News reports suggest that the parties are nowhere near a deal in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear program. That’s unremarkable given that the Iranians refuse to dismantle anything and even this administration insists it must dismantle most of its program. Still, the fact that the administration for now is not folding should be reassuring to Congress and to our allies in the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 8 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the status of diplomatic hot spots. Lawmakers’ questions focused on Iran, Russia, Ukraine and Syria. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Iran’s suggestion is based on freezing the number of centrifuges it operates at its current level of 9,400. It will slightly reduce the fuel it produces from these old-generation machines by spinning them more slowly during the multiyear period of the agreement, according to an Iranian and a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to one of the diplomats, Iran first aired the proposal to European diplomats several weeks ago.

The Iranian proposal wouldn’t amount to the significant reduction in the enrichment program that has been demanded by the U.S. and it would be easy for Tehran to quickly reverse the concession by increasing the centrifuges’ output again.

This is worthless, of course. The price for such a deal would be the lifting of sanctions. Then Iran would simply have to evade inspectors, deny violations or just wait for the passage of time (if the Obama administration gives Iran a sunset clause on international oversight). The West would lose all leverage and Iran would be right where it wants to be — on the threshold of a nuclear state with no international restrictions. (“U.S. officials have made it clear that after the multiyear agreement expires, Iran will be free to operate a larger-scale enrichment program for peaceful purposes.”)

If no final deal is struck by July 20, Congress will be under enormous pressure to act. It has repeatedly set forth the acceptable parameters for a final deal, which requires dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, not freezing it in place to be thawed out for another day of Iran’s choosing. The only acceptable course would be to make good on the bipartisan ultimatums and pass sanctions conditioned to go into effect at a certain date without a final deal meeting internationally accepted criteria (e.g. dismantle centrifuges, ship out nuclear fuel, dismantle the heavy water plant, allow unfettered inspection). Congress should firmly resist the effort to lift any more sanctions as an “inducement” (i.e. bribe) for Iran to remain at the table (where it can continue to stall and develop its IBM program, the eventual delivery system for its nuclear weapons).

Once again the administration will claim all that is just an effort by “war mongers” to wreck the negotiations. Actually, it should be seen as an effort to wreck a deal that would give Iran what it wants — the future as a nuclear state with a defanged international community — without giving up anything of permanent value. Only when Iran is disabused of the idea that it could obtain that will it be possible to force a good deal, one that keeps Iran far away from the nuclear precipice, leaves some sanctions in place with regard to its domestic human rights abuses and international terrorism and does not permanently lift a sanctions and inspection framework. If this seems the exact opposite of what Iran wants, you now understand why both heightened sanctions and a credible use of force are necessities if we want to peacefully prevent a nuclear-armed Iranian state.