Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran sanctions

Why the Iran Sanctions Fight Matters

President Obama knows he’s got a fight on his hands. The decision of 26 members of the Senate, including several prominent Democrats, to sponsor a bill that would toughen sanctions on Iran showed that skepticism about the administration’s Iran policy and the nuclear deal signed with Tehran last month is still strong on both sides of the aisle. But rather than merely counting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doing his bidding and putting off consideration of the bill until sometime next year, the White House went further, issuing a rare formal threat of a veto of the proposed legislation. Not content with that, the administration also prodded ten Senate committee chairs to sign a letter indicating their opposition to more sanctions against Iran, including as journalist (and leading advocate of appeasement of Iran) Laura Rozen noted on Twitter, four Jewish senators.

Why are the president and his supporters so alarmed by the prospect of a new sanctions law? Given that even if the bill introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Mark Kirk were put into law it would not go into effect until after the six-month period the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have set aside for negotiating a final resolution of the nuclear dispute, it’s hard to understand their argument. Since the only thing that appeared to bring the Iranians to the table in the first place was sanctions, why would the threat of tightening the noose on Tehran’s lucrative oil business make diplomacy more difficult as the president and his backers claim? More pressure on Iran should be exactly what they should want so as to convince the ayatollahs that they have no choice but to give up their nuclear dreams lest the U.S. make their lives even more difficult.

The answer to this question isn’t merely one of seeking the best tactic to stop Iran, as the president’s Senate supporters claim. Rather, it goes to the heart of the administration’s entire approach to Iran. The fear of more sanctions seems to indicate the president’s goal isn’t so much making good on his repeated promises to stop Iran as to achieve a new détente with the Islamist regime. As such, the battle over the sanctions bill may not be simply a tactical dispute in which both sides agree on the goal but rather one about the future of American foreign policy.

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President Obama knows he’s got a fight on his hands. The decision of 26 members of the Senate, including several prominent Democrats, to sponsor a bill that would toughen sanctions on Iran showed that skepticism about the administration’s Iran policy and the nuclear deal signed with Tehran last month is still strong on both sides of the aisle. But rather than merely counting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doing his bidding and putting off consideration of the bill until sometime next year, the White House went further, issuing a rare formal threat of a veto of the proposed legislation. Not content with that, the administration also prodded ten Senate committee chairs to sign a letter indicating their opposition to more sanctions against Iran, including as journalist (and leading advocate of appeasement of Iran) Laura Rozen noted on Twitter, four Jewish senators.

Why are the president and his supporters so alarmed by the prospect of a new sanctions law? Given that even if the bill introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Mark Kirk were put into law it would not go into effect until after the six-month period the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have set aside for negotiating a final resolution of the nuclear dispute, it’s hard to understand their argument. Since the only thing that appeared to bring the Iranians to the table in the first place was sanctions, why would the threat of tightening the noose on Tehran’s lucrative oil business make diplomacy more difficult as the president and his backers claim? More pressure on Iran should be exactly what they should want so as to convince the ayatollahs that they have no choice but to give up their nuclear dreams lest the U.S. make their lives even more difficult.

The answer to this question isn’t merely one of seeking the best tactic to stop Iran, as the president’s Senate supporters claim. Rather, it goes to the heart of the administration’s entire approach to Iran. The fear of more sanctions seems to indicate the president’s goal isn’t so much making good on his repeated promises to stop Iran as to achieve a new détente with the Islamist regime. As such, the battle over the sanctions bill may not be simply a tactical dispute in which both sides agree on the goal but rather one about the future of American foreign policy.

The argument against the new sanctions bill is that any new legislation will be seen by the Iranians as evidence of the U.S. “breaking faith” with them and give them an excuse to end the negotiations. By speaking in this manner, the White House and Senate supporters aren’t just taking the Iranians at their word since regime figures have been making such threats ever since Secretary of State John Kerry signed a deal with them on November 24. They are acting, as the president and Kerry did throughout the negotiations, as if the U.S. is the suitor in these negotiations and that Tehran is the party with the whip hand.

If the goal of the talks is to use the formidable military and economic leverage of the United States over Iran to force it to finally comply with American demands and United Nations resolutions and cease its refinement of uranium and to give up (as the president explicitly said during his October 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney) its nuclear program, then it is hard to understand this line of thought. It is not just that it reflects an otherwise inexplicable defeatism about the dispute, but that it seems to indicate that the real objective is not the dismantling of Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure but something else.

Despite the lip service they have paid to the importance of sanctions, the administration’s stance indicates a belief that they do not–indeed, cannot–work to influence Iran’s decision-making. And since, contrary to some of their statements, this administration does not contemplate ever using force to stop Iran, what they intend here is not so much Iranian nuclear compliance as an accommodation that will somehow end U.S.-Iran tensions. Seen in that context, the last thing they want is to actually heighten the pressure on Iran, even if their current negotiations don’t get us closer to the goal of ending the nuclear threat.

Under these circumstances, one doesn’t have to use much imagination to see what they might be contemplating is a negotiating process that does not so much resolve the nuclear question as kick it down the road while further loosening sanctions so as to lower tensions between the two countries. The negotiations then become not so much a way of persuading Iran to give up its cherished nuclear dream as easing the way for Americans to come to terms with containing a nuclear Iran.

Administration supporters will dispute this and claim the president can still be counted on to keep his word on Iran. They believe the honey being offered by Kerry will do more to entice Iran to stop misbehaving than threats or sanctions. But in order to buy into this thesis, we have to forget everything we’ve learned about Iranian negotiating tactics and goals in the last 30 years.

This is, after all, an administration that actually opposed the existing sanctions that it now boasts have helped revive diplomacy. But what Obama and Kerry seem to be pushing for is a policy that values diplomacy for its own sake rather than as a means to stop a nuclear Iran.

Since the opposition of Reid and the threat of a veto is probably enough to stop more sanctions, we will probably have a chance to see whether Obama’s diplomatic strategy works. But if six, nine, or twelve months from now the West is still locked in dead-end talks while Tehran’s centrifuges continue to turn and bring Iran closer to a weapon, we may look back on what is being billed as a tactical dispute between some senators and the White House as the moment when the president’s abandonment of his promises on Iran first became obvious.

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Walkout: Iran Playing Obama Perfectly

Anyone who thinks Iran’s leaders aren’t cognizant of what’s going on in Washington got a reminder this weekend just how closely they follow the Obama administration’s political line. After weeks in which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been communicating their fears about the Iranians breaking off talks if Congress has the temerity to pass new economic sanctions, Tehran decided to make the president’s point. On Thursday, in an effort to prove that they weren’t lying down for the Islamist regime, administration officials announced that it would expand the list of businesses and individuals being targeted for prosecution for doing business with Iran. Contrary to the headline of the New York Times article about the measure, this wasn’t a case of new sanctions but merely a belated effort to enforce existing laws that have often been evaded either by exemptions granted by the Treasury Department or a lack of interest on the part of the U.S. government. This was supposed to demonstrate to a skeptical Congress that Obama and Kerry weren’t fibbing about being serious about keeping sanctions in place.

But the Iranian response to this tepid plan wasn’t long in coming. As Voice of America reports, the Iranian delegation to the meeting being held in Vienna to work out the implementation of the nuclear deal reached last month in Geneva walked out of the talks to protest the American move:

Iran said on Friday a new U.S. measure targeting companies and individuals for supporting its nuclear program violated the spirit of the Geneva deal.

Let’s get this straight. While Obama and Kerry said passing new sanctions in order to be sure the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions would “break faith” with their diplomatic partners, the Iranians are going even further. They are now saying that even enforcing the current sanctions is not in the spirit of the Geneva deal. And in a very real sense, they’re right.

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Anyone who thinks Iran’s leaders aren’t cognizant of what’s going on in Washington got a reminder this weekend just how closely they follow the Obama administration’s political line. After weeks in which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been communicating their fears about the Iranians breaking off talks if Congress has the temerity to pass new economic sanctions, Tehran decided to make the president’s point. On Thursday, in an effort to prove that they weren’t lying down for the Islamist regime, administration officials announced that it would expand the list of businesses and individuals being targeted for prosecution for doing business with Iran. Contrary to the headline of the New York Times article about the measure, this wasn’t a case of new sanctions but merely a belated effort to enforce existing laws that have often been evaded either by exemptions granted by the Treasury Department or a lack of interest on the part of the U.S. government. This was supposed to demonstrate to a skeptical Congress that Obama and Kerry weren’t fibbing about being serious about keeping sanctions in place.

But the Iranian response to this tepid plan wasn’t long in coming. As Voice of America reports, the Iranian delegation to the meeting being held in Vienna to work out the implementation of the nuclear deal reached last month in Geneva walked out of the talks to protest the American move:

Iran said on Friday a new U.S. measure targeting companies and individuals for supporting its nuclear program violated the spirit of the Geneva deal.

Let’s get this straight. While Obama and Kerry said passing new sanctions in order to be sure the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions would “break faith” with their diplomatic partners, the Iranians are going even further. They are now saying that even enforcing the current sanctions is not in the spirit of the Geneva deal. And in a very real sense, they’re right.

After all, the spirit of Geneva is, contrary to administration spin, a total Western surrender of the demands they’ve been making on Iran for the last decade. For the first time, The U.S. has tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium as well as given up on the notion that sanctions could ever force them to dismantle their nuclear infrastructure, which is likewise left in place with U.S. approval. In return for giving up virtually nothing other than a temporary freeze on higher-end refinement—a meaningless point since the centrifuges are still turning and their product could be converted to weapons grade fuel later—the Iranians have gotten the U.S. to ease sanctions for the first time.

They also know that during the months of the secret talks they’ve been holding with Obama’s representatives, the U.S. has eased up on enforcement of the tough sanctions that the administration opposed but now brags about. So it’s little wonder that they believe any effort toward enforcing the sanctions is against the rules.

