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On an Iran deal, reports of concessions galore

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News reports over the past few days have featured a string of once unimaginable concessions from the P5+1 in the Iran nuclear talks. (One can imagine the French are feeding the media a steady diet of leaks. It is the French who have expressed the most concern about the bonanza of concessions, so leaks and ensuing public outrage is an understandable strategy if one is trying to stop a bad deal.)

The Wall Street Journal reported: “Talks over Iran’s nuclear program have hit a stumbling block a week before a key deadline because Tehran has failed to cooperate with a United Nations probe into whether it tried to build atomic weapons in the past, say people close to the negotiations. In response, these people say, the U.S. and its diplomatic partners are revising their demands on Iran to address these concerns before they agree to finalize a nuclear deal, which would repeal U.N. sanctions against the country.” Translation: Iran said no, so the administration is caving. This is no small matter. David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee last year:

A prerequisite for any comprehensive agreement is for the IAEA to know when Iran sought nuclear weapons, how far it got, what types it sought to develop, and how and where it did this work. Was this weapons capability just put on the shelf, waiting to be quickly restarted? The IAEA needs a good baseline of Iran’s military nuclear activities, including the manufacturing of equipment for the program and any weaponization related studies, equipment, and locations. The IAEA needs this information to design a verification regime . . . Iran’s lack of clarity on alleged nuclear weaponization and its noncooperation with the IAEA, if accepted as part of a nuclear agreement, would create a large vulnerability in any future verification regime. How large? Iran would have clear precedents to deny inspectors access to key facilities and individuals. There would be essentially no-go zones across the country for inspectors.

Then today we learn, “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press. The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.”

No, seriously. The administration started with the premise that there was no right to enrich and that Iran’s pathway to a bomb had to be cut off, including dismantling of the facilities at Fordow and Arak. Now we are talking about letting Iran enrich, underground. But the inspectors! Inspectors can be tossed out, and, in any event, by then sanctions will have been lifted and a sprint to a nuclear bomb could easily reach the finish line before anything could be reimposed. As the Israel Project explained in an e-mail, “Allowing the Iranians to enrich at Fordow means they could kick out inspectors at any time and have a fully-functioning enrichment facility hardened against military intervention. Since sanctions will be unraveled by design at the beginning of a deal, that means the West would have literally zero options to stop a breakout.”

What we see here on every major issue, from revealing past activities to allowing retention of centrifuges to preventing snap inspection, the West has folded. We understand that in the give and take of negotiations we might allow Iran, say, to keep some centrifuges. But that has to be balanced with extra-tight inspections, full disclosure of past activities and a very slow rollback in sanctions. Instead, we are giving up on all of these. And to boot we hear they are not at the stage of reducing this to writing. (To make it simple, someone could scrawl on a napkin: Iran can do whatever it pleases in 10 years, and most of that before.) As former Obama adviser on Iran Dennis Ross and former ambassador Eric Edelman put it in a recent report, since “the Administration has set such a tight breakout [one year] timeframe as its baseline, it therefore needs to demonstrate how even these expanded safeguards would guarantee the IAEA’s ability to reliably detect any number of a wide range of potential violations, and to report them in a timely and definitive manner. The burden of proof is on the Administration to explain how the prospective final deal it is negotiating does not warrant even stricter safeguards, including: real-time video monitoring of nuclear facilities, unannounced inspections at declared and undeclared sites, including military and IRGC sites suspected of involvement in nuclear Questions for a Final Deal with Iran 11 activities, and mandatory access to any facilities, documentation and personnel requested by the IAEA.” However, on this and other issues Iran is getting more, not less in the deal.

Arab allies in the region are already up in arms over our neglect and denial about Yemen. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put it in a Fox News interview, we see that “they’ve been wrong so often about the true threat of ISIS, about the status of Al Qaeda, about the holding up Yemen as an example of counterterrorism excellence. How can we now trust that they’re going to do – for example, a deal with Iran that’s going make sense for the world and keep us safer? This is an administration that has a history of being wrong, and they’re going to be wrong again when it comes to Iran.” A deal this bad will only confirm our Arab and Israeli allies that the U.S. is indifferent to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and all too willing to sell their interests down the drain.

How does the administration expect a deal as bad as this to fly with Congress and the American people? Perhaps they simply want Congress to take responsibility for nixing a deal. If so, Congress should oblige. In a foolhardy and weak-kneed effort to accommodate the White House, Senate Democrats insisted on pushing back votes to require a congressional up-or-down vote (Corker-Graham-Menendez) and if no deal is struck, new sanctions (Menendez-Kirk). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesman confirms that the votes will come in April after Congress is back from recess. It is increasingly obvious (most recently evidenced by the complete collapse of Yemen to Iran-backed troops and the indictment of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for desertion) that the administration’s collective judgment is awful. Congress needs to wrest the handling of the Iran nuclear threat from the sole province of the White House (which has kept the terms of the deal secret, for very good reason if we now see what a travesty it would be).

If there is a deal is as bad as we fear, the Senate should vote it down, impose additional sanctions and set forth the terms of an acceptable deal. Iran will leave in a huff, but the U.S. sanctions will remain in place. Through the power of the purse, Congress should also make clear that any attempt to undermine existing U.N. sanctions with a weaker deal will imperil U.N. funding and will not be matched by congressional action.

It will be interesting to see if Democrats finally revolt and oppose the president’s cockeyed scheme of appeasement. Moreover, you wonder if Hillary Clinton is going to run defending this deal. If so, we may well see a House, Senate and White House stocked with Republicans willing and able to do what Obama should have: Force Iran to choose between survival of the regime and its nuclear program.