As I noted yesterday, the March deadline for the “political framework” in the P5+1 talks is fish-or-cut-bait time for Democrats who said they would vote on the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill if there was no such deal covering all the relevant issues. But Iran’s supreme leader complained about an interim deal and now — wouldn’t you know it? — the administration is backpedaling. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki let on that the “deadline” is more like an aspiration. At the daily briefing on Monday, she declared, “Yes. It is a goal, it remains a goal, but — and the secretary has been very vocal about that. We’ve never called it a deadline. We’ve called it a goal of when we want to achieve the political framework.” Actually, that is not true.


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, center, walks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, after addressing the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in September. (Associated Press/Jason DeCrow)

Pskai herself last month said, “On the deadline question, which I know you’ve had in the past, the P5+1, coordinated by the EU and Iran, agreed to extend the nuclear talks until March 31st to reach a political agreement, and then June 30th to reach all of the technical details.” Sounds like they thought it was a deadline until the supreme leader decided he didn’t like the idea of a deadline. The White House spokesman as late as Jan. 28 was saying that “the President has made clear the importance of the end-of-March deadline in our own pursuit of a political framework there.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) tells Right Turn, “Administration officials have repeatedly spoken on record about the importance of meeting a March 2015 deadline for a so-called ‘political agreement,’ but now they appear desperate to move back the goalposts after Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly said that he opposes a political agreement and wants instead a single agreement that covers, in his own words, ‘both generalities and details’.”

Moving the goal posts as been the one constant in the administration’s approach to bargaining. The regime balked about “no enrichment,” so the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) envisions that future enrichment will now be a topic of discussion. The mullahs won’t give up their centrifuges, so the administration starts talking about “unplugging” them. The Iranian negotiators refuse to come clean on its past weapons program. The administration is therefore talking about inspections without that — which of course poses a real quandary as to where nuclear facilities might be hidden. And each deadline we have seen has been waived, with a new extension and further sanctions relief. As the Wall Street editorial board pointed out, “Missile delivery systems and warhead design were make-or-break issues during arms agreements with the Soviet Union. In Mr. Obama’s negotiations with Iran, they are virtually non-subjects.” Well, the Iranians objected!

“The pattern of these talks for the past 1.5 years is that the Obama Administration agrees to a deadline that serves to hold off Congressional action on new sanctions and pressure the White House to offer concessions to Iran before the talks are extended and a new deadline set and on and on,” warns Mike Makovsky, CEO of the pro-Israel JINSA. “Given how dangerously much Obama has reportedly conceded to Iran, any deal would be a terrible deal so it’s probably best for this dance to continue. Congress should cut in before the music could stop and a disastrous deal concluded; otherwise, one wonders if Israel might.”

There seems to be no limit to the administration’s “flexibility,” that is, no bottom line on any significant issue. “There has always been a fear that these talks would go on endlessly while Iran continues its march to a nuclear weapon,” a source at a pro-Israel group remarked. “But Congress is getting increasingly impatient and prepared to act on new sanctions if this deadline is not observed.” We would hope so.

Indeed, one Capitol Hill source observed, “March means March. March does not mean June. And President Obama with Prime Minister Cameron, again at the State of the Union, and then Tony Blinken testifying twice before senate committees made this deadline clear.” The source continued, “The White House asked for some more time through March, not for additional time through June, and certainly not for indefinite time. Absent the achievement of a meaningful political framework agreement by March 24, senators from both parties are poised to act and proceed with the Kirk-Menendez bill.”

Iran does not yet have its bomb and it is already blackmailing the West. How else can we explain the administration’s refusal to hold its ground and reticence in the face of outrageous Iranian behavior? The Post editorial board notes, “While an American citizen [Post correspondent Jason Rezaian] is openly wielded as a human pawn, at enormous cost to his well-being and that of his family, the Obama administration fastidiously refrains from any action it believes might offend Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — from seeking the downfall of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to tolerating a vote in Congress on sanctions that would be imposed in the event the talks failed.” If this is how the administration acts when it is afraid of annoying the mullahs now, imagine what it will tolerate if Iran gets a nuclear weapons capability.

It will be no surprise to the president’s critics if the March deadline comes and goes. The Iranians have learned that if they simply say no, the administration gives way. Whether one thinks a “political framework” is advisable or not, one can’t ignore the pattern of serial capitulation — with the administration’s serial denials that it is capitulating. It is for this very reason that more pressure needs to be applied to Iran in the form of conditional sanctions and that Congress must have an up or down vote on the deal. Judging from all appearances, any final deal negotiated by the Obama team won’t pass the straight face test.