Of course, as even the initial reports about the Iranian walkout acknowledge, Tehran will soon return to the table. Why not? Every time they sit down with Americans they win. But by sending this not-too-subtle warning they have also reinforced the president’s point about the Iranians running away from diplomacy at the least provocation. Rather than responding to this provocation by reminding the Iranians they are the ones who benefit from the Geneva deal, the U.S. and its European partners are predictably adopting a supine posture. They are clearly more worried about offending the Islamist tyrants than they are in making it clear that they mean business about stopping their nuclear project. While the Iranians made no bones about the fact that they had been ordered home, Western sources were trying to paper over the disruption and to pretend as if there was no problem.

No doubt, this incident will soon be forgotten as the Iranians eventually come back to the table more certain than ever that the Americans are easily pushed around. But members of Congress pondering whether to take the administration’s warnings about not offending the Iranians should take this to heart. Rather than accepting a state of affairs in which the Iranians get to dictate not only the terms of nuclear agreements but also whether U.S. laws will be enforced, the Senate should call the Iranians’ bluff. Passing the next generation of sanctions that will make it impossible for the Iranians to go on selling oil—even if enforcement would be put off until after the six months of talks—would be the perfect message to send to Tehran that the United States isn’t impressed by their histrionics.

Unfortunately, that won’t be the reaction of President Obama, who is still chasing a naive vision of détente with Iran rather than one in which he fulfills his repeated promise of stopping Iran from getting a bomb. For five years, Tehran has been playing him like a piano and this most recent incident is an indication that they still have his number.

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Is Congress Bailing on More Iran Sanctions?

Prior to the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran, Congress seemed set to raise the pressure on Tehran with a new round of sanctions that will make it even tougher for the rogue regime to sell its oil. But in the weeks since Secretary of State John Kerry announced what he has claimed is a deal that is making both Israel and the United States safer, momentum for measures that would actually strengthen his hand in the follow-up negotiations has slipped. The administration’s pleas to hold off on sanctions make no sense since what created any sort of a window for diplomacy were the sanctions Congress already passed over the fierce objections of the White House and the State Department. Making them stricter to create a genuine embargo on Iranian oil (sales of which went up in November in part as a result of the sense that sanctions are on the way out after the deal) would be a perfect companion to talks. But while few in Congress seem to accept the logic of the arguments made by both Kerry and President Obama against sanctions, the number of those willing to directly challenge them on the issue seems to be dwindling, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The latest evidence of this trend is the announcement today that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will not back an effort by Majority Leader Eric Cantor to create a nonbinding resolution calling for sterner measures against Iran. Up until this point, the Democrat had been as ardent an advocate of sanctions as any member, but his decision seems to illustrate that he has drunk the administration’s Kool-Aid on Iran. By saying “the time is not right” for even an expression of support for more sanctions (the Senate is now considering the tough sanctions already passed by the House), Hoyer had adopted the same wait-and-see approach Kerry and his aides have been selling on Capitol Hill. While some prominent Democrats, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez, have stuck to their guns on the need for more sanctions, others, like Chuck Schumer, have been either ominously silent or indicating, like Hoyer, that they want no part of this fight. This is troubling not just because the argument for more sanctions is solid but because the defection of significant Democratic support will transform the issue into just one more partisan battle with Republicans rather than a reflection of a bipartisan consensus.

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Prior to the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran, Congress seemed set to raise the pressure on Tehran with a new round of sanctions that will make it even tougher for the rogue regime to sell its oil. But in the weeks since Secretary of State John Kerry announced what he has claimed is a deal that is making both Israel and the United States safer, momentum for measures that would actually strengthen his hand in the follow-up negotiations has slipped. The administration’s pleas to hold off on sanctions make no sense since what created any sort of a window for diplomacy were the sanctions Congress already passed over the fierce objections of the White House and the State Department. Making them stricter to create a genuine embargo on Iranian oil (sales of which went up in November in part as a result of the sense that sanctions are on the way out after the deal) would be a perfect companion to talks. But while few in Congress seem to accept the logic of the arguments made by both Kerry and President Obama against sanctions, the number of those willing to directly challenge them on the issue seems to be dwindling, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The latest evidence of this trend is the announcement today that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will not back an effort by Majority Leader Eric Cantor to create a nonbinding resolution calling for sterner measures against Iran. Up until this point, the Democrat had been as ardent an advocate of sanctions as any member, but his decision seems to illustrate that he has drunk the administration’s Kool-Aid on Iran. By saying “the time is not right” for even an expression of support for more sanctions (the Senate is now considering the tough sanctions already passed by the House), Hoyer had adopted the same wait-and-see approach Kerry and his aides have been selling on Capitol Hill. While some prominent Democrats, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez, have stuck to their guns on the need for more sanctions, others, like Chuck Schumer, have been either ominously silent or indicating, like Hoyer, that they want no part of this fight. This is troubling not just because the argument for more sanctions is solid but because the defection of significant Democratic support will transform the issue into just one more partisan battle with Republicans rather than a reflection of a bipartisan consensus.

While some senators such as John McCain are still pushing hard for a bill that would authorize the next round of sanctions, the discussion appears to be shifting away from that possibility to vague promises from the Senate leadership about considering a new bill only once it has been proved that Kerry’s diplomatic gambit has collapsed. The problems with such statements, such as the one coming out of the Banking Committee led by Democrat Tim Johnson and Republican Mike Crapo, is that they appear to be depending on the administration for an admission of failure that will never be forthcoming no matter what the Iranians do.

With support ebbing for a direct challenge to the administration, the idea of conditional measures that would put more sanctions into effect if Iran violates Kerry’s deal or the follow-up negotiations stall seems like an attractive alternative to many senators, especially those, like Schumer, who like to keep their image as stalwart friends of Israel and opponents of Iran intact.

But judging such violations or even the failure of the talks is bound to be subjective. This administration is not only heading in the direction of détente with Iran, it is also clearly besotted with the idea of diplomacy with the ayatollahs in principle. Expecting it to be honest about Iranian violations of a freeze of its efforts to enrich uranium at weapons-grade levels (even while the deal grants absolution to low-level enrichment, the product of which could be quickly converted to weapons-grade level in a nuclear breakout) is a stretch. But it is even more of a stretch given the fact that there is no way to know just how effective inspections of Iranian facilities will be and the consensus among intelligence agencies that Tehran has other secret installations at its disposal.

If the president and Kerry think even the talk about imposing more sanctions only after the six-month interim period envisaged in the deal would be a sign of “bad faith” on the part of the United States, what are the odds that they will risk telling the truth about Iranian behavior if it meant that such honesty would mean the end of their treasured diplomatic endeavor?

Even so, Johnson seems determined to protect the administration from any measure that would, even in theory, limit their ability to go on talking to Iran, no matter what the Iranians do. As such, he seems to be indicating that the principle of “Western unity” against more sanctions as well as political ties to the president trump doing the right thing to hold the Islamist regime accountable. While some senators may go on fighting, right now it appears the Iranians have nothing to worry about. So long as the president is willing to treat support for more sanctions as an act of betrayal against the White House, Iran can be assured that there will be no more pressure on them to give up their nuclear dreams.

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Oil Sales Boost Shows Obama’s Iran Shift

Administration officials have gotten a pasting this week as they’ve tried to convince Congress not to pass another round of even tougher sanctions on Iran. Try as they might to persuade both Democrats and Republicans to table efforts to squeeze the Islamist regime to give up their nuclear ambition, many members of both the Senate and the House don’t see the logic in a stand that sees any further pressure as weakening the chances of diplomatic success. So in an effort to bolster their dubious position, the administration announced today that it would expand the list of individuals and businesses targeted by the existing sanctions. The New York Times billed the measure as “new sanctions,” which is not true. What the government is doing is merely following existing laws that have not been zealously enforced.

The decision to crack down on companies that have helped facilitate Iran’s oil sales or collaborated on its nuclear and missile programs is welcome. But it is also a belated recognition that despite the bragging about the impact of sanctions that has been heard from both the State Department and the White House, economic restrictions on doing business with Iran have not been uniformly effective. The Times reported three years ago that over 10,000 exemptions had been granted by the Treasury Department to do business with Iran, a number that has certainly grown in the interim. And the Daily Beast reported recently that this year the same department had slowed down its work opening investigations of possible sanctions violators.

But the problem for the White House is not just a Congress that is dubious about a policy that seems aimed more at achieving some kind of détente with Iran than in shutting down its nuclear program. Yesterday, the International Energy Agency announced that Iran’s oil sales went up 10 percent in November as a result of a sense on the part of the world’s oil consumers and brokers that sanctions were easing. Though Obama’s point man on the sanctions, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. is determined to hold down Iran’s oil sales, the news about the increase in November gives the lie to the notion that Washington’s efforts have been as determined as we’ve been led to believe.

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Administration officials have gotten a pasting this week as they’ve tried to convince Congress not to pass another round of even tougher sanctions on Iran. Try as they might to persuade both Democrats and Republicans to table efforts to squeeze the Islamist regime to give up their nuclear ambition, many members of both the Senate and the House don’t see the logic in a stand that sees any further pressure as weakening the chances of diplomatic success. So in an effort to bolster their dubious position, the administration announced today that it would expand the list of individuals and businesses targeted by the existing sanctions. The New York Times billed the measure as “new sanctions,” which is not true. What the government is doing is merely following existing laws that have not been zealously enforced.

The decision to crack down on companies that have helped facilitate Iran’s oil sales or collaborated on its nuclear and missile programs is welcome. But it is also a belated recognition that despite the bragging about the impact of sanctions that has been heard from both the State Department and the White House, economic restrictions on doing business with Iran have not been uniformly effective. The Times reported three years ago that over 10,000 exemptions had been granted by the Treasury Department to do business with Iran, a number that has certainly grown in the interim. And the Daily Beast reported recently that this year the same department had slowed down its work opening investigations of possible sanctions violators.

But the problem for the White House is not just a Congress that is dubious about a policy that seems aimed more at achieving some kind of détente with Iran than in shutting down its nuclear program. Yesterday, the International Energy Agency announced that Iran’s oil sales went up 10 percent in November as a result of a sense on the part of the world’s oil consumers and brokers that sanctions were easing. Though Obama’s point man on the sanctions, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. is determined to hold down Iran’s oil sales, the news about the increase in November gives the lie to the notion that Washington’s efforts have been as determined as we’ve been led to believe.

This impression was reinforced by President Obama’s comments at the Saban Forum last weekend when he defended a policy of granting sanctions relief as being aimed at creating a political constituency inside Iran for nuclear concessions. It’s hard to know just how seriously to take such pronouncements. Does the president really believe that the Islamist regime cares about public opinion given its complete indifference to it on every issue, especially regarding the suppression of dissent? Moreover, given the fact that he has already discarded the considerable economic and political leverage he holds over the ayatollahs in exchange for virtually nothing, it’s difficult to believe holding off on more sanctions will make them more rather than less amenable to giving up their nuclear dreams.

Even more to the point, the statements from Obama and Kerry that demonstrate how afraid they are of Iranian displeasure and the desire to appease their anger about sanctions make the promise of tougher enforcement in the future even less credible. Kerry told the Senate on Tuesday that he didn’t think companies would plan to do business with Iran given the possibility of the U.S. imposing tougher sanctions in the future. But what the November oil statistics and the administration’s full-court press against tougher sanctions demonstrate is that it is unlikely that anyone in Iran, Asia, Europe, or the United States believes for a moment that Obama and Kerry will do just that. The first weakening of the sanctions was the signal Iran’s oil customers were waiting for and the coming months will likely see even more economic activity with Iran conducted on the premise that once the regulations start to unravel, they will never be re-imposed. If Congress is serious about stopping Iran, that’s something they need to consider when listening to administration pleas for inaction on more sanctions legislation.

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Kerry May Play by the Rules; Iran Won’t

In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, Secretary of State John Kerry had two objectives. One was to justify the nuclear deal he signed with Iran that gave the Islamist regime some sanctions relief and tacitly recognized their “right” to enrich uranium and continue their nuclear program in exchange for a six-month freeze on various actions that could be easily reversed and more intrusive inspections of their facilities. But his real goal was to try and head off efforts by some in Congress to toughen the sanctions already in place to make it even harder for the Iranians to sell their oil and thereby keep their government and its nuclear enterprise funded. He was met with widespread skepticism from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans and Democrats expressed worry that he had set in motion a process that will not stop the Iranians and might undermine the economic restrictions that had already been put in place. The members of the committee also were puzzled as to why passing a bill that would not go into effect until after the six-month period that is covered by the interim accord signed in Geneva would in any way inhibit the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Indeed, a number of them pointed out that having these sanctions in place and ready to be enforced if the talks failed would actually strengthen Kerry’s hand in talks with Iran.

Kerry’s answer to these well-taken points was to say that passing sanctions now would “break faith” with Iran as well as with the other members of the P5+1 group that had negotiated the deal. It would, he said with a tone that clearly illustrated his disdain for his critics, show that the U.S. “wasn’t playing by the rules.” Though he continued to insist that the deal wasn’t based on trust but rather on an interest in testing the intentions of the Iranians, he seems to think they would either be scared away from talks or use the sanctions as an excuse to break off negotiations. Given that the only reason the Iranians have been forced to the table was their worries about the impact of the existing sanctions, this makes little sense. If their goal were to lift the sanctions, why would the threat of more cause them to give up the only way of causing the West to drop the ones they are already struggling to deal with? The real answer to the question would likely undermine support for his diplomacy.

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In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, Secretary of State John Kerry had two objectives. One was to justify the nuclear deal he signed with Iran that gave the Islamist regime some sanctions relief and tacitly recognized their “right” to enrich uranium and continue their nuclear program in exchange for a six-month freeze on various actions that could be easily reversed and more intrusive inspections of their facilities. But his real goal was to try and head off efforts by some in Congress to toughen the sanctions already in place to make it even harder for the Iranians to sell their oil and thereby keep their government and its nuclear enterprise funded. He was met with widespread skepticism from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans and Democrats expressed worry that he had set in motion a process that will not stop the Iranians and might undermine the economic restrictions that had already been put in place. The members of the committee also were puzzled as to why passing a bill that would not go into effect until after the six-month period that is covered by the interim accord signed in Geneva would in any way inhibit the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Indeed, a number of them pointed out that having these sanctions in place and ready to be enforced if the talks failed would actually strengthen Kerry’s hand in talks with Iran.

Kerry’s answer to these well-taken points was to say that passing sanctions now would “break faith” with Iran as well as with the other members of the P5+1 group that had negotiated the deal. It would, he said with a tone that clearly illustrated his disdain for his critics, show that the U.S. “wasn’t playing by the rules.” Though he continued to insist that the deal wasn’t based on trust but rather on an interest in testing the intentions of the Iranians, he seems to think they would either be scared away from talks or use the sanctions as an excuse to break off negotiations. Given that the only reason the Iranians have been forced to the table was their worries about the impact of the existing sanctions, this makes little sense. If their goal were to lift the sanctions, why would the threat of more cause them to give up the only way of causing the West to drop the ones they are already struggling to deal with? The real answer to the question would likely undermine support for his diplomacy.

Kerry’s line dovetailed with the threats issued by the Iranian foreign minister who has already warned the U.S. that he will walk away from the process if Congress votes for more sanctions. Kerry fears the Iranians will torpedo negotiations because, contrary to his characterization of the talks, they are not acting out of weakness or fear. By getting sanctions relief of any sort without giving an inch on enrichment or dismantling a single centrifuge, let alone giving up their stockpile, they have operated as if they, not the U.S., are in the driver’s seat. By expressing the worry that the Iranians will “race” to a bomb if more sanctions are passed, Kerry is accepting this equation in which it seems as if they are doing the Americans a favor by deigning to negotiate with him. Like the president, Kerry believes it is impossible to force Iran to give up its nuclear program. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to believe the follow-up talks have much chance of helping the administration make good on its promise never to allow Iran to get a bomb.

The disconnect between the secretary and his congressional critics is clear. Kerry thinks the only point of sanctions was to create room for diplomacy, not to put Tehran’s feet to the fire. As a number of committee members noted, they did not pass sanctions merely for the sake of negotiating but to pressure Iran to give up their nuclear ambition.

Kerry’s only coherent argument was an appeal for more time. In six months, he said, we would see whether he was right that a serious process that would make the world safer had been initiated. Indeed, we shall. But given his less-than-candid briefing on the terms of the agreement in which he exaggerated the difficulties Iran would have in re-converting its uranium stockpile to dangerous levels, Congress should be prepared to be told that diplomacy was still viable next summer no matter what actually happens in the months to come. Indeed, if, as Kerry says, the Europeans abandon sanctions merely because of the possibility that the U.S. will toughen them, how can he argue that they will stick with the restrictions in the coming months once he has already begun to unravel them?

Will Kerry succeed in stifling congressional action? The jury is out on that question. The administration has a consistent record of opposing all sanctions on Iran in spite of the fact that it currently brags about the impact of those measures that were forced upon it by an aroused Congress in the past. And it hopes it can count on Majority Leader Harry Reid to protect it from embarrassment if push comes to shove.

But having discarded their existing leverage over Iran and begging Congress not to give them more, Kerry has undermined confidence in his negotiating ability, if not his credibility on the issue. For him, diplomacy has always seemed to exist as a goal for its own sake as a game with rules that the players should respect regardless of outcomes. But while he wants to play by the rules, the Iranians have proved time and again that they do not.

Performances like the one Kerry put on today did little to enhance the chances that some key Senate Democrats will back his play. As war-weary as Americans may be, a diplomatic process whose premise is based on an American refusal to increase pressure and an Iranian resolve never to give up its key nuclear objectives is one that is hard to believe in. Passing the new sanctions bill would warn the Iranians that although they may have hoodwinked Kerry, Congress will hold him and the administration accountable for failure. By talking down to Congress today and asking them to have faith in him rather than pay attention to Iran’s record, he may have made the job of his critics a little easier. 

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Isolationism and a Nuclear Iran

Columnist George Will is right when he writes today that the nuclear deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran won’t stop the Islamist regime from getting a nuclear weapon. The notion that the U.S. can foster moderation in countries ruled by despotic ideological regimes is, as he says, a “conceit” of a blind faith in diplomacy and good will. But rather than call for tougher diplomacy or greater pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambition, the venerable conservative pundit advises us to simply give up trying to stop the ayatollahs from getting a bomb. If possible, that might be an even worse policy than the feckless pursuit of détente with Iran currently being attempted by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

It’s difficult to argue with Will’s belief that no agreement conjured up by the current diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from eventually going nuclear. Nor would the use of force by either Israel or the United States to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities be easy or cost-free. But his conclusion that the U.S. has no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran as an inevitable, if regrettable, reality and adopt a posture of containment is one that even President Obama has rejected as not a viable or sensible option. In this case, Will’s normally rigorous reasoning is flawed both in terms of his estimation of what could be done short of war to stop Iran as well as the impact of effective strikes on their nuclear infrastructure. Even more troubling, however, is the sense that his willingness to accept a nuclear Iran has less to do with despair at the options available to policymakers than it does with a worldview that is drifting toward isolationism.

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Columnist George Will is right when he writes today that the nuclear deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran won’t stop the Islamist regime from getting a nuclear weapon. The notion that the U.S. can foster moderation in countries ruled by despotic ideological regimes is, as he says, a “conceit” of a blind faith in diplomacy and good will. But rather than call for tougher diplomacy or greater pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambition, the venerable conservative pundit advises us to simply give up trying to stop the ayatollahs from getting a bomb. If possible, that might be an even worse policy than the feckless pursuit of détente with Iran currently being attempted by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

It’s difficult to argue with Will’s belief that no agreement conjured up by the current diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from eventually going nuclear. Nor would the use of force by either Israel or the United States to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities be easy or cost-free. But his conclusion that the U.S. has no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran as an inevitable, if regrettable, reality and adopt a posture of containment is one that even President Obama has rejected as not a viable or sensible option. In this case, Will’s normally rigorous reasoning is flawed both in terms of his estimation of what could be done short of war to stop Iran as well as the impact of effective strikes on their nuclear infrastructure. Even more troubling, however, is the sense that his willingness to accept a nuclear Iran has less to do with despair at the options available to policymakers than it does with a worldview that is drifting toward isolationism.

