We are fewer than a dozen days from the July 20 deadline for a final deal with Iran on its illicit nuclear weapons program. The Supreme Leader, who actually runs things, had this to say on Tuesday: “Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10,000 [separate] work units (SWUs), which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have. Our officials say we need 190,000 SWU. Perhaps this is not a need this year or in two years or five years, but this is the country’s absolute need.”
That kind of puts a crimp in the whole negotiation thing, doesn’t it? Really, it’s been apparent to just about everyone but President Obama and his team that there is no appetite in Iran for dismantling tens of thousands of centrifuges, giving up its heavy water plant, allowing unfettered inspections and coming clean on its past weapons program.
Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the pro-Israel group JINSA, tells me, “Khamenei’s statement reinforces the growing perception that an acceptable comprehensive deal with Iran is unlikely by July 20, despite the Obama’s Administration’s eagerness for one.” He adds, “If that’s the case, then there should not be an extension of the interim deal, which has permitted Iran to advance its nuclear program and almost double its oil exports. Instead, the U.S. should focus on increasing our diplomatic leverage by passing sanctions that effectively create an economic embargo of Iran, and we should augment Israel’s capacity to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, including by transferring to it spare B-52s and MOPs [massive ordnance penetrators].” While that is no guarantee of success, Makovsky argues, “That approach offers a better chance of achieving an acceptable deal.”
The question is what happens after July 20? An official with a pro-Israel group remarks, “The Iranians are playing a game where they raise the bar for a deal and expect thereby to get a better one in the end. The question is whether the P1+5 will play their game or will they walk away from a bad deal?” Walking away from the table is not something this administration seems capable of doing, for that leaves them with two unpleasant realities, namely another foreign policy failure and pressure to do something.
Chances are that even if there is no deal the administration will insist on continuing its talks. That’s likely unavoidable but that doesn’t mean Congress shouldn’t act. There is a huge bipartisan majority in the Senate in favor of conditional sanctions, and leaders of both parties in both houses agree that the only acceptable deal is one that dismantles, not merely freezes, Iran’s nuclear program.
Rather than fight Congress, evidencing desperation for a deal and fear of an Iranian walkout, the president should follow the advice of Makovsky and an array of bipartisan experts, including Obama’s former Iran adviser, Dennis Ross. They urge the president to work with Congress to craft conditional sanctions and try other measures to increase our leverage, including provision of additional weapons to Israel that might be useful in an attack (e.g. B-52s, bunker busters).
The real problem, however, is that we approach the deadline when the president’s international credibility is hitting new lows. The Iranians don’t believe he will end negotiations, reinstate sanctions or take military action. Unless we change that perception, we will be down to two options: War or a nuclear-capable Iran. Meanwhile, the centrifuges keep spinning, Iran’s ballistic missile program continues and its research on advanced centrifuges makes it that much harder to push back its breakout time.
One gets the sinking sensation that with Iraq unraveling, fighting in Gaza and the Syrian civil war still raging the president hasn’t really considered a backup plan.