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U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley suggests Iran may be cheating on nuclear deal

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, painted a damning picture Tuesday of Iran's compliance with the landmark nuclear disarmament deal brokered by the Obama administration.

Under U.S. law, Trump must certify every three months whether Iran is in compliance with the agreement's ban on developing nuclear weapons and related restrictions. The next deadline is mid-October.

Speaking at a think tank in Washington, Haley repeatedly suggested that Tehran was cheating and said "hundreds" of "suspicious" sites are out of reach for U.N. inspectors.

She said the crisis with nuclear-armed North Korea foreshadowed what could happen if Iran secretly develops nuclear arms. 

Haley would not say what she will recommend to Trump, but she said other countries were willing to turn a blind eye to Iran's violations in the interest of preserving the 2015 deal.

"What I want the United States to understand [is] we need to wake up," Haley said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Iran's nuclear program, she said, "is not something that suddenly went away but is hiding behind an agreement that everyone is afraid to touch."

Trump reluctantly certified Iran's compliance in April and July, but said then he was not inclined do it again. During last year's election campaign, he vowed to tear up the deal, which he called the worst in history.

The deal, negotiated with Iran by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, eased economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for its destroying or disabling most of its nuclear infrastructure. 

Iran has steadfastly denied cheating and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, has not uncovered any major violations by Tehran.

The latest IAEA quarterly report, dated Aug. 31, certified that Iran appears to be in compliance. The report noted that Tehran has not attempted to rebuild its disabled heavy-water reactor at Arak, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Haley said Tehran has twice exceeded the prescribed limits on heavy-water production, however. She also said that under the deal, IAEA officials must give notice to the Iranians before some inspections and do not have access to most military sites.

"How can we know if Iran is complying if inspectors cannot look everywhere they should look?" she said.

"This is a jigsaw puzzle," Haley added. "You can’t just look at a few of the pieces and think you have the answers."

Advocates of the 2015 accord warn that a U.S. withdrawal would remove impediments that block Iran from producing nuclear-weapons fuel and developing a weapons capability, and thus would be counter-productive.

Haley said, however, that a Trump refusal to certify compliance would not trigger an immediate U.S. withdrawal, but instead would reopen a congressional and national debate on the deal.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to drastically reduce its uranium stockpile and remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, among other actions.

In exchange, numerous economic sanctions were lifted from Iran. It was able to resume oil exports and to rejoin the international banking system, major boosts to its flagging economy. 

The U.S. has maintained separate sanctions on Iran for its support for terrorist groups and its ballistic missile program. Both Obama and Trump added to those sanctions after the nuclear accord was signed.

Critics long have complained that the accord, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did not address Iran's support for terrorist groups, among a litany of militant misdeeds cited by Haley.

"Judging any international agreement ends and begins with the nature of regime that signs it," Haley said.

"You can look at any place in the Middle East where there are problems, and there are Iranian tentacles there," she said. 

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