Let’s first agree that diplomacy with Iran is a doubtful bet no matter whether it is being conducted by tough-minded leaders or weak ones. Both Obama and Kerry have little appreciation of the nature or goals of the Iranian regime and what little common sense they have is dwarfed by their hubristic belief in their own diplomatic prowess. As Will states, a deal that leaves in place Iran’s nuclear facilities and its stockpile of enriched uranium, and even grants it the right to create more is a formula for failure. It’s difficult to imagine any such scheme will not be either evaded or violated by the Iranians in a push to get the weapon their leaders have always dreamed of. The Iranians have spent the last 20 years deceiving and stalling Western negotiators. Any thought that the selection of a faux moderate in their fake presidential election presages a genuine shift on the part of the true rulers of Iran is a product of wishful thinking.

But however dubious we should be about Iran’s intentions, it is simply not true to claim, as Will does, that “any agreement” would be as futile as the one Obama has foolishly embraced. A deal that dismantled Iran’s centrifuges and nuclear plants and that resulted in the export of their uranium stockpile would be one that would prevent them from getting a bomb. Granted, the Iranians may well have more facilities than the ones under discussion. Intelligence agencies take it as a given that there are secret facilities where unknown nuclear activities are being conducted. Yet a negotiated end to the international sanctions on Iran that produced a genuine and strict inspection of the country might well root out most of the ayatollahs’ nuclear toys or at least enough to severely restrict their ability to reconstitute their program.

Such a deal might be possible if, rather than weakening sanctions in a vain effort to encourage Iranian moderates, the West tightened the economic restrictions on trade with Tehran and instituted a comprehensive embargo of Iranian oil. That kind of an embargo would be tough to enforce without the full support of Russia and China. But we’ll never know whether it could work or if such crippling sanctions would bring the regime to its knees until it is tried.

As for the use of force, Will is probably right that Israel may not be able to stop Iran on its own. It is also true that even a far more comprehensive strike by the U.S. wouldn’t necessarily end the threat for all time. But in dismissing the possibility that a series of strikes could stop Iran in the long run, Will is ignoring the fact that it is highly unlikely that a country already nearing bankruptcy could afford the massive costs involved in reconstituting a nuclear program it took them decades to build. There is no reason to believe that Iran could simply rebuild everything in a few years. And even if strikes did merely put off an Iranian bomb for a few years or a decade, that would buy the world badly needed time to prepare for the Iranian threat. It would also give the Iranian people an opportunity to perhaps unseat a tyrannical regime.

An armed conflict with Iran is not a scenario anyone should regard as anything but a last resort. But the assumption that it would be worse than a nuclear Iran is the real fallacy here. Will agrees with the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack that the only choices the West has are containment or war and thinks the former a better idea than the latter. That’s why, despite his criticism of Obama’s diplomacy, Will likes the nuclear deal with Iran because he rightly believes it forestalls any use of force whether by Israel or the United States.

Will castigates those who call for a more vigorous response to the Iranian nuclear threat as being “gripped by Thirties envy” because they decry the Obama policy as a new appeasement. Obviously, the circumstances before us today are different than those faced by the West in 1938 when appeasement of Nazi Germany was on the table. But the notion that all that is at stake here is, as Will says, an attempt to  “alter a regime’s choices about policies within its borders” is utterly misguided.

Iran’s nuclear program is not merely a domestic policy choice that the West regards with distaste (which was the way many in Britain and the U.S. regarded the Nazi treatment of Jews in the 1930s), but a genuine threat to the stability of the regime and the security of the West. After all, the Iranians are not building ICBMs to hit Israel, whose existence would be placed in mortal danger by a bomb in the hands of an anti-Semitic regime pledged to its destruction. Those would be aimed at Europe and the United States. Such a weapon would also provide a nuclear umbrella to Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries in the region and allies such as Syria.

In this respect, Barack Obama’s understanding of the stakes in this question is greater than that of the venerable conservative sage. The president knows that a nuclear Iran would be a catastrophe. He just lacks the will or the smarts to pursue the right policy to prevent it. Will is wrong to write off tough sanctions and diplomacy without their being tried. He’s even more wrong to think the use of force would be worse than a nuclear Iran.

Unlike the Soviet Union, a nuclear Iran could not be neatly contained. Not could the U.S. or Israel be sure it could deter it with nuclear or conventional counter-attacks. But unlike liberals who labor under the delusion that the Iranians could be charmed out of their nukes, Will seems to think the issue doesn’t really matter. In making that case, he seems to be endorsing the mindset of isolationists like Rand Paul or trying to resurrect the foreign policy of Republicans of a bygone era like Robert Taft would have preferred. As such, his appeal for acceptance of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a distressing indication of the collapse of the consensus on the right about foreign policy that can only give comfort to America’s foes.

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Only Congress Can Keep Obama Honest on Iran

Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

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Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

While much of the mainstream media reacted to the Iran deal with relief at an opportunity to step back from the need to confront the nuclear peril, congressional reaction was both sober and appropriately critical. Both Republicans and Democrats rightly pointed out that the agreement the president grabbed was an unsatisfactory retreat from his past promises. Does this matter? In one sense, the answer is no. Congress is powerless to prevent Obama from signing any deal he wants with Iran. His executive powers allow him to release the billions in frozen assets that are being use to bribe the Iranians to sign the piece of paper in Geneva. But the sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy cannot be abrogated by presidential fiat. It will take congressional approval to do that, and if Iran is allowed to keep its nuclear toys and go on enriching uranium, that won’t happen.

Thus, despite his urging, it appears that the Senate will move ahead to pass the next round of tougher sanctions on Iran that have already been passed by the House. This bill will tighten the noose on the Iranian economy and make it even more difficult for the regime to go on selling its oil. But far from a breach of faith with Iran, as the administration claimed in recent weeks, passing the new sanctions will be the only thing that can keep the president honest on the subject.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez indicated yesterday, the sanctions will probably be amended to postpone their implementation until after the six-month period during which the administration claims it will be negotiating a follow-up agreement with the Iranians. That will give President Obama a chance to prove that his deal is not merely an effort to appease Iran and that he is still serious about halting their push toward a weapon. But if six months from now the Iranians have still not agreed to dismantle a single centrifuge or given up their stockpile of enriched uranium, the sanctions will not be delayed.

As most members of Congress seem to recognize, the choice here was not between war and an unsatisfactory nuclear deal. They rightly disagree with the idea that Iran is too strong to be further opposed or that it is unrealistic to suppose the West can force the regime to give up their nuclear dream. While the signal of weakness from the administration to the Iranians may have convinced them they need not fear the use of force or continued sanctions, a determined stand by Congress may be the only thing that can act as any sort of deterrent against an Iranian nuclear breakout.

The push to pass sanctions will likely be criticized as the work of the dreaded “Israel Lobby,” and we have already begun to hear calumnies of those pushing to restrain Obama’s appeasement as being merely a function of the Jewish state’s instructions. One such statement came last week from Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who tweeted, “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.” If “best policy team” means most hostile to Israel, he’s probably right. But the key here is the attempt to brand members of Congress who won’t buy into Iran détente as being, in New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s phrase, “bought by the Jewish lobby.”

But I doubt Democrats like Menendez or Chuck Schumer or Republicans like Bob Corker or Lindsey Graham will be deterred by this kind of slander that borders on open anti-Semitism.

While Congress can’t stop the president from embarking on this potentially disastrous course of action toward Iran, it can make it impossible for him to further reward the ayatollahs if they continue their past policy of deceiving the West. The president may hope that once agreements are signed, the world will stop caring about Iranian nukes. But the House and the Senate should use their power of the purse to obstruct such a craven retreat from American responsibility. They are the only ones who have any hope of keeping Obama honest on Iran. And they should not be intimidated from doing so by anti-Semitic slanders.

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Can the Iran Deal Succeed? Not Likely.

If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.

In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though, as the New York Times noted this morning, even the CIA, Europe, and Israel believe such sites exist where uranium enrichment can continue unhindered. The president will also have to hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to effectively monitor activity inside Iran and detect cheating despite the fact that, as the Times also conceded, “Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime” the IAEA had said was needed to ensure that the program is peaceful.

It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize. But since that scenario rests on a series of assumptions that range from highly unlikely to completely far-fetched, the only possible reaction to the deal from sober observers must be dismay. In exchange for measures that only slightly delay Iran’s nuclear progress that don’t come even close to putting them into compliance with United Nations resolutions on the nuclear question, the administration has begun the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. Even more seriously, it has, in effect, normalized a rogue regime that is still sponsoring international terrorism, waging war in Syria, and spewing international sanctions, while effectively taking any threat of the use force against Tehran off the table. All in all, this is a good day for the ayatollahs and bad one for U.S. interests and allies that are endangered by any result that leaves Iran’s nuclear capability intact.

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If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.

In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though, as the New York Times noted this morning, even the CIA, Europe, and Israel believe such sites exist where uranium enrichment can continue unhindered. The president will also have to hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to effectively monitor activity inside Iran and detect cheating despite the fact that, as the Times also conceded, “Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime” the IAEA had said was needed to ensure that the program is peaceful.

It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize. But since that scenario rests on a series of assumptions that range from highly unlikely to completely far-fetched, the only possible reaction to the deal from sober observers must be dismay. In exchange for measures that only slightly delay Iran’s nuclear progress that don’t come even close to putting them into compliance with United Nations resolutions on the nuclear question, the administration has begun the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. Even more seriously, it has, in effect, normalized a rogue regime that is still sponsoring international terrorism, waging war in Syria, and spewing international sanctions, while effectively taking any threat of the use force against Tehran off the table. All in all, this is a good day for the ayatollahs and bad one for U.S. interests and allies that are endangered by any result that leaves Iran’s nuclear capability intact.

The details of the agreement are troublesome. Even while Iran gets a significant cash gift in terms of billions of dollars of unfrozen funds, its centrifuges will not be dismantled and it will be allowed to go on enriching uranium that can be converted to weapons-grade fuel. Its nuclear facilities will stay open, including the plutonium plant under construction. Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be diluted or converted into oxide, but that is nothing more than a storage option since the administration knows very well it could quickly be restored to its former state. Iran will have inspections, but they will be limited and there is little doubt that the IAEA, which has met every possible obstacle and obstruction to its work in Iran, will go on being stiffed no matter what the piece of paper obtained by Secretary of State Kerry says.

