On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Iran. One hopes that this will be the first of many oversight hearings and public discussions on Iran in advance of the July 20 deadline for completion of the final nuclear agreement talks. We are fast approaching a critical juncture for the Obama administration, Congress and Israel.
The hearing needs to touch on five critical aspects of the Iran interim deal. All will be relevant to the determination by the White House, Congress and Israel as to whether the farcical nuclear talks should continue and/or be supplemented by additional measures. It is important to get direct testimony from the negotiators, both secretaries of state who have formulated the Iran policy and experts including former Obama officials who have a detailed knowledge of the talks. A wide array of voices should be included because, bluntly put, the administration’s constant politicization and lack of candor in foreign policy means we cannot simply take its word on critical issues on faith.
The first issue concerns Iran’s economic status. The administration swore up and down that sanctions relief would amount to only a $7 billion net gain for Iran’s economy. Critics say it has been much more, that Iran’s economic recovery is underway and the market psychology of investors has changed. This is a factual matter and should be capable of quantification. If in fact the Iranian economy is a whole lot better than the administration anticipated, there is a powerful argument for increasing pressure once again in the absence of any final deal.
The next issue concerns Iran’s bargaining position. It is unacceptable for the administration to refuse to characterize the concessions, positions and rhetoric of Iran. In refusing to do so, the administration requires that we simply take its platitudes (“serious discussions”) at face value. Without any indication that Iran has moved off its position that it intends to keep its enriched uranium, centrifuges and widely suspected weapons program, Congress would have no choice but to tighten sanctions and demand that the administration stop indulging in wishful thinking about a negotiated deal to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.
The hearings should also focus on the widening gap between the United Nations resolutions — which call for complete dismantling of Iran’s program — and the administration’s apparent willingness to allow Iran to maintain some limited enrichment. If the administration intends to do this, what possible mechanism exists to ensure that Iran doesn’t become a threshold nuclear state?
In addition, reports suggest that the administration is not confronting a serious breach of the interim agreement, namely Iran’s refusal to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Congress should be given a complete status report. If Iran is not in compliance with its current obligations, sanctions should immediately be re-imposed and strengthened.
And finally, Iran continues to support terrorism, call for Israel’s destruction and repress its own people. The administration should explain what, if anything, it is doing to respond and whether its desire for a nuclear deal has made it less willing to confront Iran for its other behavior. Even if we lift sanctions because of its compliance with a nuclear deal, how can we allow its international behavior to go unpunished?
In all likelihood, the administration will plead for more time to continue the useless talks, a move that would take the talks through to the end of the year. Unless there is substantial, verifiable evidence that Iran is moderating its stance, complying with its obligations to cooperate with the IAEA and continuing to falter under the weight of sanctions, Congress should demand a change in direction. Indeed, if the administration has not reached a final deal by July 20, there is good cause to conclude that it will never reach one. Congress then should consider an array of new economic sanctions, means of making our military threat more capable and measures to enhance Israel’s ability to act unilaterally if it sees fit.
As for Israel, Iran’s continued progress toward a nuclear arms capability, its revived economy, its ongoing support for terrorism, its refusal to cooperate with inspectors and sustained research on Iran’s advanced centrifuges and ballistic weapons program should factor into Israel’s consideration as to how long it can wait before acting unilaterally. No serious observer in the United States or in Tehran thinks Obama will act; it therefore becomes an issue of timing for Israel: When will the Jewish state act in the absence of U.S. leadership to defend itself and, in turn, the West from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran?