A number of stories have been reported since the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal with Iran is known, that raise serious questions about its effectiveness to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and even about whether or not it will stop a war.

Syria’s Secret Chemical Weapons Stockpile

The Wall Street Journal reported on July 23 (Google link) that Syria, contrary to previous reports, had maintained “caches of even deadlier nerve agents.”

Why it’s important: The first reason is that Iran is the main sponsor of Assad regime. Given that it has supported the use of WMD in Syria and suffered no consequences for this will likely embolden it. The second reason is more practical. The chemical weapons inspectors were limited by the Assad regime where they could go. They also feared that if they reported something that would displease the authorities they would be barred from other sites. The same problem will exist with Iran. But being able to declare military sites out of bounds for inspections, Iran will limit inspectors’ access, compromising the effectiveness of inspections regime.

Qassem Suleimani Flies to Russia

On August 6 Fox News reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) commander Gen. Qassem Suliemani visited Russia. Suleimani, in one of the more controversial aspects of the JCPOA, will have European Union and United Nation sanctions lifted in eight years. Suleimani, in addition to being the force organizing the military support for Assad and coordinating the Shi’ite militias in Iraq, is held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq.

Why it’s important: The United States has said that it is simply seeking an investigation of the visit. Suleimani is under a travel ban (one that he’s violated in his reported travels to Syria and Iraq) imposed by the UN. Simply demanding an investigation is hardly decisive action. This isn’t a new ban, but an existing one. If the United States won’t enforce existing sanctions, what are the chances it will enforce the new sanctions? When Iran sees it can get away with this violation it will test others. Furthermore as The New York Times observed, “The Obama administration has repeatedly asserted that Russia was helpful in negotiating the nuclear accord.” The Suleimani visit certainly suggests that, in practice, Russia has not been as helpful as advertised and raises the question on what other matters are they working at cross-purposes with the stated goals of the administration. (Keep reading.)

Iran to Test Ballistic Missiles

On August 13, Iran’s Fars news agency reported that Iran will be testing ballistic missiles in a challenge to the American reading of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which was passed as the first step of the implementation of the JCPOA.

Why it’s important: The language in 2231 is “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for eight years. Iran claims that since it has no nuclear weapons program, the language doesn’t limit its ballistic missile program. Yesterday Reuters reported that Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile. President Hassan Rouhani said at the unveiling of the missile, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.” In her explanation of the American vote for 2231, Ambassador Samantha Power said that the resolution “will also require Iran and all states to comply with legally binding restrictions on nuclear-, conventional arms-, and ballistic missile-related activities.” Again, Iran is challenging the United States, and the Obama administration isn’t responding.

Russia to Complete Deal Sending Advanced S-300 Missile Systems to Iran

On August 18 Reuters reported that Russia will finally sign a deal to provide Iran with advanced S-300 ground to air missile systems. It is believed that these systems would be used to protect Iran’s nuclear sites. Originally Russia said it would observe a ban on selling the systems to Iran in response to requests from the United States, despite a loophole in UNSC resolution 1929 that didn’t cover the systems. Then in April Russia said it would lift the ban but indicated that it would not sell the systems anytime soon. Now apparently the sale is back on.

Why it’s important: Again this goes to Russia’s intent. Are they allied with America’s interests or not? And if not why are we relying on them? Then the capabilities of the S-300 systems are also concerning. The administration insists (not entirely convincingly) that “all options are on the table,” but if it ships the systems, the military option of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon becomes that much more complicated.

Iran to Collect Evidence of Its Suspicious Activities and Report to IAEA

On August 19 the Associated Press reported that according to a side deal between the IAEA and Iran, Iran will have veto power over inspections of its Parchin military site. A day later the text of the deal was released confirming that the United State had been “snookered.” Iran will provide environmental samples, photographs, and videos of Parchin, and international inspectors will not be allowed at the site. The language of the agreement says that Iran’s agreement is necessary for any location in question.

Why it’s important: Iran is suspected of having tested detonators for a nuclear device at Parchin more than a decade ago. Though it once allowed inspectors to visit part of Parchin in 2005, it hasn’t allowed any further on-the-ground inspections despite promises to do so, including last August. Knowing the full extent of Iran’s past nuclear research is essential for verifying its compliance. Former deputy director of the IAEA, Olli Heinonen told The New York Times last week, “You don’t need to see every nut and bolt, but you are taking a heck of a risk if you don’t establish a baseline of how far they went.”

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While the administration tells us that with the backing of the international community and Iran’s fear of sanctions and possible military action should it defy the JCPOA will keep it in line, combined these five stories raise a number of questions challenging those assertions.

Can the deal be effective?

Will the deal be verifiable?

How much international support can we garner if one of our partners is undermining us?

Does the United States have the will to enforce sanctions or to use any other means to ensure that Iran doesn’t cheat and to punish Iran if it does?

Does Iran fear the consequences of defying the United States?

It would be one thing if the United States showed that it will tolerate no deviations from the deal by Iran. But its behavior so far suggests that it would rather have a deal that Iran defies than to have no deal at all. Its efforts have been to defend the deal as it stands rather than to call Iran, or Russia for that matter, to account. In fact the administration has been a lot harder on its political critics—saying that the deal is in America’s national security interests (implying that opponents are hurting national security) or saying that killing the deal will bring war or hurt America economically—than it has been with Iran, a state that still considers the United States its main enemy, and its ally in mischief, Russia.

So if you’re a Democrat, even if you believe that this deal as written is better than any alternative, do you believe—with what you’ve seen in the past five weeks—the deal will be followed to the letter? In other words, will you be voting for the deal that Obama claims he made or for the deal that he is actually implementing that, in effect, demands nothing of Iran as it seeks to establish its hegemony across the Middle East?

Or as Sen. Robert Menendez (D – N.J.) asked last week, “Will your name be on Iran’s nuclear bomb?”

 [Featured Image via European External Action Service / Flickr]