Far more important than even these points, Iran has effectively won its diplomatic objective of getting the West to recognize its “right” to enrich uranium. Though the U.S. is saying the two sides have agreed to disagree on this point, by signing a deal that allows Iran to go on enriching the question is now off the table in perpetuity. Iran’s nuclear program is effectively rendered legal by this deal. From now on, all disputes about enrichment will be considered as mere quibbling by the international forums that have heretofore accepted the West’s arguments about the question.

As for the vital sanctions relief, it is true the release of some of their frozen assets does not change the tough restrictions on doing business with Iran that are still in place. If we assume that the U.S. and its European allies will stick to their resolve to go on squeezing Iran, the small chance that President Obama’s initiative will truly lead to an end to their nuclear program would be enhanced. But that is an even shakier belief than any of the other suppositions that form the foundation of this policy.

As anyone who has ever closely looked at the way that the U.S. enforced sanctions against Iran, let alone its less-zealous European allies, the restrictions were always filled with holes. The New York Times reported back in 2010 that the Treasury Department had already issued over 10,000 exemptions to the sanctions against Iran, thereby allowing Tehran billions more in business deals. Just as troubling, the Daily Beast reported earlier this month that as far back as June the U.S. had all but stopped enforcing a crucial aspect of the sanctions by largely halting the designation of violators of the rules. That more or less gave impunity to those doing business with Iran.

Does anyone want to seriously argue that now that the president has proclaimed that Iran has embraced diplomacy and that a path to resolving the nuclear question has been agreed to, the Treasury Department and the White House will actually ramp up enforcement? Does anyone seriously believe Kerry’s piece of paper will not act as a green light to the Europeans, who have been desperate to resume business with Iran, and cannot fail to interpret it as a sign they can ease up as well? And can anyone argue with a straight face that nations like China that have continued to do business with Iran will not only increase such efforts after the U.S. has declared that peace with Iran is at hand.

The president can pretend that he is still holding the ayatollah’s feet to the fire. But now that he has normalized a regime that goes on sponsoring terror, threatening Israel and spewing anti-Semitic hate, there will be no reassembling the coalition against Iran even if he eventually comes to the conclusion that he has been, like every other diplomatic partner of Iran, fooled by them.

The president’s campaign promise to end Iran’s nuclear program is now officially thrown on the scrap heap of history. He can only hope that when Iran does choose to take the final step to a weapon he will no longer be in the White House or that Americans will have been so diverted by other concerns that no one will care or seek to hold him accountable. But whether Tehran waits that long or not, this is a dark day for the cause of international peace and security. Iran has got its long-sought Western seal of approval for a nuclear program that enhances its power immeasurably. The rest of the region and those elsewhere who are not deceived by this agreement can only tremble.

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Vitter an Unwitting Ally of Obama on Iran

David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

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David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

Momentum is building for more sanctions as Democrats like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey are joining with Republicans on the Banking Committee to push for more sanctions. Yet Vitter’s holds, though he has stuck to them for a good cause, will ensure that Kerry gets the delay on more action against Iran that he has been calling for. Kerry alienated senators with remarks in which he vented his spleen against Israel and urged them to ignore Israeli concerns and intelligence about how his deal would do nothing to stop Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. With bipartisan disgust about the administration’s rush to engage again with Iran, it’s growing increasingly likely that any vote on sanctions would be positive. But if Vitter does not relent, the Iranians will be spared further inconvenience until after they get an all-too-eager Kerry back at the negotiating table.

Vitter, who is as stalwart a supporter of Israel as he is a foe of ObamaCare, should get his vote on congressional hypocrisy. But either way he should do whatever he can to make sure Congress puts Kerry on notice that he is not free to pursue his policy of appeasement with impunity.

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Rouhani’s Moderate Iran Not So Moderate

Secretary of State John Kerry is asking Americans not to “break faith” with Iran as he attempts to convince the Senate not to pass tougher sanctions on the Islamist regime. Given Kerry’s obvious lust for a deal, even if it means recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and setting in place factors that will allow Tehran to eventually go nuclear, his credibility is shot and both Democrats and Republicans are calling into question the policy to which he has committed the administration. But rather than just focus on what’s wrong with a U.S. stand that is so weak that even the French couldn’t stomach it, it’s appropriate for the nation to also take another hard look at who Kerry is asking us to keep faith with.

If you listen to Kerry or watch the mainstream media in recent weeks, Iran’s defining characteristic has become “change” in the person of its new President Hassan Rouhani. The administration has bought into the conception that Rouhani’s election last summer as part of Iran’s faux democracy has heralded a new openness and an opportunity for the nation to change. But so far signs of change have been few and far between. Not only, despite Washington’s commitment to reviving diplomacy with Iran, has there been no give in the regime’s positions on nuclear issues or its involvement in Syria, the nation that Kerry believes he must reach out to has continued to promote anti-Semitism via its official media.

As the Anti-Defamation League reports:

Press TV, Iran’s government-run English-language satellite news network, has taken its usual viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theories a step further. It now claims not only that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, but also that because Jews did not learn from their supposed wrongs in Nazi Germany that “American Zionists” are “incubating another Hitler.”

The November 9 article, “American Zionists incubating another Hitler,” was written by a Press TV colum­nist named M.I. Bhat, who also writes for the conspiratorial anti-Semitic website Veterans Today. The Press TV piece was additionally published two days earlier in Veterans Today under the title “Are American Jews incubating another Hitler?”

In both articles, Bhat claims that “American Zionists” control America’s “banks, Wall Street, media, Hollywood, markets, politicians, foreign policy, indeed the whole life of Americans.” The article also asserts that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a “false flag” attack committed by “American Zionist Jews and Israel” to further their control of American foreign policy.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is asking Americans not to “break faith” with Iran as he attempts to convince the Senate not to pass tougher sanctions on the Islamist regime. Given Kerry’s obvious lust for a deal, even if it means recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and setting in place factors that will allow Tehran to eventually go nuclear, his credibility is shot and both Democrats and Republicans are calling into question the policy to which he has committed the administration. But rather than just focus on what’s wrong with a U.S. stand that is so weak that even the French couldn’t stomach it, it’s appropriate for the nation to also take another hard look at who Kerry is asking us to keep faith with.

If you listen to Kerry or watch the mainstream media in recent weeks, Iran’s defining characteristic has become “change” in the person of its new President Hassan Rouhani. The administration has bought into the conception that Rouhani’s election last summer as part of Iran’s faux democracy has heralded a new openness and an opportunity for the nation to change. But so far signs of change have been few and far between. Not only, despite Washington’s commitment to reviving diplomacy with Iran, has there been no give in the regime’s positions on nuclear issues or its involvement in Syria, the nation that Kerry believes he must reach out to has continued to promote anti-Semitism via its official media.

As the Anti-Defamation League reports:

Press TV, Iran’s government-run English-language satellite news network, has taken its usual viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theories a step further. It now claims not only that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, but also that because Jews did not learn from their supposed wrongs in Nazi Germany that “American Zionists” are “incubating another Hitler.”

The November 9 article, “American Zionists incubating another Hitler,” was written by a Press TV colum­nist named M.I. Bhat, who also writes for the conspiratorial anti-Semitic website Veterans Today. The Press TV piece was additionally published two days earlier in Veterans Today under the title “Are American Jews incubating another Hitler?”

In both articles, Bhat claims that “American Zionists” control America’s “banks, Wall Street, media, Hollywood, markets, politicians, foreign policy, indeed the whole life of Americans.” The article also asserts that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a “false flag” attack committed by “American Zionist Jews and Israel” to further their control of American foreign policy.

For anyone who has been following the conduct of the Iranian regime, there’s not much new here. Such views are mainstream discourse in Tehran. Iran has been a fount of anti-Semitic incitement ever since the Islamic Revolution. Its print and broadcasting services are consistent purveyors of conspiracy theories about Jews and hatred directed at Israel. But this must be understood in the context of a regime that doesn’t merely talk about hate, but practices it in the form of oppressing religious minorities and exporting terrorism.

While Kerry is telling himself that this time the Iranians mean it when they say they want détente with the West, the same regime has, with the help of its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries, kept Bashar Assad in power in Syria and secured it as a base from which Iran can threaten moderate Arab nations and Israel.

In fact, nothing about Iran has changed in the last several months and given Rouhani’s policy statements, there’s no sign that will change. This is not, as Kerry and other administration apologists claim, because the moderates are worried about being ousted by hardliners. It’s because the entire political class in Iran—including a faithful servant of the revolution like Rouhani—are in agreement about their government’s use of terrorism, hate speech, and nuclear program.

Contrary to the statements coming out of the White House and State Department, these issues aren’t peripheral to the question of whether to tighten sanctions on Iran, but integral to them. If Iran is ever to change, it can only be as a result of the regime admitting defeat in its nuclear standoff with the West. Only when the ayatollahs are forced to back down will the stirrings of dissent that took to the streets of Tehran in the summer of 2009 (and were ignored by an Obama administration still besotted with the idea of “engagement” with the regime) reappear and begin the process of transforming a dangerous tyranny into a nation that America really can do business with.

Détente with such tyrants and anti-Semites will only lead to more deceptions and diplomatic disasters for the West. That’s something Congress should keep in mind when it listens to the entreaties of Obama and Kerry for them to lower the pressure on Iran.

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Kerry Wants Congress to Ignore Israel; It May Ignore Him Instead

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

Kerry’s remarks were in keeping with the tone of Kerry’s temper tantrum during a press interview last week in Israel, during which he vented his frustration about Israel’s opposition to his proposed deal with Iran and placed all the blame for the failure of the peace talks he has pushed with Palestinians on the Jewish state and even seemed to rationalize Palestinian violence.

But the unwillingness to take Kerry at his word isn’t just a matter of being shocked at his animus toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. It’s also because senators who remember the U.S. missteps that led to North Korea getting a bomb have seen this movie before. As Kirk noted, Wendy Sherman, Kerry’s aide who is leading the U.S. participation in the P5+1 talks with Iran, has little credibility when it comes to nuclear negotiations:

Kirk also criticized Sherman, whose “record on North Korea is a total failure and embarrassment to her service.” Sherman was part of the U.S. negotiating team that focused on North Korea in the 1990s.

