The president might have thought Democrats would stick with him on Iran, but Democrats are, I think, both genuinely alarmed at the interim deal and, in any case, in no mood to do the administration favors in the wake of the Obamacare fiasco. As a result, there was near unanimity among elected leaders on the Sunday shows and in written statements that the deal gave too much in sanctions and does not stop enrichment activities or dismantle illegal enrichment operations. Among those speaking out were Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Ben Cardin (Md.); ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); the Republican speaker, majority leader and whip; and House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).
Even the New York Times conceded that the deal does not roll back enrichment advances over the last five years. Most troubling for critics was language in the deal that a final deal would include “a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” This directly contradicts U.S. policy and is anathema to Israel.
Moreover, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has been instrumental in devising sanctions legislation explained:
The U.N. resolutions require Iran to “provide such access and cooperation as the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA requests” to resolve the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns about Iran’s research into nuclear-weapons design. Multiple IAEA reports, including from March 2011 and November 2011, have provided extensive descriptions of Iranian research involving activities related to the development of a nuclear explosive and noted that some of the research “may still be ongoing.” Yet the interim agreement does almost nothing to gain such access and cooperation or to require Iran to come clean or provide access and cooperation to ensure that such research is not continuing.
As my colleague Glenn Kessler pointed out, this is just the latest change in an ever-more-lenient approach to Iran. Consider that the United Nations has passed resolution after resolution demanding Iran cease enrichment; now Obama suggests an enrichment program will be available to Iran. The interim deal is even worse than this administration’s own position in 2009. (“The parties appear to reach agreement on a side deal, in which Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium would be shipped to Russia and then France for conversion into fuel plates for a research reactor running low on fuel. But the deal falls apart after Iran balks at shipping out its stock of enriched uranium. Iran eventually announces it will enrich uranium to nearly 20 percent. That is the level needed for a research reactor — but also 90 percent of the way to weapons-grade fuel.”)
With no restraint on Iran’s ballistic missile program, there is nothing, as Dubowitz put it, “to stop Iran from having a designed bomb and ballistic missile ready to go. Once Iran completes a dash to weapons-grade uranium, it can insert the warhead and quickly have a deliverable nuclear weapon.”
Sunday marked an unprecedented and impressive revolt against an administration already low on credibility. If President Obama thought an Iran deal would lift his stature, he badly underestimated lawmakers in both parties. So, what can and should be done to hinder the Obama administration’s sprint to appeasement?
First, Congress can pass additional sanctions, deprive the executive branch of “waiver” authority on existing or future sanctions and pass an additional measure to express support for Israel, six U.S. resolutions and U.S. policy over three presidencies that Iran cannot retain domestic enrichment capabilities. If the president chooses to veto such legislation, Congress can override the veto.
Second, it is incumbent on critics of the deal to explain to the American people what is wrong with the deal. That will require members of Congress, respected experts, pro-Israel groups and former officials to lay out some basic facts. In particular, Hillary Clinton should be pressured to state her views: Is this a deal she envisioned and would have supported? If not she has an obligation to say so, and not simply because she is being held as a potential presidential candidate.
One issue that should be repeated was raised in January by former U.N. ambassador John Bolton:
Here’s the basic fact that puzzles us laymen, but not nuclear physicists: It takes much more work to enrich U-235 from its 0.7% concentration in natural uranium to reactor-grade levels (4% or 20%) than it takes to enrich from either of these levels to weapons-grade (90%+). Enrichment is simply the physical process of separating fissile U-235 isotopes from the unnecessary U-238 isotopes. Enriching 0.7% natural U-235 to 4% requires most of the work (70%) needed to enrich to levels over 90%. From 4%, enriching to 20% takes merely 15%-20% more of the work required to reach 90%+.
In short, allowing more and more enrichment at 5 percent is a recipe for an Iran with material to make plenty of bombs.
And finally, bipartisan and bicameral oversight should be intensified. Congress must not only pressure administration officials whose actions do not match their promises, but it also should solicit information from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose latest exhaustive report contains detailed requests for information that are nowhere to be found in the interim deal, and outside Iran experts. (“The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program, as explained in GOV/2011/65. Iran did not provide access to Parchin, as requested by the Agency during its two recent visits to Tehran, and no agreement was reached with Iran on a structured approach to resolving all outstanding issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear program.”) As a former U.S. official critical of administration policy put it, “the agreement does NOT enforce all the demands the IAEA made to be able to observe the program fully and guarantee it is peaceful. So not only did we abandon the U.N. Security Council conditions, we abandoned some IAEA conditions.”
Quite simply, Congress cannot take the administration’s representations at face value. In its desperation to find a deal — any deal — with Iran, the administration is imperiling the West. The deal makes clear an Iranian enrichment program — blessed by the P5 +1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) – is in the offing. If the president no longer thinks it is possible to comply with U.N. resolutions, he should say so — and then be held to account for allowing Iran to reach that point in its nuclear program. We are on the cusp of a tragic national security blunder.