As Iran and the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, resume talks in Geneva, a number of pols and foreign policy experts remind us how little faith we should put in negotiations with the Iranians. It isn’t the first time we’ve tried to talk to this regime.
Michael Rubin (no relation), who has written a new book on 35 years of failed diplomacy with Iran, warns: “I [studied] 35 years of Iranian negotiating strategy examining what Iranian figures say in Farsi about their own strategy. They make no secret of their goals: lull Americans into complacency, promise to talk but don’t deliver, and continue business as usual. It’s bad enough that the Islamic Republic is outplaying the United States. It’s even worse that the Iranian playbook has been open, but no one on the U.S. side has cared to look.”
In light of the slim odds of accomplishing our goal to disarm Iran, it is even more remarkable that the administration gave up as much as it did in the interim talks. Tehran is now reaping the rewards of an interim deal that almost certainly will lead nowhere. The United States, in exchange, gave up critical pressure on Iran and got no abatement in Iran’s program that can’t be easily reversed. In a written statement today, Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) argued, “As permanent status talks begin today, the Iranian regime immediately reminded us that the Administration is pursuing a fool’s errand, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promising that these negotiations ‘will not lead anywhere,’ and that Iran is unwilling to disassemble any nuclear facilities. The Obama administration must avoid making the same mistake it made in November, when it peddled away our leverage in the form of much-needed sanctions relief to Iran’s collapsing economy in exchange for only minor cosmetic concessions on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”
In fact, with each passing day the gap between what we gave up and the potential for a deal grows wider. It is not a coincidence, I would argue, that the mullahs grow more defiant as more money flows into Tehran. On oil sales, the White House intends to let Iran’s oil business get up off the mat : “Exports of Iranian crude oil jumped to 1.32 million barrels in January, up from December’s high of 1.06 million barrels, according to data from the International Energy Agency. While the increase caused concern among some experts who worry that economic sanctions on Iran are collapsing, the White House appeared unfazed by the latest export data and promised to continue pausing its efforts to reduce these sales.” Emboldened by this big concession, it shouldn’t surprise us then that the Iranian leaders boast they have given up nothing, can reverse interim measures in a day and have no intention of dismantling their program (which they still insist is peaceful).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who of late has been one of the most forceful administration critics on Iran, tells Right Turn this is entirely predictable. Via e-mail, Sen. Cruz says, “It is tragic — and dangerous — that the Obama administration continues to go down this open-ended rabbit hole of negotiation with a bad-faith partner, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who understood from the outset that the agreement signed in Geneva was [a] ‘historically bad deal.’” He recalls, “We saw this happen before in North Korea when the regime in Pyongyang manipulated the United States into relaxing sanctions so they could pursue a nuclear weapon, and yet President Obama and Secretary Kerry insist on making the same mistakes once again.”
That apt summation, like much of the criticism from the right, supposes that the administration’s goal is not endless negotiation, but actual elimination of the Iranian nuclear threat. That may be giving the administration too much credit. If the president is unwilling to use military force (which is abundantly clear) and is bent on preventing Israel from acting, then “diplomacy” gives Iran and the administration cover. There is never a breakdown in the talks, just endless talk during which Iran slides into its desired position as a nuclear threshold state. The worst thing that can happen from the administration’s standpoint then would be a cessation in talks, hence its panic at the prospect of sanctions that might cause Iran to leave in a huff.
And to accomplish this conflict-avoidance diplomacy, there is no one better than Wendy Sherman, who presided over that North Korea negotiation. Maybe her experience is an asset, not a demerit, in the president’s eyes.
As many do on the right, Cruz wants the president to acknowledge “diplomatic failure,” and to “level with the American people, tell Harry Reid to finally allow a vote on the re-imposition of economic sanctions, and make it clear to our ally Israel that we will stand with Israel in the event that the Jewish state must defend itself from this existential threat.” That’s logically what one would do when confronted with a recalcitrant opponent. But it is what Obama will never do. For him, it’s all about keeping the process going, which means keeping the heat off him to prevent Iran from going nuclear.