“Wendy wants you to forget her service on North Korea,” Kirk said. “You shouldn’t allow her.”

This is significant because Kerry wants the Senate to believe that he knows what he’s doing in advocating a deal that would have left in place Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and did nothing to halt construction on its plutonium reactor. Those terms were so transparently weak that even the French couldn’t stomach the effort to appease Iran, resulting in Kerry leaving Geneva last weekend without the accord that he’s so desperate to sign.

His claims that more restrictions on Iran’s ability to sell oil to fund terrorism and nukes would “break faith” with Iran are also puzzling and will only feed speculation that the U.S. has been conducting secret back-channel talks with Tehran that have been predicated on Obama administration promises to give the ayatollahs the sanctions relief they want while getting little or nothing in return.

But by throwing down the gauntlet on Israel in this fashion in a Congress where a wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support for the Jewish state exists may have been a stunning miscalculation. Kerry has dared the Senate to call him out for a campaign of feckless diplomacy that seems motivated more by a desire to achieve détente with the Islamist tyrants of Tehran and resentment of Israel than concern about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Whatever little credibility the secretary had left after the foreign-policy disasters concerning Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East peace process that he has presided over this year seems to have gone down the drain in another fit of temper. Kerry may want Congress to ignore Israel, but judging by the poor reviews he got yesterday, it’s a lot more likely that it will ignore him and ratify more Iran sanctions.

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False Choice Between War and Sanctions

One of President Obama’s favorite rhetorical tics is his consistent effort to decry his critics as trying to force Americans to make a “false choice.” As even liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote back in 2011, the president used the cliché as a device to skewer his critics on every conceivable topic to the point where she and others begged him to stop lest the phrase lose all meaning. But as anyone who paid attention during the 2012 campaign knows, he ignored her advice and continued to flay Mitt Romney and the Republicans with the same routine. I was reminded of that yesterday when White House spokesperson Jay Carney was guilty of exactly what his boss always used to accuse the GOP of doing. In trying to argue against the effort to toughen sanctions on Iran, Carney claimed that the decision on the question was one in which the U.S. was choosing between war and peace. Decrying the bipartisan push for sanctions, Carney warned, “The American people do not want a march for war.”

Claiming that supporters of sanctions are pushing for war is exactly the sort of inflammatory rhetoric that Carney decries when it comes from the mouths of conservatives on other issues. Speaking in that way poisons the debate as well as further degrades the tone of political discourse. But this attack is not only extreme; it’s also illogical. If those pushing for more sanctions really wanted war, they wouldn’t be bothering with more sanctions. After all, the only point of sanctions is to aid diplomacy. The argument here is not whether one side wants war and the other doesn’t. Nobody wants war with Iran. But if the U.S. fails to put more heat on the Iranians via the only mechanism that exists—economic sanctions that would essentially prevent Iran from continuing to sell oil for money that it uses to fund both its nuclear program and international terrorism—then the choice Washington will face will be one between the use of force or deciding to “contain” an Iran that will ultimately gain nuclear capability.

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One of President Obama’s favorite rhetorical tics is his consistent effort to decry his critics as trying to force Americans to make a “false choice.” As even liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote back in 2011, the president used the cliché as a device to skewer his critics on every conceivable topic to the point where she and others begged him to stop lest the phrase lose all meaning. But as anyone who paid attention during the 2012 campaign knows, he ignored her advice and continued to flay Mitt Romney and the Republicans with the same routine. I was reminded of that yesterday when White House spokesperson Jay Carney was guilty of exactly what his boss always used to accuse the GOP of doing. In trying to argue against the effort to toughen sanctions on Iran, Carney claimed that the decision on the question was one in which the U.S. was choosing between war and peace. Decrying the bipartisan push for sanctions, Carney warned, “The American people do not want a march for war.”

Claiming that supporters of sanctions are pushing for war is exactly the sort of inflammatory rhetoric that Carney decries when it comes from the mouths of conservatives on other issues. Speaking in that way poisons the debate as well as further degrades the tone of political discourse. But this attack is not only extreme; it’s also illogical. If those pushing for more sanctions really wanted war, they wouldn’t be bothering with more sanctions. After all, the only point of sanctions is to aid diplomacy. The argument here is not whether one side wants war and the other doesn’t. Nobody wants war with Iran. But if the U.S. fails to put more heat on the Iranians via the only mechanism that exists—economic sanctions that would essentially prevent Iran from continuing to sell oil for money that it uses to fund both its nuclear program and international terrorism—then the choice Washington will face will be one between the use of force or deciding to “contain” an Iran that will ultimately gain nuclear capability.

Carney seems to be operating on the assumption that the deal that Secretary of State John Kerry tried to get the Iranians to sign last weekend in Geneva can actually resolve the issue. But, unfortunately for Kerry, his proposal for loosening sanctions in exchange for an Iranian promise to freeze their enrichment of uranium was so flimsy that even the French were appalled and demanded that it be strengthened. Since Iran is counting on the administration’s hunger for a deal of any sort, they understandably refused to go along and the latest P5+1 talks ended without an agreement.

While Kerry may still be laboring under the delusion that he has the Iranians right where he wants them, the Islamist regime is giving every sign that it will never give up its nuclear ambition and is only stringing the U.S. along in the same manner with which it has conducted diplomacy for the last decade. Clearly, if negotiations are ever to succeed—and it must be conceded that there is reason to doubt Iran will ever relinquish its quest for a weapon—the West needs to raise the stakes rather than starting down the slippery slope of appeasement. The divide here is not between peacemakers and warmongers—Carney’s false choice. Rather, it is between those who are still dedicated to the proposition that Iran must be forced to give up its uranium enrichment altogether as well as its plutonium alternative and those who think the only way out of President Obama’s oft-repeated pledge about stopping Iran requires the U.S. to concede their “right” to enrich and to have a nuclear program that sooner or later will be converted to military use.

Judging by the canvassing of members of the Senate by the press recently, Carney’s argument is not gaining much traction. Support for more sanctions isn’t limited to the president’s usual cast of cardboard villains, i.e. conservative Republicans. Most troubling for the president is the fact that Robert Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears set on pushing through a new sanctions bill. Though some Democrats, like New York’s Chuck Schumer, are wavering, it’s likely that enough votes can be culled from both sides of the aisle to pass it. If so, it’s because members of the Senate like Menendez recall the administration’s arguments two and three years ago against passage of the very same sanctions that it now credits with having brought the Iranians back to the negotiating table. If those sanctions were not a step toward war, why would the new bill—which merely builds upon the existing structure to close the noose around Iran’s oil exports—be any different?

After last week’s fiasco in Geneva, Kerry’s already shaky credibility is in tatters. While it is difficult to place any confidence in the secretary or his negotiating team, if they are to have even a ghost of a chance of convincing Iran to back off, it will only be after the ayatollahs are convinced that the U.S. means business. Unfortunately, everything this administration has done—as opposed to what it has said—in the last five years has led them to think President Obama is a paper tiger. Not only do they not fear the United States, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes he can manipulate the Americans into loosening existing sanctions while leaving in place the Iranian infrastructure that will make it possible for them to evade any agreement and, like the North Koreans, eventually get their bomb anyway. A vote for more sanctions is a message to Iran that this won’t be possible. Despite Kerry’s inept diplomacy and pleadings and Carney’s intemperate advocacy, the Senate should waste no time in sending it.

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What a German Trial Says About Iran’s Aims

Jonathan Tobin has already noted that President Obama is lying about Iran sanctions. Not only does it stop short of previous demands of Tehran and deals with Iran when it comes to uranium enrichment and the fate of uranium already enriched, but it also apparently sidesteps the issue of plutonium work at the Arak heavy-water reactor. When Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry seal the deal, they might as well announce it with a declaration, “I have in my hand a piece of paper, signed by Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

The problem is that it’s not only a White House that is willing to embrace the fiction of caring if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, but also Germany. Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” Campaign reports:

Unexpectedly lenient penalties were imposed today against four merchants and entrepreneurs by the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg in the Arak trial in Hamburg… The convicts had supplied components for the Iranian heavy water reactor in Arak and falsified documents in order to mislead the regulatory authorities. If the reactor in Arak goes on line as planned next year, plutonium for two nuclear bombs per year would be produced there… The trial also revealed a blatant failure of the German supervisory authorities, in particular the Federal Office of Export Control (BAFA). The special components for the nuclear weapons program were delivered to Iran despite repeated warnings and evidence from the U.S., but also from the German intelligence service. While the BAFA issued a so-called “zero notice” clearance certificate, the foreign ministry also restrained concerns about the exports. The judge spoke of “misconduct” by the authorities.

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Jonathan Tobin has already noted that President Obama is lying about Iran sanctions. Not only does it stop short of previous demands of Tehran and deals with Iran when it comes to uranium enrichment and the fate of uranium already enriched, but it also apparently sidesteps the issue of plutonium work at the Arak heavy-water reactor. When Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry seal the deal, they might as well announce it with a declaration, “I have in my hand a piece of paper, signed by Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

The problem is that it’s not only a White House that is willing to embrace the fiction of caring if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, but also Germany. Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” Campaign reports:

Unexpectedly lenient penalties were imposed today against four merchants and entrepreneurs by the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg in the Arak trial in Hamburg… The convicts had supplied components for the Iranian heavy water reactor in Arak and falsified documents in order to mislead the regulatory authorities. If the reactor in Arak goes on line as planned next year, plutonium for two nuclear bombs per year would be produced there… The trial also revealed a blatant failure of the German supervisory authorities, in particular the Federal Office of Export Control (BAFA). The special components for the nuclear weapons program were delivered to Iran despite repeated warnings and evidence from the U.S., but also from the German intelligence service. While the BAFA issued a so-called “zero notice” clearance certificate, the foreign ministry also restrained concerns about the exports. The judge spoke of “misconduct” by the authorities.

Perhaps because they are after a legacy and consider a bad deal better than no deal, or perhaps because the Iranians have won the battle of endurance, it looks like the White House is willing to give up on the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program. It is, in effect, allowing Iran to have all the components necessary to complete a bomb when and if the Iranian government makes the decision to pursue that end. That the Iranians have been surreptitiously importing banned technology to process plutonium is simply the sad epitaph to any doubt about what Iran is after and the damage Obama and Kerry are prepared to do to U.S. national security and that of our allies throughout the Middle East.

