The administration announced completion of the implementation agreement for an interim nuclear deal (got that?) with Iran. This, however, amounts to much less than meets the eye, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s vapid rhetoric. (“We’ve taken a critical, significant step towards reaching verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”) Kerry’s announcement raises a host of questions.
First, what is the implementation arrangement, and does it resolve open issues like advanced centrifuges or the right to enrich? The lack of an actual document is troubling, given that the parties don’t seem to be in agreement on some rather basic terms. It gives one pause that all this is merely a device to hold off further sanctions and/or Israeli military action. The White House can’t simultaneously tell Congress to hold off on sanctions because the implementation agreement demonstrates progress and then turn around and say that agreement can’t be shown. (Imagine if George W. Bush said he had a plan to end the Iraq war and wanted Congress to appropriate the money but wouldn’t say how the funds were to be spent.)
What we do hear about the specifics is ominous. According to one report, Iran is being allowed to continue research on advanced centrifuges that will further reduce the time to breakout.
Second, there are now 59 cosponsors and far more “yes” votes in the Senate for the next round of sanctions. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, isn’t moving forward on sanctions. Obviously, the threat of new sanctions didn’t prevent conclusion of the implementation deal. And Kerry and Obama have both said sanctions brought Iran to the table. Why, then, is the White House resisting and Reid stalling on Iran sanctions that would get the best possible deal for the United States?
The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel put out a statement, which reads in part: “With Iran, on the other hand, Obama is willing to accept an agreement that weakens even the original bad deal he announced two months ago. It is a deal that guarantees a permanent Iranian nuclear weapons capability and grants a new concession by allowing Iran to continue developing ever more advanced centrifuges during the talks. It is a deal that, as Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister boasted today, rolls back nothing and means Iran ‘can return to the previous situation within a day.'”
And wouldn’t you know, Iran’s economy is already recovering, with more relief reportedly due to kick in on Feb. 1. Sanctions guru Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reports, ” Iran’s economy is showing signs of recovery after years of sanctions, due in no small part to the recent sanctions relief offered in Geneva, changing market psychology, and a perception that the Obama administration may no longer be committed to ratcheting up the economic pressure on Iran.” Gross domestic product has stabilized, inflation has decreased, exports are up and oil sales are booming. (“It’s also worth noting that according to some estimates, even without any further relief, Iran will save $4.5-$5 billion in oil revenues over the next six months as . . . sanctions relief for these sectors is implemented fully.”)Why hasn’t Congress acted already to prevent this windfall?
House leaders are urging Reid to move swiftly. Chief deputy whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) released a statement on Sunday blasting the deal (“Today’s announcement of a White House-backed interim nuclear agreement with Iran is just the latest example of a weak foreign policy that provides critical economic sanctions relief without first requiring Iran to dismantle its nuclear architecture or stop enriching uranium in its quest for a nuclear weapons capability.”) Key sanctions architect Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) did as well: “Beginning January 20th, the administration will give the leading state sponsor of terrorism billions of dollars while allowing the mullahs to keep their illicit nuclear infrastructure in place. I am worried the administration’s policies will either lead to Iranian nuclear weapons or Israeli air strikes. It’s time for the United States Senate to pass common-sense bipartisan legislation, now cosponsored by 59 senators, to ensure this process leads to the peaceful dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.”
In other words, Iran is getting precisely what it wants, huge economic gains from sanctions relief, while making no permanent changes in its ability to make multiple nuclear weapons. Before Iran’s economy bounces back further, thus destroying any incentive for Iran to make meaningful changes in its program, Congress should act promptly . Otherwise, the only thing standing between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran will be an Israeli military strike.