November 27, 2013

To President Obama’s dismay, the Iranians are inconveniently candid about the interim deal they struck with the P5+1. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Kayhan newspaper and voice of the Supreme Leader, bragged to the Wall Street Journal that “if the right to enrich is accepted, which it has been, then everything that we have wanted has been realized.” Oops. The Iranians claim the U.S. version of the deal is not accurate (although it’s not clear whether their complaint is limited to the enrichment issue).

President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)
President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

The interim deal, as a number of critics have observed, isn’t much of a “deal” anyway. It’s more of a deal to come to agreement on an implementation deal. A former foreign policy official critical of Obama’s foreign policy argues, “There’s a bizarre joint plan which requires an implementation agreement (that may not be done) and then a comprehensive agreement in six months.” That might be the good news — neither the sanctions relaxation nor the other provisions are in effect as of yet. That gives Congress ample room to operate.

And from all appearances, there looks to be bipartisan, rigorous sanctions legislation in the works. The Hill reports:

“We need to have some sort of insurance policy that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is being dismantled after six months,” said a senior Republican Senate aide. “Otherwise, the sanctions come back in spades.”

Lawmakers hope to preserve bipartisan support for past sanctions bills while taking into account that most Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, want a deal. Israel is largely alone in denouncing this weekend’s agreement.

The imminent bill would focus on getting Iran to dismantle its nuclear program, which the current six-month deal does not do, to the dismay of critics.

Critics say Obama’s deal freezes Iran’s nuclear program where it is but weakens international sanctions, allowing a measure of economic recovery in which to restart an illegal nuclear weapons program later. . . .

Critics also complain that Iran is allowed to keep its thousands of centrifuges running (while not producing any new ones) and is required only to halt construction on its heavy-water facility in Arak, rather than dismantle it.

The sanctions effort is led by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who co-authored Iran sanctions legislation that sailed through the Senate 100-0 two years ago.

Pro-Israel activists expect Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to weigh in as well. With much justification, critics reason that there won’t be a final sanctions deal within six months (Iran is famous for stalling), and if there is something labeled a final agreement, it will be much less than the administration has repeatedly promised. The administration is already going into a full-court press against further sanctions.

No one familiar with the administration’s long and consistent opposition to each iteration of sanctions legislation – which the administration now touts as having brought about the interim deal — is surprised. In the past its foot-dragging has not deterred either Republicans or Democrats in pressing ahead on what is perhaps the sole issue of near-unanimous bipartisan agreement (i.e. preventing Iran from enriching nuclear material). Given the president’s weakened standing, his Obamacare fiasco and credibility plunge and his own record of foreign policy blunders, one can imagine lawmakers would feel even more emboldened this time around to act independently. Obama’s trail of national security fumbles, as Dan Twining recounts, undercut his “trust me” appeal:

  • A diplomatic “reset” with Russia that has freed that country to directly undermine U.S. interests by arming Bashar al-Assad’s regime, blocking sanctions against both Syria and Iran at the U.N. Security Council, blackmailing Ukraine into walking away from the path to Europe and deepening the Russian army’s occupation of Georgia;
  • A self-declared “pivot” to Asia that has left many of America’s friends and allies doubting whether the commitment of resources and high-level attention matches the country’s rhetoric;
  • A sleepwalking approach to the Arab Awakening that has accomplished the neat trick of alienating both allied Arab regimes and the Arab street, earning America even more enmity (if that was possible) across the political spectrum in pivotal countries like Egypt;
  • A diplomatic agreement on Syria that transformed Assad from the target of military attack to a partner in peace even as his army continued killing his fellow citizens, making a mockery of U.S. “red lines” and leaving America’s allies incredulous; and
  • A diplomatic agreement with Iran that does little to diminish its latent nuclear capacity or its state sponsorship of terrorism, producing the sharpest break in American relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia in a generation.

In sum, the Iranian “deal” is not a true deal, and if it is, the Iranians don’t agree it says what it says. In any case, whatever this creature is, Congress is not about to let it dictate any final deal. Given the Iranians’ record of backpedaling, cheating and dissembling, the regime may provide all the justification Congress needs to pass its sanctions bill. But meanwhile, the centrifuges keep spinning and one wonders just how many months the Israelis can hold off.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.