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Obama Is Lying About Iran Sanctions

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva today to personally take charge of the American delegation to the nuclear talks with Iran. This appearance is a clear signal that he thinks a deal is imminent since Kerry’s desire to take part in a celebratory photo op is well known. For Kerry and his boss President Obama, the agreement—which reportedly will involve an Iranian promise to freeze enrichment—is a triumph for their conception of diplomacy and relieves them of the obligation to go on working to tighten sanctions on Iran as well as taking the use of force off the table for the foreseeable future.

Yet what should most worry Americans about Kerry’s rush to appease the Iranians is not so much the awful terms which he is accepting as the clear determination of the administration to appease Iran that led to this moment. As the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports today, far from the Geneva deal being the start of a loosening of sanctions, President Obama appears to have presided over a policy shift since June in which the Treasury Department has slowed down the enforcement of the restrictions on doing business with Iran. The president told NBC News on Wednesday that the current negotiations “are not about easing sanctions.” But his administration, which fought the adoption of crippling sanctions in the first place, has apparently already been backing away from them for months. Like the president’s infamous promise about people keeping their health-care plans if they liked them, his assurances about keeping Iran sanctions in place seem to be just as trustworthy.

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Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva today to personally take charge of the American delegation to the nuclear talks with Iran. This appearance is a clear signal that he thinks a deal is imminent since Kerry’s desire to take part in a celebratory photo op is well known. For Kerry and his boss President Obama, the agreement—which reportedly will involve an Iranian promise to freeze enrichment—is a triumph for their conception of diplomacy and relieves them of the obligation to go on working to tighten sanctions on Iran as well as taking the use of force off the table for the foreseeable future.

Yet what should most worry Americans about Kerry’s rush to appease the Iranians is not so much the awful terms which he is accepting as the clear determination of the administration to appease Iran that led to this moment. As the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports today, far from the Geneva deal being the start of a loosening of sanctions, President Obama appears to have presided over a policy shift since June in which the Treasury Department has slowed down the enforcement of the restrictions on doing business with Iran. The president told NBC News on Wednesday that the current negotiations “are not about easing sanctions.” But his administration, which fought the adoption of crippling sanctions in the first place, has apparently already been backing away from them for months. Like the president’s infamous promise about people keeping their health-care plans if they liked them, his assurances about keeping Iran sanctions in place seem to be just as trustworthy.

What the West is getting in return for beginning the process of dismantling economic sanctions on the Islamist regime is unclear. The New York Times describes it as “a first step that would halt the progress in Iran’s nuclear program for perhaps six months to give negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive agreement.” While most observers are interpreting that to mean a freeze in the enrichment of uranium, given the fact that it will involve no dismantling of centrifuges or surrender of their existing nuclear stockpile, it’s clear that the big winner here is not Kerry, but an Iranian regime that has waited out its American foes. While Iran can renege on its pledge in an instant and may well cheat on it no matter what they say in public, once the complicated web of international sanctions is unraveled it’s doubtful that it can be revived, let alone strengthened in the future as the administration says it can. As a frustrated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly said yesterday, “Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal.”

But as Lake writes, the Iranians may have already been reaping a bonanza from the president’s desperate rush to end the confrontation with the Islamist regime:

A review of Treasury Department notices reveals that the U.S. government has all but stopped the financial blacklisting of entities and people that help Iran evade international sanctions since the election of its president, Hassan Rouhani, in June. …

One way Obama has pressured Iran is through isolating the country’s banks from the global financial sector, the networks that make modern international commerce possible. This in turn has led Iran to seek out front companies and cutouts to conduct routine international business, such as selling its crude oil. In this cat and mouse game, the Treasury Department in recent years has routinely designated new entities as violators of sanctions, forcing Iran to adjust in turn. In the six weeks prior to the Iranian elections in June, the Treasury Department issued seven notices of designations of sanctions violators that included more than 100 new people, companies, aircraft, and sea vessels. Since June 14, however, when Rouhani was elected, the Treasury Department has only issued two designation notices that have identified six people and four companies as violating the Iran sanctions.

By acting in this manner, the U.S. was already telegraphing to the Iranians that they were in the process of backing away from a determination to press them hard in order to secure the end of Iran’s nuclear program, as the president pledged last year in the presidential debates. While the administration and its apologists will defend this as a necessary move in order to entice the Iranians to the table, what this does is make it clear to Rouhani’s boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that he has nothing to fear from the Americans. After more than a decade of diplomatic deception, the Iranians finally have what they wanted: an American president and secretary of state ready to recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and to hold on to to their nuclear fuel stockpile and to loosen sanctions in exchange for easily evaded promises. The next stop is not, as the administration may hope, a deal in six months to end the nuclear threat, but an Iran that knows that the sanctions have already begun to unravel emboldened to dig in its heels even further.

Like the clandestine manner with which the administration has already weakened the existing sanctions, this deal breaks a promise the president made to the American people as well as to our allies. All Americans as well as Israelis and moderate Arabs worried about the Iranian threat have to hold on to now are more of Obama’s promises. But with a presidential credibility gap that is currently as big as the Grand Canyon, anyone who takes him at his word without a look at the fine print is making a colossal error.

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Backing Away From Iran Sanctions

When the Obama administration began to contemplate testing the Iranians this summer after the “election” of Hassan Rouhani as their new president, it reassured both the American people and U.S. allies that it would not overreact to the charm offensive that event launched. The president and Secretary of State John Kerry promised that there would be no move to dismantle the economic sanctions that had been implemented against the Islamist regime for anything short of an agreement that would end Tehran’s nuclear threat. But it as it headed back to round two of the reconstituted P5+1 nuclear talks today in Geneva, the administration is steering in exactly the direction it said it would never contemplate. As the Washington Post reports, the United States has agreed to offer Iran an interim deal that would begin the process of dismantling the sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze in uranium enrichment on the part of the Islamist regime.

Defenders of this strategy, including Kerry, say this is not appeasement or a step toward containment rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It is, they claim, merely a finely calibrated effort to coax the Iranians back from the brink that would give them limited carrots in exchange for real progress toward making them give up their nuclear dreams. But even if the administration’s motives here are pure, what they are proposing is a path to let Iran off the hook, not a diplomatic solution to a threat posed to the West, the Arab world and the State of Israel.

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When the Obama administration began to contemplate testing the Iranians this summer after the “election” of Hassan Rouhani as their new president, it reassured both the American people and U.S. allies that it would not overreact to the charm offensive that event launched. The president and Secretary of State John Kerry promised that there would be no move to dismantle the economic sanctions that had been implemented against the Islamist regime for anything short of an agreement that would end Tehran’s nuclear threat. But it as it headed back to round two of the reconstituted P5+1 nuclear talks today in Geneva, the administration is steering in exactly the direction it said it would never contemplate. As the Washington Post reports, the United States has agreed to offer Iran an interim deal that would begin the process of dismantling the sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze in uranium enrichment on the part of the Islamist regime.

Defenders of this strategy, including Kerry, say this is not appeasement or a step toward containment rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It is, they claim, merely a finely calibrated effort to coax the Iranians back from the brink that would give them limited carrots in exchange for real progress toward making them give up their nuclear dreams. But even if the administration’s motives here are pure, what they are proposing is a path to let Iran off the hook, not a diplomatic solution to a threat posed to the West, the Arab world and the State of Israel.

The conceit of the proposal is, in the words of the Post’s anonymous administration source, to put “time back on the clock” by halting any further Iranian progress toward a bomb. That gives more room for diplomatic efforts as well as relieving the pressure on the West to act before it is too late. But while that seems to make a lot of sense, in practice it could work to undermine the goal that the president has been articulating since before he took office.

Iran saying that it has frozen enrichment is one thing. Making sure that they are abiding by such a pledge is quite another. The Iranians have repeatedly shown themselves to be very good at hiding their nuclear plants and equipment while inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are left to chase their tails or kept outside the country. Just as the North Koreans lied and cheated their way to a nuclear bomb, it doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of how Iran could do the same.

But while the Iranians could easily be cheating on their pledge and keep some of their centrifuges spinning, the West would be keeping its word and easing up the pressure on the ayatollahs. Even worse, while Iran could resume uranium enrichment—as well as research on a plutonium alternative—any time it liked, the cumbersome sanctions process is not so easily turned on and off. Europe, like the Obama administration, was slow to impose tough sanctions (the U.S. only did so at the insistence of Congress over the protests of the White House). Once they start to unravel, it is almost impossible to imagine how they will be put back into place. That is especially true once these governments assure their people that diplomacy is working. Nothing, not even blatant Iranian cheating, is likely to be enough to motivate either Europe or President Obama to go back to them, let alone to toughen them, as Congress now rightly would like to do.

As I wrote yesterday, since it is understood that sanctions forced Iran to negotiate, it is simply illogical to assume that further economic pressure will scare them away from the table. But once unraveled, even if it is only supposed to happen for a limited period, it is not likely that we will ever see them put back together.

With each passing day, it is clear that the administration’s real priority with Iran is to avoid having to take action, not stopping the threat of an Iranian bomb. While it is right to argue that no stone should be left unturned in an effort to solve the problem by methods short of war, by undermining their negotiation position in this manner they are guaranteeing that diplomacy will fail. If that is not their intention, they need to refrain from measures that will only encourage the Iranians to believe they can’t be stopped.

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Netanyahu’s Nay-Saying on Iran Is Working

For weeks, even people who share Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspicions of Iran have been loudly proclaiming that his tactics are all wrong: He’s alienating the world with his negative attitude toward the Iranian charm offensive. “His bombastic style is his undoing,” proclaimed Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, similarly warned that Netanyahu “should lower the tone, dispense with bluster,” since “In America, Israel is losing the debate on Iran.”

Given that nobody else on the planet even comes close to Netanyahu’s record of success in generating movement on the Iranian issue, I never understood why anyone would think they knew better than he how to do it. But I hadn’t noticed how effective his recent “bombastic bluster” has been until today, when a senior Israeli official pointed out something I’d missed: “We changed the conversation in which everyone was talking about easing the existing sanctions to a conversation in which everyone is discussing the need for preventing additional sanctions,” he said.           

