The Geneva talks between the P5+1 group of countries — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — and Iran are already heading downhill from the perspective of the West. The sanctions-relaxation part of the interim deal is helping to revive Iran’s economy, diminishing the incentive for Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Mike Makovsky, chief executive of the pro-Israel group JINSA, tells Right Turn: “The international sanctions regime is eroding, and with it crucial leverage of the United States and its P5+1 partners. Iran could earn $12 billion alone or more in oil exports revenue from the November initial agreement through July, when the deal expires, versus if sanctions were still in place.”
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who helped construct the sanctions architecture, sees problems with the administration’s rhetoric as well. “The White House shouldn’t be concerned with ‘confidence-building measures’ with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; it should be playing on his long-standing insecurity about American power,” he says. He explains, “While sanctions were never going to stop the nuclear program in isolation, serious, specific presidential bellicosity married to massively enhanced sanctions might still have a chance.”
The administration acts as if there is no harm in useless talks, but, of course, this is silly. Not only does Iran’s economy rebound, but it also continues to make progress on advanced enrichment technology, “low-level” enrichment (which can quickly be upgraded) and its ballistic weapons program. Nothing has been turned off that can’t be turned on, Makovsky reminds us: “Iran’s overall breakout timing remains fundamentally unchanged, due to increased efficiency of centrifuges and growth of the 5 percent enriched uranium stockpile, as permitted in the deal.”
Any real action in the form of sanctions legislation has been nixed by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — and Iran is unlikely to be impressed by a strongly worded letter, no matter how many members sign on. So long as Reid and his fellow Democrats play defense for the White House, the good cop-bad cop routine flounders.
The odds of getting a deal that remotely accomplishes what the administration has laid out are next to nothing. Congress can try, I suppose, to break the Reid-White House blockade on sanctions legislation, but the real test may not come until July. At the very least, Makovsky advises that “the deal should not be renewed in July and instead we should amp up pressure on Iran through tougher sanctions and a true credible threat of military action. It’s the only chance for an acceptable deal that prevents a nuclear capable Iran.”
In addition, there is the problem of Iran’s ongoing behavior outside the conference room in Geneva. As is always the problem with such talks, the United States becomes so invested in the talks that it refrains from challenging the rogue state’s behavior in other venues. The administration remains essentially mute about Iran’s domestic executions and other human rights abuses. It refuses to enact additional sanctions based purely on Iran’s ongoing support for Hamas terrorists, which the Israelis recently helped illustrate by displaying intercepted Iranian weaponry. And when Iran even goes so far as to try to rustle nuclear weapons contraband, the administration marches forward. Nothing to see here, continue the talks. Only by pretending that the world outside the conference room is nonexistent could the administration believe that a meaningful deal is possible.
So we hear meaningless blather from the negotiators. (“I think both in the expert talks and even in the first round of political director talks, we are moving forward in a positive way, in the sense that we understand each other’s positions a great deal more. The technical talks have provided some options that are under consideration that help to close some of the gaps. The other thing I think is worth reflecting on is, having gone through the negotiations around the Joint Plan of Action, we have some negotiating experience with each other that was a successful one. And so the basic approach that everyone’s taking is rather a positive one, with an expectation that we can bridge the gaps. That said, there still remain many gaps, and this is a very complex and technical negotiation, and so I can’t give you an assessment whether we will succeed in the end or not. What I can say is that everyone is intent on succeeding and intent on succeeding within the six-month timeframe. . . .”) The greatest worry should be that the administration and the president specifically actually thinks this is “working.”
Perhaps Congress’s contribution is to exercise open oversight. After the current round of talks, it would be advisable to call in the secretary of s and lead negotiator Wendy Sherman to ask tough questions: Has Iran made a single concrete concession since the interim deal? Why, if Iran is still seeking contraband, are additional sanctions not warranted? Why is the Iran economy recovering all of the sudden? The case needs to be made to Democrats running interference for the White House and the American people that these talks are a dangerous charade that is enabling Iran to move closer to its nuclear ambitions. The happy talk about “hoping the negotiations will succeed” needs to end; there is no evidence they will.