The administration, just a couple months after promising up one side and down another that it could within six months reach a final deal with the Iranians, is now openly admitting a final deal will take a year or more. The New York Times reports: “Talks with Iran over a permanent agreement on its nuclear program begin on Tuesday in Vienna, but there is little immediate optimism over a negotiation that is expected to last up to a year.” Even with a year to work with, Secretary of State John F. Kerry has said publicly it is more likely than not that negotiations will fail.
All of this is a far cry from chief negotiator Wendy Sherman’s promise in closed-door briefings and testimony before Congress. Again and again, she’s advised members of Congress, in her effort to hold off sanctions, that lawmakers just needed to give her six months.
Apparently that changed — or was never true. It is not simply on the timing where the administration has played bait-and-switch. The administration began fully committed to enforcing the United Nations resolutions that prohibit any enrichment by Iran. Somehow that position was given away for nothing in return; the administration now talks about allowing the rogue state “limited enrichment” for a limited time (and thereafter all bets are off, apparently).
Nor is this the first time the administration has juggled the timeline. Josh Block, CEO of the Israel Project, tells Right Turn, “When the administration first revealed the secret channel with Iran, which they lied to the press about and hid from our closest allies, they said it was in service of a six-month negotiation with Iran. Then when they announced a ‘first step’ six-month deal with Iran, it turned out, in fact, there was no deal with Iran, and those six months stretched in to nine, and now to six months past that.”
The six-month deadline is not trivial. Insofar as Iran continues with advanced centrifuge research, works on its ballistic missile program and keeps all its nuclear materials and centrifuges in place, the timeline is supposed to ensure that Iran does not reach nuclear breakout capacity before a final deal can be done. With 12 months or more, we’ve in essence put up an umbrella of diplomatic protection for Iran to do precisely that. Block confirms, “The clock is ticking, and despite misleading claims to the contrary, every day that goes by under this sham negotiation, Iran is amassing more material it can use to build nuclear weapons, it can build and stockpile more and more advanced centrifuges, its plutonium bomb factory gets closer to completion, Iran continues to hide from inspections the places where we know they have been testing nuclear explosions and triggers for nuclear bombs, and Iran’s economy gets stronger, further undercutting our leverage and their incentive to cut a deal.”
Meanwhile, the real power in Iran, the Supreme Leader, tells the world that negotiations will “lead nowhere.” Could it be there was never any intention to give up his nuclear aspirations? Now, it should come as no surprise that Kerry and President Obama were wrong about Iran’s intentions. They’ve been wrong on erasing the red line in Syria, wrong on counting on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s quick disarmament, wrong on getting Russia’s help with Syria and/or Iran and wrong on the “peace process” (which is not remotely moving in a positive direction).
So what is Congress to do now that the administration’s broken promises and Iran’s statement reveal a giant stall? The problem is not the American people, who overwhelmingly favor preventing Iran from going nuclear even if it requires use of force. It is Congress that must have the gumption to, if need be, defy the White House. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has been intimately involved with crafting sanctions legislation, tells me, “With the Obama administration opposing the new Senate and House legislation, senators need to find some way to signal to markets and to Iran that Congress will not accept endless negotiations, the unraveling of the sanctions regime that took so long to establish and a nuclear deal that does not stop Iran’s nuclear weapons breakout capacity.” But, especially if talks are going to drag on, it may be too late for sanctions. He cautions, “While the current legislation could be effective in reversing market psychology if the sanctions-in-waiting provisions were passed today, these sanctions may be insufficient in six to 12 months’ time if there is no conclusive nuclear agreement and if Iran is on the path to a sustained economic recovery.”
That means that even if the administration has no back-up plan, Congress has to develop one. Dubowitz advises, “If there is no final agreement, and Tehran successfully uses the interim period to advance this work, it could move more quickly to a nuclear weapons breakout, and Washington will have lost critical economic leverage. At that point, we will need a complete financial and trade embargo implemented within weeks since Iranian nuclear physics will have far outpaced Western economic pressure. The administration and Congress need to begin working on this strategy immediately.”
Republican leaders on the issue are all too aware of the dangers of Iranian stall-tactics. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who delivered on Monday a blistering critique of Obama’s Iran policy, tells Right Turn: “The interim agreement already explicitly allows Iran to continue enriching uranium and improve its nuclear technology, despite the U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for this activity to end. The predictable delays will only allow this previously prohibited activity to go on while pressure from sanctions is lifted and Iran marches toward nuclear capability.”
In a sense, the sanctions have been a distraction. The longer the Iranians drag this out — and the more the administration indulges them — the less effective sanctions become, even if they could get by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who has blocked their consideration. That will then behoove Reid and other Democrats to be full participants in crafting a response that will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. As Block says, “Unless members of Congress want to end up on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the American people, they will not allow Iran and the administration to drag out these negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Kerry and Sherman bemoan how complicated and difficult it is to negotiate with Iran. Maybe they should have thought of that before lifting sanctions, ushering in a wave of financial wheeling and dealing in Tehran and conceding that “six months” doesn’t really mean six months.