A huge House majority, 344 members, have signed onto a letter to President Obama reflecting the depth of bipartisan concern over the Iran negotiations. The letter reads, in part: “Iran’s permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities – not just some – is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally-mandated sanctions. This often unnoted reality necessitates extensive engagement with Congress before offers of relief are made to Iran, and requires Congressional action if sanctions are to be permanently lifted. With the July 20 negotiating deadline on the near horizon, we hope that your Administration will now engage in substantive consultations with Congress on the scope of acceptable sanctions relief.”
Lawmakers are obviously nervous both about the final deal and the administration’s lack of input from Congress. Suspecting a bad deal and a fait accompli, this is the House’s way of sounding the alarm. As to the first, the administration, desperate for a foreign policy success, might agree to allow Iran to keep a significant number of centrifuges or permit its nuclear facilities to remain intact. The administration might, as it hinted in the interim deal, give Iran the promise of a time when all inspections and sanctions would end, thereby putting the rouge state on the same footing as nuclear powers such as Britain and France. Lawmakers suggest the administration might be willing to let Iran keep its missile program and/or lift sanctions that are in response to Iran’s gross human rights violations:
Your Administration has committed to comprehensively lifting “nuclear-related” sanctions as part of a final P5+1 agreement with Tehran. Yet the concept of an exclusively defined “nuclear-related” sanction on Iran does not exist in U.S. law. Almost all sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program are also related to Tehran’s advancing ballistic missile program, intensifying support for international terrorism, and other unconventional weapons programs. Similarly, many of these sanctions are aimed at preventing Iranian banks involved in proliferation, terrorism, money laundering and other activities from utilizing the U.S. and global financial systems to advance these destructive policies.
The administration might think it can sign any deal, unilaterally lift some sanctions and turn the screws on Congress to lift the other restrictions that shackle Iran’s economy. If so, they grossly underestimate the objections from Congress and allies in the region to a bad deal with Iran. It’s not simply Israel but Saudi Arabia and Jordan that view a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. At a time when his own credibility is scraping bottom and the Senate may flip to Republican control, majorities in both chambers may refuse to lift any sanctions mandated by law.
The administration has not been talking to Congress in any meaningful sense. Lawmakers report briefings are vague and administration officials non-responsive to specific questions. This may be attributable to this administration’s standard arrogance and secrecy, or it may suggest a very bad deal is in the works. Even worse, it may reflect that the administration has no bottom line at all — it just needs a deal, any deal.
The goal for Congress is to force Obama to hold firm, with the knowledge that a half-baked agreement will not deliver the sanctions relief Iran craves. The other half of the equation is to change the perception in Tehran that there is no military threat. While it may be impossible to restore Obama’s credibility, additional arms to Israel, regional mutual defense and mandated support from the United States to Israel in case of war would increase the potency of the Israeli threat.
In any case, coming just 10 days before the expiration of the interim deal’s six-month negotiation period, the letter highlights just how unforthcoming the administration has been and, in turn, how serious is the risk of a bad deal that allows Iran to go nuclear, all with the administration’s stamp of approval.