President Obama and his clueless foreign policy crew apparently banked on Israel, the Sunni Arab states, the American people and the foreign policy establishment not realizing he was on the verge of giving Iran’s illegal enrichment program the good housekeeping seal of approval. Unfortunately for him, all of those voices are far too savvy and the stakes far too high to provide him with a cocoon of silence. Congress is in bipartisan revolt over the interim deal and now come two eminences of the foreign policy community who can’t be passed off as wild-eyed conservative partisans.

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

Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, two of the most widely known secretaries of state (the architect of détente and the architect of non-détente) take to the Wall Street Journal to, in essence, deplore the interim deal. They describe the problem:

The interim nuclear deal with Iran has been described as the first step toward the elimination of Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. That hope resides, if at all, in the prospects of the next round of negotiations envisaged to produce a final outcome within six months. Standing by itself, the interim agreement leaves Iran, hopefully only temporarily, in the position of a nuclear threshold power—a country that can achieve a military nuclear capability within months of its choosing to do so. A final agreement leaving this threshold capacity unimpaired would institutionalize the Iranian nuclear threat, with profound consequences for global nonproliferation policy and the stability of the Middle East. . . .

The heart of the problem is Iran’s construction of a massive nuclear infrastructure and stockpile of enriched uranium far out of proportion to any plausible civilian energy-production rationale. Iran amassed the majority of this capacity—including 19,000 centrifuges, more than seven tons of 3.5%- to 5%-enriched uranium, a smaller stock (about 196 kilograms) of 20%-enriched uranium, and a partly built heavy-water reactor that will be capable of producing plutonium—in direct violation of IAEA and Security Council resolutions.

After reviewing the decades of failed efforts to negotiate with Iran and more recently to lure them away from their nuclear weapons program they argue:

Until now, the U.N. resolutions and IAEA directives have demanded an immediate halt to all activities related to uranium enrichment and plutonium production, and unconditional compliance with an IAEA inspections regime as a matter of right. Under the interim agreement, Iranian conduct that was previously condemned as illegal and illegitimate has effectively been recognized as a baseline, including an acceptance of Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium (to 5%) during the agreement period. And that baseline program is of strategic significance. For Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is coupled with an infrastructure sufficient to enrich it within a few months to weapons-grade, as well as a plausible route to producing weapons-grade plutonium in the installation now being built at Arak. Not surprisingly, the Iranian negotiator, upon his return to Tehran, described the agreement as giving Iran its long-claimed right to enrich and, in effect, eliminating the American threat of using force as a last resort.

In making this case, the two former secretaries of state deny legitimacy to the entire Obama exercise designed to limit but not eliminate a nuclear weapons program (“we must avoid an outcome in which Iran, freed from an onerous sanctions regime, emerges as a de facto nuclear power leading an Islamist camp, while traditional allies lose confidence in the credibility of American commitments and follow the Iranian model toward a nuclear-weapons capability, if only to balance it”). It is hard to imagine a more compelling denunciation from more credible critics. For Secretary of State John Kerry, who always yearned for inclusion in the pantheon of great foreign policy thinkers, this is a harsh blow. He and the entire Iran negotiations effort have been given a failing grade (an incomplete, if one is generous) by respected foreign policy figures.

Congress should pay heed to Kissinger and Shultz and, I’d suggest, invite both secretaries to testify. The public should hear what they have to say. And then Congress should devise a stratagem for preventing what the secretaries warn us about — a de facto nuclear power in Tehran.