The revelation of the long list of U.S. concessions and the 7-month extension of talks belie the fact that a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest national security threat of our time, and the ensuing proliferation (to other states and to terrorist) poses a threat not just to Israel but the West more generally.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has released a statement, which reads,
“At this point, all an extension does is leave open the possibility this administration will make additional concessions to an Iranian regime that has not agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Every day these negotiations go on is another day this administration fails to address Iran’s role as lead state sponsor of terrorism with an abysmal human rights record and no interest in a strong, stable Iraq. Instead of giving Iran more flexibility, we should be holding this regime accountable for the threat it poses to the region and our allies.”
That is a positive sign Congress understands exactly where things stand.
The consequences of the Obama’s failure to realize Iran’s true intentions and project determination to end its nuclear weapons program will have varied and unpredictable consequences. But it is also an opportunity for saner voices to prevail.
First, coinciding with the flip in the Senate majority, there should be a bipartisan super-majority to pass sanctions (maybe not even subject to executive waiver), a declaration of the necessary components of any deal and a repudiation of some of the terms already discussed. As to the latter, by insisting on certain terms (e.g. continued inspections) Congress will implicitly rule out a sunset clause that allows Iran an industrial-sized nuclear program. Its vote would thereby signal disapproval of those dangerous elements now, preventing the president from continuing the slide toward total capitulation (although he is nearly there). Most important, it should sketch out what a minimally acceptable deal would be (e.g. dismantling, not just unplugging centrifuges.)
Congress can also pass a resolution that contrary to the Obama administration boasts, Iran has been cheating on the interim agreement. According to IAEA reports on Iran’s compliance on the Iran/P5+1 Joint Plan of Action, there have been violations on centrifuges and on uranium stockpiling. (As one Iran guru explained, while Iran is allowed to continue enriching uranium to 5% under the JPA, it is not allowed to increase its overall stockpile of uranium during the JPA period. It has.) Nor has Iran complied with the sanctions. “The interim agreement between Iran and world powers last year allowed Iran to keep [crude] exports at the reduced level of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) But imports by Iran’s four major clients in Asia have topped that mark every month of this year except August, rising to as much as 1.37 million bpd in February, although there has not been an apparent crackdown on the higher volumes.” Cheating should be one basis for new sanctions, but also the basis for declaring the JPA null and void. (The next president will appreciate this.)
Beyond that, Congress should consider an authorization for use of force. It need not be requested by the administration, of course, and this president surely won’t use it. But it would help the next president in restoring some credibility to the military option. Providing bunker buster bombs to Israel would also turn up the heat on the mullahs.
The long extension of 7 months gives Congress some perspective: Nothing is being accomplished but concessions by the inept Western negotiators. This is not just a short-term spill over in talks; it is the abject failure to even come up with a “framework” agreement. In the next 7 months Congress should conduct robust oversight hearings and demand to know the concessions that have been negotiated to date. Only then can it evaluate how badly the president has handled things and what remedies might be needed to restore U.S. credibility.