of issues, fresh strategic thinking is unlikely to be formulated, much less implemented. The best we can expect — and this will be challenging enough — are policies that limit the resources available to those most hostile to us, frustrate their ambitions, and perhaps persuade them that, should they do us harm, they will pay a steep price.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.