13 October 2017   2 comments

US President Trump has refused to certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear agreement.  President Trump accused Iran of violating the agreement:

“Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement. For example, on two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water. Until recently, the Iranian regime has also failed to meet our expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges.

“The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”

He made this claim despite the finding of the International Atomic Energy Agency on 13 October that:

“The IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities address all the nuclear-related elements under the JCPOA. They are undertaken in an impartial and objective manner and in accordance with the modalities defined by the JCPOA and standard safeguards practice.

“Iran is now provisionally implementing the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, a powerful verification tool which gives our inspectors broader access to information and locations in Iran. So far, the IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit.

“At present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.

He stopped short, however, of abrogating US participation in the agreement.  Instead, he has asked the US Congress to certify the agreement.  It is unclear what the Congress will decide to do although Senators Cotton (R-AR) and Corker (R-TN) have introduced legislation to renegotiate the agreement and adding new constraints on Iranian behavior in its support for Hezbollah and its missile program.  American allies were quick to denounce the move and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, noted that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is “not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”

Unfortunately, we have no idea what Trump hopes to accomplish by this move.  There are many possible alternatives, but President Trump gave no indication of what the next step may be.


The US is currently going through another phase of anti-immigrant sentiment, a paradoxical but endemic phenomenon for a country whose population was fundamentally built upon immigration from abroad.  There have been many previous phases about which most of use are aware, such as the anti-Catholic sentiments of the Know Nothing Party in the 19th century.  One phase of which I knew very little was anti-German sentiment during World War I, a curious phase since at the time German-Americans were the single largest population of immigrants.  Indeed, German was the second most common language in the country after English.  The treatment of Germans and German-Americans was documented by photographs maintained by the US Library of Congress.

German-Americans, after years of being forced to live in internment camps, are forcibly deported from the United States and sent to Germany.

Hoboken, New Jersey. September 25, 1919.

Deported Germans Lining Up


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a new study that is certain to displease many in the world who believe that taxes on the rich are too high and should be lowered.  In fact, the IMF argues that taxes on the rich should be increased in order to address the growing problem of economic inequality in the developed countries.  The study identifies an important connection between tax rates and reductions in economic inequality–in the past higher taxes have increased redistributive measures that reduced inequality, but those measures have been reduced in recent years:

“Between 1985 and 1995, rising fiscal redistribution was able to offset about 60 percent of the increase in market income inequality. In contrast, average fiscal redistribution hardly changed between 1995 and 2010, while market income inequality continued to increase. As a result, average disposable income inequality increased broadly in line with market income inequality. The stability of average fiscal redistribution over this recent period is surprising since, in the absence of policy reforms, progressive tax and transfer systems should have automatically increased the magnitude of fiscal redistribution in response to the increased market income inequality. This suggests that tax and transfer policy reforms have, on net, decreased the progressivity of these redistributive instruments in some countries.

In other words, redistributive measures have been deliberately reduced.  The IMF points out that the decline in corporate taxes all across the world has been a fundamental driver of the reduced ability to finance redistributive measures.  The conclusion of the study is that “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution.”


Posted October 13, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 responses to “13 October 2017

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  1. Hi Professor Ferraro,

    I’m asking about how to read the tea leaves regarding Trump’s statements about the nuclear agreement with Iran vis a vis what the IAEA is saying. There are not a lot of safe places to ask these questions today, but your blog is one of them!

    Given that our president is prone to making off-the-cuff statements to ingratiate himself with whatever audience he is in front of, and given that his facts are often completely wrong, if his rather specific accusations about Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement (regarding heavy water, centrifuges, and intimidation of inspection personnel) are wrong, why weren’t they refuted more specifically by the IAEA?

    These statements from the IAEA may be true, but they don’t refute Trump’s accusations:

    “The IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit.”

    “Iran is subject to the most robust nuclear verification regime.”

    “Access” does not equal an actual complete and thorough inspection, much less an inspection free from intimidation. To be “subject to the most robust nuclear verification regime” does not equal submitting to that regime.

    I can just see the inspection team, walking through industrial plants and down hallways, chatting with their Iranian guides/minders, about to open a door or sample a liquid when the guide suggests, “These are not the droids you’re looking for. Perhaps you’d like to view our break room and enjoy some tea?”

    At the risk of defending the most unqualified president of my lifetime, and perhaps in U.S. history, do professional diplomats and IR professors accept these statements from both sides at face value? Or do they parse them, as I do, and see the gaping shortcomings? This high-level, made-for-public-consumption, volley of commentary from both sides is frustratingly void of detail. It feels like the elephant is in the room and no one wants to call it out. If you get the opportunity, I’d enjoy seeing your comments on this–both with regard to the Iran nuclear deal specifically, but also with regard to the general politesse/machinations of international relations.

    Thanks and best regards,

    Carla (Schild) Gibbs, MHC ’86


    • Dear Carla,
      Asking these questions is not a “defense” of anyone–they are incredibly important and relevant. The centrifuge issue is the easiest to address. Iran had five different types of centrifuges, four of which were very advanced and sophisticated. These four types are held in storage by the IAEA with locks that show tampering if it occurs and the storage areas are monitored 24/7 by closed circuit TV. Iran was allowed to keep a certain number of their older, less advanced centrifuges which are still operational. These centrifuges are monitored by the IAEA which measures how much uranium is added and the level of enrichment which is permissible for peaceful nuclear reactors (3% enriched–to make a bomb a state needs 95% enriched uranium). So there are some centrifuges still in operation but they are not producing weapons grade uranium.
      The heavy water issue is valid. The IAEA has found that Iran has on two occasions produced more heavy water than was permitted. The heavy water comes from an old Russian reactor. The Iranians claim it was a “mistake” which is somewhat plausible given the technical constraints of what is a very out-of-date reactor. The violations were not regarded as significant since heavy water is not used to make any component of a nuclear bomb.
      The inspections issue is the most complex. The IAEA has to give 24 hours notice before it can inspect a facility anyplace in the world–it checks all the reactors in signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the time notice is something that all countries have required. Iran objected to being subjected to an inspection regime that no other country has to endure. This notice is obviously a loophole, but it is not a glaring loophole in the case of Iran. The US, Israel, and a number of other countries have satellite and other visual records of what goes in and out of every facility in Iran. If the IAEA were to give notice and the satellites detected a flurry of activity around that facility in the 24 hour period, then the signatories to the nuclear agreement have the right to demand an explanation. To my knowledge, there has been no such incident since the agreement was signed.
      The other glaring loophole in the inspections regime is that military facilities are not subject to search. This exception is true for all other signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and it was an exception demanded by both the US and the then-USSR when the NPT was signed. For those military facilities, the signatories have to rely upon satellite surveillance, cyber-surveillance, and spies (the Israelis are reputed to have spies in virtually every level of the Iranian government). Whether this loophole is big enough to build a nuclear bomb is questionable–the requirements for a bomb-building enterprise is substantial and not something that could be done in a short period of time in a limited space.
      Finally, the IAEA inspectors are total professionals and incredibly well-trained. Scott Ritter, who was an IAEA inspector during the Iraq crisis in 2003, gave testimony to the US Senate about the procedures that were employed by the IAEA and those procedures were incredibly rigorous and not subject to objection. I highly doubt that the inspectors would be easily duped.
      I share your concerns about the incredible lack of detail in most news reports. But I suspect that most editors believe that such detail would put off most readers. So for people like you who want the detail, one needs to ask someone who gets paid for parsing through such boring details (like me).
      I hope this helps and that you are happy and well.


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