The U.S. intelligence chiefs said last week that Iran apparently is complying with an agreement designed to halt or at least delay its nuclear weapons programs. Some media reports wrongly concluded that the intelligence agencies’ report contradicted President Donald Trump’s view that Iran was not acting in the spirit of the Obama-era agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement last year and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran. The implication of the media reports was that this was a mistake.
But just after the intelligence chiefs spoke, Iran announced that it has a new cruise missile of the type banned by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces agreement between the United States and Russia. Iran’s very active missile development program was one of the reasons Mr. Trump gave for his decision to withdraw from the Plan of Action. Indeed, the intelligence chiefs predicted that Iran would soon test an intercontinental-range ballistic missile, a disturbing development.
What they did not publicly address is the question of why Iran continues to devote such large resources to missiles associated with the delivery of nuclear weapons if its proclaimed intent not to develop nuclear weapons is true.
The aim of the Plan of Action is to buy time in case Iran goes back on its word. Before the agreement, it was estimated that it would take Iran three or four months to assemble the highly enriched fuel for making a nuclear weapon, a troublingly short time span. Now the breakout time is estimated to be a year.
Critics of the Plan of Action, including Mr. Trump, have long raised alarms about what happens in less than a decade when restraints on Iran’s production of nuclear fuel are relaxed. By then, or even well before, Iran will have perfected the missile forces required for long-range delivery of nuclear warheads and the techniques for rapid production of weapons-grade nuclear material.
The new 800-mile Iranian cruise missile is obviously designed to survive Israeli and American ballistic missile defenses.
Iran’s announcement of the missile came as part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, celebrated in Tehran with cries of “Death to America.” Last week one of the nation’s senior ayatollahs reportedly told a crowd that “Until we turn the White House into a Hussainiya [Shi’ite Islamic center], we will all continue to shout ‘Death to America!’”
The announcement fell on the same day that the United States suspended its obligations under the 1987 treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear delivery systems from Europe because Russia has deployed a similar cruise missile. In a statement, the White House noted that Iran and China each have more than a thousand delivery systems of the type banned by the INF treaty.
Clearly, Iran thinks it has a lot to gain vis-a-vis its declared enemies the United States and Israel by continuing its missile development program and its open and covert armed interventions in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The failure to address the obvious contrast between Iran’s belligerent behavior and its declared rejection of nuclear weapons may be why Mr. Trump, after rightly accusing some media of getting it wrong on the intelligence briefing given to the Senate last week, said the intelligence community was being naive about Iran. That was unfair. It is not the job of the intelligence community to build an argument for specific policies, like Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But Mr. Trump is right that the facts do back up his policy.