December 5, 2016 | Forbes
Don’t Let Iran Off The Hook For Chemical/Biological Weapons
The Trump administration will need to be on its toes to enforce the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement—and stop the Islamic Republic’s developing chemical and biological weapons programs.
President-elect Donald Trump called the nuclear deal a “lopsided disgrace” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.” Aggressive enforcement of the deal—assuming Trump does not scrap the pact—will need to be a top priority. Take the example of Iran’s violations before the ink was even dry on the deal.
Tehran’s rulers continued to seek to acquire nuclear technology in Germany after the January 2016 implementation date. Just last week, Iran illegally exceeded for a second time the limit on sensitive material used for nuclear facilities, the UN atomic watchdog agency said. Moreover, Iran has repeatedly conducted missile tests in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions.
Putting aside the disturbing violations of the nuclear and missile restrictions, the drafters of the nuclear accord overlooked Iran’s continuing determination to build its chemical and biological warfare capabilities.
October’s Congressional Research Service report on “Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies” cited unsettling information on the Islamic Republic’s chemical and biological weapons development programs. According to the CRS study, “U.S. reports indicate that Iran has the capability to produce chemical warfare (CW) agents and ‘probably’ has the capability to produce some biological warfare agents for offensive purposes, if it made the decision to do so.”
The researcher notes that “this raises questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997.”
The CRS document did not mention local German intelligence reports from 2015 spanning the 16 states in the Federal Republic. For example, the intelligence agency of Rhineland-Palatinate reported that Iran had targeted German companies in the state, seeking to acquire equipment which could be used to produce and deliver “atomic, biological and chemical weapons in a war.” “These goods could, for example, be applied to the development of state nuclear and missile delivery programs,” the intelligence experts said.
The state of Saarland wrote in its intelligence report released in June that “so-called danger states, for example Iran and North Korea, make efforts to obtain technology for atomic, biological or chemical weapons.”
The intelligence agency in the state of Baden-Württemberg noted Iran’s efforts to procure technology for the development of “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.”
According to German intelligence officials, Tehran has continued its illegal efforts to acquire nuclear equipment in 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Supporters of Iran’s regime frequently argue that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejects the use of chemical weapons because Iranian soldiers were the victims of lethal nerve agents during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. If Iran is in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention—and there are big question marks over this—international inspectors should be allowed to verify Tehran’s alleged adherence to the CWC.
Just last month, Kurdish fighters alleged that Iran’s military used chemical weapons against 12 combatants in western Iran. International inspectors should investigate the Kurdish claim. Moreover, the newly appointed Trump national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, wrote in his book The Field of Fight, which he co-authored with my colleague Michael Ledeen, that the trove of captured Osama bin Laden documents revealed: “One letter to bin Laden that al Qaeda was working on chemical and biological weapons in Iran.”
Iran has showed no appetite to stop its strategic partner—the Bashar Assad regime in Syria—from using chemical weapons against its citizens. Unsurprisingly, Iran opposed recently a statement from Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that condemned the Assad regime and Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons.
President Barack Obama’s famous or infamous decision to not bomb Assad’s forces in exchange for his promise to abandon chemical weapons has failed to deliver. According to a 2016 UN report, Assad used chlorine gas on civilians. The report cited two applications of the gas in Idlib province in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
All of this helps to show that Iran wittingly supports the use of chemical weapons, for it has continued to boost its military and financial support to Assad. In response to the use of chemical warfare in Syria, the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in November that there is “weakening taboo” against nerve agents and the weapons of mass destruction could become “normalized in this or any conflict, present or future.”
All of this helps to explain that the same spirit behind Trump’s promise to “police that contract [nuclear deal] so tough they [the Iranians] don’t have a chance” should also apply to Iran’s chemical and biological armaments.
The U.S. State Department continues to list Iran as a leading state sponsor of terrorism. Tehran’s drive for hegemony in the Middle East is not expected to end. The U.S. needs to consider more aggressive measures to stop Iran from advancing its chemical and biological weapons programs. New sanctions targeting Iranian officials—and companies—for their work on chemical and biological weapons would be a solid first step.
Benjamin Weinthal is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.