It has not been a good week for the president’s Iran framework. It seems the more experts and lawmakers see, the worse the deal looks.
At the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran’s ICBM program — which the administration agreed to leave out of the talks — multiple experts blasted the decision to exclude long-range missiles from the program and took the opportunity to slam the deal. Dr. Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, for example, observed, “Medium and longer range missiles, and particularly ICBM-class missiles under development, could hold American and European cities hostage in the future, thereby providing a possible means of deterring U.S. assistance to our Gulf friends and other regional allies. Longer range missiles may also provide a sense of protection against external intervention, permitting Iran to continue its support of terrorism, to continue its expansion in its quest to become the predominant regional power, and to continue the repression of its own people, the first and foremost threat to the survival of this abhorrent regime. And finally, one cannot discount the use of these missiles against Israel. The mullahs often threaten Israel with destruction and Israel takes these threats seriously, as it must.” As for the deal itself, he said: “The failure to limit ballistic missiles, or to constrain Iran’s missile build up in any way, is one of a number of central flaws in the emerging agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. While we do not know what will be finally agreed in the comprehensive arrangement currently being negotiated — or even whether there will be an agreement by the 30 June deadline or thereafter — we do know some of the basic elements that the Obama Administration has asserted are already agreed.”
Likewise, retired Lieutenant Gen. Michael Flynn, the administration’s former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified:
To begin, the nuclear deal, that will likely be concluded this summer, suffers from severe deficiencies. . . . Iran’s leaders made it clear the furthest they will go is to allow International inspectors (IAEA) only “managed access” to nuclear facilities, and only with significant prior notification. This makes it nearly impossible, as a matter of full transparency, to have real “eyes on” the state of Iranian nuclear development to include their missile program. . . . The notion of “snap back” sanctions is fiction. The Iranian regime is already more economically stable than it was in November of 2013, while the international sanctions coalition that brought Tehran to the table in the first place is showing serious signs of strain. It’s unreasonable to believe that under these conditions we will be able to put the “Regime Sanctions Team” back together again.
He noted the failure to keep allies abreast of developments in the talks and the poorly attended Arab summit as evidence of extreme incompetence (“this leaderless turnout with no serious long term, strategic agreement or framework for security coming out of the summit, you get less than acceptable results”). As for the ICBMs, he warned, “Iran possesses a substantial inventory of theater ballistic missiles capable of reaching as far as parts of southeastern Europe. Tehran is developing increasingly sophisticated missiles and improving the range and accuracy of its other missile systems. Iran is also acquiring advanced naval and aerospace capabilities, including naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, anti-ship missiles, and armed unmanned aerial vehicles.”
All of that did not touch on the latest news about yet another Obama capitulation. The Associated Press reported, “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement, officials and others involved in the process tell The Associated Press.” Michael Makovsky of the pro-Israel JINSA cracks, “This report suggests that Obama’s effective pledge of ‘If you like your sanctions on Iran, you can keep them’ won’t turn out to be true.”
The report continues:
Administration officials vehemently reject that any backtracking is taking place, but they are lumping sanctions together differently from the way members of Congress and critics of the negotiations separate them.
Under the sanctions developed over decades, hundreds of companies and individuals have been penalized not only for their role in the country’s nuclear program but also for ballistic missile research, terrorism, human rights violations and money laundering.
Now the administration is wending its way through that briar patch of interwoven economic sanctions.
Many critics of the deal saw this coming a mile away. “Sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program also target other terrible Iranian actions like terrorism, its missile program, etc. that the Administration has heretofore kept separate from the nuclear talks—i.e. effectively accepted–even though they’re highly relevant,” says Makovsky. “So, much of the sanctions regime on Iran will seemingly be taken down or implode under the deal negotiated.”
As one might expect, friends of Israel are irate about yet another broken administration promise. An official of a pro-Israel organization tells me, “We learn more each day about the extraordinary bonanza that Iran may receive from a nuclear deal. If the non-nuclear as well as the nuclear sanctions are rolled back, it would constitute a rebuff to Congress and a virtual license for Iran to engage in a range of rogue behavior without penalty.”
If the report is accurate, the administration will be heading toward a major showdown with Congress. “After years spent making the case to the international business community and foreign governments that U.S. sanctions target the full range of Iran’s illicit activities, including ballistic missiles, terrorism, money laundering and support for Assad, the Obama administration now is willing to redefine any sanction that brought Iran to the table as ‘nuclear-related,'” Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says. “This will be unwelcome news to Congress that measures, for example, designed to counter Iranian ballistic missiles development are nuclear-related for the purposes of sanctions relief but are not restricted under the actual Iran nuclear agreement.”
Dubowitz recommends that Congress “double down on sanctions targeting the full range of the regime’s dangerous activities.” Congress will have a chance to do that. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will, according to Hill sources, be holding a series of briefings and hearings this month to prepare members for congressional review of a final deal, if one is reached. The next one is a closed briefing on Monday, which surely will touch on many of these issues. It is becoming harder and harder to justify the administration’s fundamentally flawed deal — which will give Iran virtually everything it wants in return for temporary, reversible and unverifiable moves by Iran — that will continue its support for terrorism and regional aggression without penalty.