Two weeks from yesterday is the deadline for completion of a final deal between the p5+1 and Iran on its nuclear weapons program. The parties are still very, very far apart according to multiple reports. According to the Associated Press,
“Talks over Iran’s nuclear program are making little headway, with Tehran resisting U.S.-led efforts to crimp activities that could be turned toward making weapons, diplomats said Monday. As negotiations move closer to a July 20 target date for a deal, both sides are trying to plug holes in a sketchy draft agreement.“
To put all of this in perspective:
“The biggest hurdle remains uranium enrichment, a process that can make reactor fuel or the core of a nuclear weapon depending on the grade of material produced. Iran, which insists it does not want such arms, now has nearly 20,000 centrifuges either on standby or churning out reactor-grade fuel. Tehran has long demanded that it be allowed to run up to 50,000 centrifuges to power its one existing nuclear reactor, and the two diplomats said Monday’s expert talks began with no formal change in that position.”
Oh, and to boot:
“The diplomats said there’s still disagreement over how to minimize proliferation dangers from a nearly built reactor that would produce substantial amounts of plutonium — like enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.
In addition, Iran is resisting pressure to turn an enrichment site dug into a mountain as protection against air attack to another use, they said. Differences also exist over the length of any agreement placing limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities.“
Other than to keep meeting and pretending they are doing something useful, what have the sides agreed upon? Nothing, I would suggest, of any value.
Several things jump out from this report. First, the interim deal has been a flop. Iran has not altered its position one iota. Second, there is no possible peaceful use for tens of thousands of centrifuges, but Iran clings to its lie, namely that this is all for peaceful uses like medicine. Third, the U.S. has already given up far too much for nothing. The report notes that the U.S. would only agree to allow Iran to retain “a small fraction” of its tens of thousands of centrifuges. The six United Nations resolutions call for no enrichment. In exchange for no movement the U.S. has given up some leverage with a partial roll back on sanctions. And finally, Congress should not be waiting until the last moment for its backup plan.
The last is the most important because if any peaceful dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program is possible, it will be up to Congress. Democrats in the Senate have bowed to the partisan pressure from the White house and majority leader Harry Reid (Nev.) to steer away from sanctions and a final deal. This was grossly irresponsible and took away any incentive for Iran to get serious about a final deal.
Now is the time for the Senate, in unanimous fashion if at all possible, to pass sanctions conditioned on failure to meet a final deal. It would also be wise to reiterate support for Israel in the event it must use military action. I would advocate a resolution for use of U.S. force but with this president the idea is preposterous; he will never use force and Congress, Israel and the Iranian government know it. Equally important is for Congress to reiterate the contours of an acceptable deal, one that keeps Iran a year or more away from a nuclear weapons capability, ships out enriched materials, dismantles both uranium and plutonium enrichment facilities and commits to unfettered inspection. Congress should also make clear that full sanctions relief will not come until Iran ceases its human rights abuses and ends support for terrorist groups.
Truth be told, Obama has no Plan B — he hasn’t laid the groundwork for new sanctions and is lacking credibility on use of force. That leaves only the U.S. Congress and Israel — together with Sunni states (don’t think they have no interest if push comes to shove in some country taking out Iranian facilities) — to keep Iran from reaching its nuclear ambitions. That puts the burden squarely on Senate Democrats, who have refused to act, to stop playing defense for the president and start playing both defense and offense for the U.S. and the Free World.