In Paris on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked whether there would be an extension of the Nov. 24 deadline in the P5+1 nuclear talks, which was already extended from July 20. He responded:
I don’t have that answer and I’m not about to predict. I don’t believe it’s out of reach. But we have some tough issues to resolve, and I’m not going to prognosticate. We need to continue to have some serious discussions, which we will, and we’ll see where we are. And I just think I’ll let the negotiation process speak for itself at this point in time. I don’t think anything is served by a lot of speculation at this point in time.
That would be a good idea — to let the negotiations speak for themselves. In a year of negotiations Iran will have removed any real threat of U.S. military action. It got an interim deal that recognizes there will be a point at which the nuclear program will face no restrictions or inspectors. It obtained one more year of uninterrupted research on its ICBM program (the only purpose of which is to create a delivery system for a nuclear weapon). It wrangled some relief from sanctions, allowing for some modest economic recovery. In exchange, it made no change that is not reversible in short order. It has not come clean on its illicit program to date and has not cleared up outstanding inspection issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
If there is yet another extension, Iran will stave off the resumption or increase of sanctions and certainly any chance of U.S. military action. It also will make it hard for Israel to act independently while talks are “still progressing.” If there is a deal, there is every reason to believe it will be a rotten one, considering that in a year Iran has turned over not a single centrifuge ror any enriched material, has never promised to dismantle its nuclear program and has not opened up to inspection all facilities. The U.S., on the other hand, has floated a variety of horrible ideas, including a plan to allow Iran simply to unplug some pipes rather than dismantle thousands of centrifuges.
A president who will not consider a serious and effective military campaign against the Islamic State is never going to authorize military action — and the Iranians know it. Maybe Iran figures it need not make any deal. Or perhaps the mullahs will figure, with a new Congress in a few months and a new president in a couple years, now is the best time to grab a sucker’s deal from the administration. Looking at this bleak prospect — the attainment of Iran’s goal to be a nuclear-threshold state — there are two potential barriers to deny Iran its nuclear weapons capacity.
First, Israel’s threat of military deterrence is real. If a GOP Senate majority enters office in 2015, Israel may figure it will get overwhelming support from Congress and the U.S. people for military action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already warned that Israel will not be encumbered by a bad deal that essentially allows Iran to become a threshold state.
The other barrier is Congress. House and Senate GOP leadership should make clear before and immediately following the election that both houses intend to pass the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill and additional legislation requiring the president to bring any final deal to Congress for approval. That will put pressure on Democrats — who have allowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to thwart votes on behalf of the administration — to get on board with a strong bipartisan policy that absolves them of blame for having enabled a flawed policy for so long. (It might even force Hillary Clinton to take a stand.) In the context of such legislation Congress should specifically repudiate the sort of harebrained schemes that would allow Iran to keep its program and rely purely on inspectors who might be restrained or kicked out at any time. It can also authorize transfer of “bunker-buster” bombs and heavy aircraft to Israel.
Congress can’t force Obama to strike a good deal, nor can it force Obama to get serious about a military option. It can end the sanctions relief gravy train, bolster the Israeli threat and impress upon the administration and the Iranians that no deal is going to get through Congress and afford Iran the sanctions relief it craves unless and until Iran comes clean on its past program, destroys its bomb-making capacity, dismantles the heavy-water nuclear plan at Arak, and agrees to continued inspections over a period of time. That, after all, is the administration’s own policy — or it was.