Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waits to meet with the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Georgieva Bokova (Unseen) in Tehran, on April 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRIBEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani  (Behrouz Mehri/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

The world’s attention is focused on Russia, but a critical deadline in the nuclear talks with Iran is fast approaching. On July 20, time will be up — or will it? — for a final deal on Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

There is no chance that Iran will agree to dismantle its program, send out its nuclear materials and come into full compliance with United Nations resolutions. For one thing, the Obama administration is no longer demanding it do so. Instead of dismantling the heavy-water Arak plant, now there’s talk about “re-purposing” it. Instead of eliminating the potential for a bomb, Secretary of State John F. Kerry speaks about allowing a break-out period of six to 12 months.

Observing President Obama’s aversion to strong action (e.g. tolerating Syria’s chemical weapons, failing to stop Russia’s takeover of Crimea), the mullahs no doubt are confident that there is little downside for them if they don’t make a deal that would impair their nuclear weapons capability. With President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nev.) and others ready to run interference on sanctions and the Iranian economy on the rebound, Iran is in the catbird seat. Iran, by being allowed to retain its centrifuges, advance its ballistic weapons program and continue with advanced research, has given up nothing while securing relief from sanctions and certainty that the United States will take no military action.

There is little chance the talks will break off for good in July, for that would constitute yet another Obama failure and increase calls for heightened sanctions. More likely will be either a plea for more negotiating time or a transparently awful deal that legitimizes Iran’s program, an imitation of the North Korea deal that allowed that dictatorship to go nuclear.

It is not for trivial reasons then that Israel and pro-Israel American groups and lawmakers are sounding the alarm. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, [Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron] Dermer said negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – risked leaving Iran “a threshold nuclear power” that would move them back from “two months, where they are today, to maybe two or three months further” from a nuclear  weapon. . . . Also addressing  the forum at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, spoke of what successful policy on Iran might look like. “Failure is anything short of having a verifiable way to dismantle the nuclear weapons program,” he said. “Failure  would be allowing Iran to proceed with an [intercontinental ballistic missile]  program.”

Israeli officials certainly are doing everything to anticipate how events may play out in July. As former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams relates, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli Military Intelligence and now director of the Institute for National Security Studies, recently gave a speech in which he cautioned: “Iran is trying to portray itself as a country prepared to make fundamental concessions, but at the same time it is preserving the core abilities in both routes it is developing for a nuclear weapon.” Likewise, Gen. Yaakov Amidror, the former Israeli national security adviser and before that head of research for Israeli Military Intelligence, warned, as Abrams notes, that a “flimsy deal” would confirm Israeli suspicions that the West lacks the will to prevent Iran from becoming a threshold state. (“Anyone who thinks that a U.S. administration would respond immediately to an Iranian agreement violation, without negotiations, is deluding himself. . . . Israel cannot.”) In other words, a phony deal will make Israeli action necessary, for it will be the only thing standing in the way of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who spoke at the same event as Dermer, has the same worries. According to the host group’s president, Cliff May, Menendez said at the Washington Forum of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “No one wants a diplomatic solution more than I do. But it cannot be a deal for a deal’s sake. And I am worried they [Obama and his advisers] want a deal more than they want the right deal.”

The danger of a bad deal is that it destroys any consensus on sanctions and puts the international stamp of approval on Iran’s nuclear operation that multiple U.S. presidents, the European Union and the United Nations have insisted was illegitimate and a threat to the West. May explains:

If a deal is struck with the Iranians over the coming months, expect it to feature technical formulas comprehensible only to experts: complex rules on how many centrifuges the Iranians may spin, how much uranium may be enriched to what levels, the size of stockpiles, and what international weapons inspectors may see. Such a deal would let Iran’s rulers continue to move toward the nuclear finish line, while lifting most of the remaining economic pressure. Both sides would claim diplomacy had succeeded. About that, one side would be telling the truth. The other side, however, would be pretending.

The way to prevent this from occurring is simple. Congress should pass sanctions conditioned on completion of a deal that does what the administration said it would demand (e.g. dismantle Iran’s nuclear program). It was a gross error not to have passed conditional sanctions months ago; indeed it was an open invitation to stall, make a bad deal or both. The error can be corrected now, however. With new legislation, the message to Obama and Iran would be that there will be no more stalling and no phony deals. Economic pressure will intensify beginning July 21, unless, by some miracle, the Iranians capitulate. But why would they? Everything is going their way.

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