Even for him, Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in Vienna on Tuesday were remarkably silly:


Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Vienna on Tuesday. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press)

Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Let’s stop right there. Kerry’s parroting the line about Iran’s objectives is embarrassing. Iran doesn’t need 19,000 centrifuges or a heavy water reactor for a peaceful nuclear program. It has been pursuing a bomb and concealing its actions in violation of international agreements. Its past illicit military program is precisely why a deal must include full disclosure of past activities and unfettered inspections. He continued:

In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do. . .  .

As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

This, I strongly suspect, is poppycock. Kerry talks about gaps remaining, but in fact what we must have — dismantling of  90 percent of its centrifuges and of Fordow and Arak  — has almost assuredly never been conceded by Iran. The gap therefore has grown wider — we give up sanctions and Iran keeps what it has. Congress should demand to know, in closed session if need be, precisely where talks stand and the full extent of Iran’s concessions to date. Without that, Congress must re-impose and strengthen sanctions.

When Kerry says that “we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula” he sounds precisely as he did when engaged in fruitless “peace process” talks. He imagines everything is about the details; he ignores what is staring him in the face: irreconcilable differences.

On the floor in a barn-burning speech on Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) noted all the public statements by Iranian figures underscoring their intention never to dismantle anything. He deadpanned that maybe the Iranian negotiators hadn’t made clear their bosses’ bottom lines, or “maybe we haven’t been listening to what we don’t want to hear.” Indeed.

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams warns, “If it is impossible to reach a good agreement now, the administration should not give Iran additional sanctions relief. That would be rewarding them for refusing to come to terms.” Instead, he suggests: “Iran should be pressured via sanctions until it does decide to sign a serious agreement and give up its quest for nuclear weapons. The pressure should be ratcheted up continually, so that Iran’s leaders come to understand that they must choose between abandoning their nuclear weapons program or abandoning any hope of economic progress. Today they still think they can fool us into allowing both.” With Kerry at the helm their confusion is understandable.

I am sure we will hear that any reimposition of sanctions will doom talks and mean “war.” We’ll not only hear that from Iran but also from the Obama administration, which cannot stomach the notion of yet another failure and will delude itself and members of its own party to keep the wheels of negotiations turning. Iran’s economy is in recovery, its advanced centrifuge work goes on, its intercontinental ballistic missile program is unimpeded and its failure to come clean on its past program means we don’t know where other sites might be hidden. None of that is sufficient to motivate the administration to adopt a more reality-based approach.

To make matters worse, Kerry repeated the disproven assertion that the Supreme Leader issued a fatwa against nuclear arms. (How can he possibly be misinformed on this?) Candidly, he sounds like he is being played by negotiators. He must stop saying things like “both sides are negotiating in good faith.” (In all likelihood, Iran isn’t. Let Iran prove its good faith.)

Congress should be exacting in its questioning:

• Has the administration agreed to sunset sanctions at some point?

• Does the administration believe Iran has a right to enrich?

• Has Iran indicated it would dismantle significant parts of its program or agree to unfettered inspections?

• As of this moment, has Iran fully cooperated with the IAEA and answered its longstanding questions about Iran’s program?

• Did Kerry hold to the position that sanctions relief requires dismantling of Fordow and Arak?

• Have the parties ever addressed Iran’s ICBM program?

• How can the United States maintain sanctions for state sponsorship of terror if  we lift them for concessions on nukes?

• Kerry denied that the “peace process” or that Syria talks had failed, so why should Congress trust him to determine when Iran talks fail?

• Congress imposed sanctions and Iran came to the table. The president lifted some sanctions and Iran didn’t make a deal. Why wouldn’t we reactivate those sanctions?

• Why does the president never speak about the military option? Why should Iran take the threat seriously after the flip-flop on the red-line for Syria?

It is long past the point at which we should have increased sanctions. Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Right Turn: “Iran remains focused on a deal where any tight constraints will be lifted after a short duration leaving the mullahs with an industrial size nuclear capacity that will be impossible to effectively monitor. This kind of deal is looking more likely because of the Obama administration’s decision to de-escalate the sanctions pressure after mid-2013.” He explained that due to sanctions relief, “there has been an increase in Tehran’s negotiating leverage and a steady erosion in the Western position. Congress remains the only firewall against a bad deal and needs to move quickly to pass legislation that threatens massive sanctions if there is no deal by January 2015 that satisfies congressionally-mandated parameters.”

Moreover, Iran’s surrogates in Gaza who use Iranian weapons to shoot at civilians have made it impossible to contemplate lifting sanctions on Iran until that behavior ceases. Congress should wise up, not allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to stymie a bipartisan vote, agree to hike sanctions and stop falling for the Obama-Kerry routine. Considering the administration’s record of gross misjudgment and failure, only fools would take their representations at face value.

 

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