Secretary of State John Kerry in a briefing Tuesday made a jaw-dropping comment regarding the knotty issue of Iran’s past disclosure of the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its program. This is essential if inspectors are going to know where to look for violations. He declared that “the possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussion, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in.” Going further down the rabbit hole, he insisted, “What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement. And in order to have an agreement to trigger any kind of material significant sanctions relief, we would have to have those answers.” No, the point of PMD disclosure is that without out it going forward we will not have adequate inspections and verifications if we don’t know where and how prior work was conducted. But that is not all.
For starters, this directly contradicts Kerry’s own comments in April on PBS:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, another issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?
JOHN KERRY: No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it’s not there now.
JOHN KERRY: It will be done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So that information will be released before June 30th, will be available.
JOHN KERRY: It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.
So much for that. The other problem with his assertion is that it is false; we don’t have perfect knowledge.
Former CIA chief Michael Hayden says Kerry’s newest position is indefensible. “I’d like to see the DNI or any intelligence office repeat that word for me. They won’t. What he is saying is that we don’t care how far they’ve gotten with weaponization. We’re betting the farm on our ability to limit the production of fissile material.” Now, if they want to make that bet, they can, but the administration should level with us and not insist revelations of PMDs are unimportant. Instead, Hayden says, “He’s pretending we have perfect knowledge about something that was an incredibly tough intelligence target while I was director and I see nothing that has made it any easier.”
Mark Dubowitz, the widely respected sanctions guru from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, agrees with Kerry’s original statement. “For Secretary Kerry to claim we have absolute knowledge of Iran’s weaponization activities is to assume a level of U.S. intelligence capability that defies historical experience. That’s why he, President Obama, Undersecretary Sherman, and IAEA chief Amano all have made PMD resolution such an essential condition of any nuclear deal,” Dubowitz tells me. “The U.S. track record in detecting and stopping countries from going nuclear should make Kerry more modest in his claims and assumptions. The U.S. missed the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Washington underestimated Saddam’s program in 1990. Then it overestimated his program in 2003 and went to war to stop a nonexistent WMD program. Given this track record, the Obama administration’s abandonment of yet another nuclear demand, especially one as critical as a resolution of Iran’s weaponization past and present, is inexplicable.” Well, it is inexplicable except if one believes the president is frantic to make a deal no matter how bad.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) likewise dismissed Kerry’s assertion, telling Right Turn, “The IAEA is most certainly ‘fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another,’ and Iran has failed to comply for more than a decade.”
The latest obfuscation of another concession by the administration confirms what many lawmakers are coming to believe: “Congress on a bipartisan basis should reject such a deal and force the administration to go and negotiate a better one,” as Dubowitz put it.
Now, if that were not unsettling in and of itself, consider that Kerry also acknowledged that we are “absolutely certain” Bashar al-Assad has used chlorine gas multiple times. So here is an instance of proven violations of a WMD deal. What will we do? Nothing, apparently. Presidential hopeful Rick Perry in a statement hit the nail on the head, declaring, “President Obama said Assad must go, but did nothing to make it happen. He said use of chemical weapons is a line Assad must not cross. Assad did, with no consequence. Now President Obama is left to argue chlorine gas attacks on the Syrian people are not chemical warfare. There is a great price to be paid when America does not lead, and innocent Syrian civilians are paying that price today.” Moreover it is yet another signal to Iran that we are bereft of seriousness when it comes to WMDs.
The administration grows more and more feckless each day. As such, Congress must step up to the plate to prevent a complete collapse of America’s position in the Middle East. It, with a bipartisan voice, should warn the president now, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) did on Monday, that its concessions are making it absolutely certain Congress will nix a deal. Things are getting so bad that Hillary Clinton might even have to tell us what her position is, although if she could not cough up a candid answer on trade, do not hold your breath waiting for leadership on Iran’s nuclear program. Her silence is one more signal that on the most critical issues of the day, she is incapable or unwilling to lead.
UPDATE: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had this reaction to Kerry’s remarks on Iran, telling Right Turn: “It is exactly these kinds of statements from the secretary that cause me to have the concerns I have regarding the direction of the nuclear negotiations.” He continued, “At every juncture, the secretary and his aides seem way too willing to accommodate Iran. From day one, all involved have emphasized the significance of Iran providing a full accounting of its previous weaponization activities, and by not holding firm on this issue, it appears yet another redline will be crossed. The stakes for our country and the world are enormously high, and I again urge the administration not to be afraid to walk away if Iran insists on crossing remaining redlines that are essential to a verifiable agreement.”