When former advisers to President Barack Obama contribute to an open, bipartisan letter outlining their collective concerns that the nuclear deal the administration is negotiating with Iran would fall very short of its own standard of a “good” agreement, something is wrong. And they aren’t the only ones who are nervous. Now that the deadline for the negotiations has passed, Obama should ignore the rhetoric that his legacy depends on an agreement and be prepared to reject a bad deal.
Decades ago, Ronald Reagan was faced with a similar dilemma in talks with the Soviet Union at Reykjavik, Iceland. Despite knowing that any agreement with the Russians would earn broad praise, Reagan walked away, only to come back to the table later and secure a better deal. Reagan understood that peace without freedom is meaningless and that knowing when to walk away from the negotiation table is just as important as knowing when to sit down.
Recent reports on the status of nuclear negotiations, combined with statements from senior Obama administration officials, give serious cause for three main areas of concern. These include the administration’s apparent willingness to allow Iran to keep its past military nuclear work secret, the potential lifting of sanctions not tied to Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. negotiators’ apparent lack of insistence on vigorous inspections as part of an eventual deal. All three reflect this administration’s unbridled quest for an agreement. But all three would guarantee a bad deal.
Only two months ago, Secretary of State John Kerry told PBS that the Iranian regime would absolutely have to account for potential previous nuclear weaponization activities if there’s going to be a deal. Iran’s suspected past work toward military-grade weapons undermines claims that it is pursuing a peaceful, civilian nuclear program.
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There is no way to accurately gauge the status of Iran’s nuclear capability without knowing what it has been hiding all these years. Considering that the history of Iran’s nuclear program is replete with efforts to obfuscate and deceive, the onus is on Iran to prove that it has nothing to hide. That hasn’t happened — but we must insist on it.
But U.S. negotiators aren’t insisting. Kerry said recently that “we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” These wild vacillations only spur congressional concern over the direction of the negotiations.
In regard to the second concern, Obama remarked in April that U.S. sanctions on Iran over its support for terrorism, human rights abuses and its ballistic missile program will continue to be fully enforced under a final deal. Now, according to The Associated Press, the White House is attempting to redefine all sanctions as nuclear-related so they can be lifted after a final deal is struck. What’s changed other than the administration’s increasing desperation to get a deal?
This is gravely concerning to those of us in Congress who define these sanctions as addressing a wide range of Iran’s nefarious acts. They should be lifted only if the Iranians address all of these activities. Promising Iran relief from sanctions that aren’t related to its nuclear program would remove all leverage to enforce Iranian compliance and punish the regime for abhorrent human rights abuses and global acts of terrorism.
Sanctions are what brought Iran to the table in the first place. Iran’s crude oil exports have nearly halved in three years, Iranian banks have been barred from the international financial system and extensive nuclear proliferation, missile and other arms-related sanctions have hampered Iran’s quest for regional hegemony. Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives the Iranians sanctions relief on anything other than the country’s long-term and verifiable performance on its obligations is a bad deal.
A bad deal would also take the Iranian regime at its word that it isn’t cheating on its nuclear commitments. International inspectors must have “anywhere, anytime” access to the Iranian sites they need to visit, including military and other sensitive facilities. The United States should not grant Iran veto power over international inspectors. The Iranian regime’s refusal to submit to intrusive inspections would be a telling indicator that it intends to continue its deception.
The words of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have done little to dispel this notion. Khamenei has vowed to reject allowing international inspectors to visit Iran’s military sites or interviewing nuclear scientists. Iran’s Parliament agreed — passing legislation that bans these types of inspections as part of any eventual deal.
As negotiations continue, Congress stands ready to stand up for core U.S. national security interests — and against a bad deal with Iran. Hopefully, Obama will see the wisdom in Reagan’s example.