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For weeks, even people who share Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspicions of Iran have been loudly proclaiming that his tactics are all wrong: He’s alienating the world with his negative attitude toward the Iranian charm offensive. “His bombastic style is his undoing,” proclaimed Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, similarly warned that Netanyahu “should lower the tone, dispense with bluster,” since “In America, Israel is losing the debate on Iran.”

Given that nobody else on the planet even comes close to Netanyahu’s record of success in generating movement on the Iranian issue, I never understood why anyone would think they knew better than he how to do it. But I hadn’t noticed how effective his recent “bombastic bluster” has been until today, when a senior Israeli official pointed out something I’d missed: “We changed the conversation in which everyone was talking about easing the existing sanctions to a conversation in which everyone is discussing the need for preventing additional sanctions,” he said.           

Nothing proves this better than President Barack Obama’s decision to convene an urgent meeting with American Jewish leaders last week to ask them not to press for more sanctions (two of the four groups present laudably refused). And while much of the credit for this goes to Congress, which has refused to take the threat of new sanctions off the table, there’s no doubt Netanyahu’s pressure contributed significantly.

First, that’s because nobody can be more Catholic than the pope: If Israel, which views Iranian nukes as an existential threat, weren’t vociferously objecting to the removal of existing sanctions and demanding new ones, it would be much harder for anyone else do so–certainly for American Jewish groups, but to some degree even for Congress.

Second, Israel’s track record shows that if it feels pushed to the wall by an existential threat, the chance of it taking military action can’t be ruled out. And since the world doesn’t want an Israeli attack on Iran, it has consistently tried to keep Israeli angst below that line. Netanyahu’s current campaign was thus aimed at convincing the world that easing sanctions would risk pushing Israel over the line–and he seems to have succeeded.  

This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has successfully used similar tactics. His credible threat of Israeli military action is what originally persuaded Europe to impose an oil embargo on Iran, as a French official acknowledged openly at the time: “We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline,” he said. This same credible threat is what bought time for negotiations by persuading Iran to curtail its 20 percent enrichment–as even the Washington Post, not usually a Netanyahu fan, acknowledged in April. And finally, it helped bring Iran to the negotiating table–something Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowledged this week, but which Iran’s own Intelligence Ministry acknowledged a year ago, when it issued a report advocating diplomatic negotiations over its nuclear program to avert the threat of a “Zionist” attack.

None of this means the danger of a bad deal with Iran has passed; far from it. But the first step toward preventing a bad deal was to prevent a hasty removal of sanctions, and that, Netanyahu seems to have accomplished.

He certainly knows that threatening military action and dismissing Iranian charm offensives as meaningless won’t make him popular. But so far, it has proven effective–and as long as that remains true, he will quite rightly be prepared to dispense with being loved.

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More Pressure on Iran Can’t Wait

The panic from the administration and the foreign-policy establishment about the possibility that Congress will act to strengthen sanctions against Iran is hard to understand. Since even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is running around the world saying that only sanctions and the threat of the use force on Israel’s part are the only things that brought Iran back to the negotiating table, it’s hard to fathom why making it even harder for Tehran to sell its oil and conduct business with those willing to brave the ire of the West will scare away them away. Yet, as we saw last week, the administration is so upset about the possibility that the Senate will follow up on House actions to tighten the sanctions that it not only sent in the heavy artillery to Capitol Hill to persuade them to back off but also tried to muscle Jewish groups into agreeing to a 60-day moratorium on advocacy for more pressure on Iran.

Those fears were echoed today in the New York Times. The paper doubled up on calls for engagement with Iran and a halt to pressure with an editorial and a curiously tone-deaf op-ed by diplomat Ryan Crocker that Michael Rubin already discussed. While it is worth taking apart the arguments against further sanctions, it is just as important, if not more so, to ponder why it is these voices are being raised now with such urgency. Though we are told that the goal is to further the cause of a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which they are being put forward must raise suspicions that what is really being sought is a way to set the table for a deal that will resolve nothing but make action to halt the threat impossible.

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The panic from the administration and the foreign-policy establishment about the possibility that Congress will act to strengthen sanctions against Iran is hard to understand. Since even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is running around the world saying that only sanctions and the threat of the use force on Israel’s part are the only things that brought Iran back to the negotiating table, it’s hard to fathom why making it even harder for Tehran to sell its oil and conduct business with those willing to brave the ire of the West will scare away them away. Yet, as we saw last week, the administration is so upset about the possibility that the Senate will follow up on House actions to tighten the sanctions that it not only sent in the heavy artillery to Capitol Hill to persuade them to back off but also tried to muscle Jewish groups into agreeing to a 60-day moratorium on advocacy for more pressure on Iran.

Those fears were echoed today in the New York Times. The paper doubled up on calls for engagement with Iran and a halt to pressure with an editorial and a curiously tone-deaf op-ed by diplomat Ryan Crocker that Michael Rubin already discussed. While it is worth taking apart the arguments against further sanctions, it is just as important, if not more so, to ponder why it is these voices are being raised now with such urgency. Though we are told that the goal is to further the cause of a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which they are being put forward must raise suspicions that what is really being sought is a way to set the table for a deal that will resolve nothing but make action to halt the threat impossible.

The myth being put forward by the administration and its cheerleaders in the press is that more sanctions now would so offend the Iranians that they would halt the efforts toward diplomacy and weaken new President Hassan Rouhani in his efforts to convince the “hard-liners” in Tehran of the West’s goodwill. They assume, in the Times’s words, that Iran has now finally started to act in a “reasonable” manner and a continuation of the policies that brought them to the table would end all hope of diplomacy. But the absurdity of this position is so obvious that it is astonishing that anyone who has actually been paying attention to the last decade or more of diplomatic engagement with Iran could put it forward with a straight face.

First, the assumption that Rouhani’s charm offensive is anything more than atmospherics is based on nothing more than the wishes of many in the West that the dispute would simply go away. The Iranian behavior in the latest round of the revived P5+1 talks that is touted by the Times as such a revolutionary change was actually no different than their posture in previous meetings. They have not weakened their resolve to go on enriching uranium nor have they stepped down from a “red line” position in which they absolutely refuse to surrender their existing stockpile of nuclear fuel. The only thing that has changed is that many in the West seem to have become so entranced with Rouhani and the possibility of renewed diplomacy that they are seeking to weaken the West’s demands.

Even more to the point, if everyone takes it as a given that sanctions convinced the Iranians to give diplomacy another try—whether as part of a genuine desire for a negotiated settlement or because they want to use it, as they have in the past, to run out the clock further until they reach their nuclear goal—why would they turn and run if the West were to make it even more expensive for them to continue to defy the international community? If they are truly worried about the cost of sanctions—and the ayatollahs have been largely indifferent to the sufferings of the Iranian people up until this point—more of them can only give them a greater incentive to be forthcoming in the talks.

But the acclaim with which both the administration and outlets like the Times have greeted Iran’s minimal gestures can only fuel suspicions that what is at play here is not a search for the proper strategy to make diplomacy work but a desire to avoid confrontation with Tehran at all costs.

The administration has promised time and again that it would not allow Iran to go nuclear and that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” But it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that those pushing hard to weaken the West’s hand in these talks by eschewing the one tactic that has the ability to make the Iranians worry are more afraid of coming to grips with the truth about this problem than they are about the Islamist regime attaining nuclear capability. The sooner the Iranians are truly put to the test and made to answer whether they are willing to give up their nuclear program the better, and only more sanctions that create a genuine embargo of their oil trade will do that.

Even more importantly, the Times argues that if appeasement disguised as engagement fails, as it as time and again, more sanctions can be imposed next year or the year after. But it should be remembered that it took this administration nearly four years to agree to the sort of tough sanctions that finally brought the Iranians back to the table–and then only at the insistence of Congress after arguments against the measures put forward by both President Obama’s foreign-policy team and the Times. Now they are back at it again seeking to kick the can down the road another several months, or perhaps years.

But as we noted here last week, time is rapidly running out for the West or Israel to do something to avert the dire scenario by which Iran will attain the ability to threaten both Israel and Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and to back up their terrorist auxiliaries with a nuclear umbrella. After all these years of failed diplomacy, an argument for more delays is the moral equivalent of arguing for containment of a nuclear Iran rather than stopping it from happening.

The Senate must reject these voices of appeasement and act, as it did in 2011 and 2012, over the objections of the administration and pass more sanctions on Iran as soon as possible. A failure to do so will have incalculable consequences.

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No Time for Silence on More Iran Sanctions

It’s difficult to know what to make of a Haaretz story published today claiming four major American Jewish organizations gave the Obama administration a pledge that they would refrain from advocating tougher sanctions on Iran for the next 60 days at a meeting held at the White House earlier this week. According to the paper, “sources familiar with the meeting” said that while AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, have agreed to a “grace period” during which they will abandon the push for more sanctions on the Islamist regime in order to force it to stop its drive for nuclear capability. But a few hours after that story was posted, The Hill reported “a source at an organization present at the meeting told The Hill his group ‘categorically denies that any commitment was given for any such moratorium.’” 

That was confirmed in a separate story in The Jerusalem Post in which David Harris of the AJC explicitly denied on the record that any such promise was made and that they were still backing more sanctions on Iran. A source with an organization that was represented in the meeting also reached out to me personally to “categorically and unequivocally deny that any commitment was made to a moratorium on public or private efforts on sanctions.”

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it would be right for these groups to bow to the wishes of the White House and hold off on their advocacy—and I would argue that it’s a terrible idea that would elevate the value of continued access to the administration over the responsibility to fight the drift toward appeasement of Iran—the provenance of this story poses some fascinating questions. The contradictory reports leave me wondering who’s telling the truth about Jewish groups backing off on sanctions? And, even more to the point, who leaked the report about the moratorium and why?

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It’s difficult to know what to make of a Haaretz story published today claiming four major American Jewish organizations gave the Obama administration a pledge that they would refrain from advocating tougher sanctions on Iran for the next 60 days at a meeting held at the White House earlier this week. According to the paper, “sources familiar with the meeting” said that while AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, have agreed to a “grace period” during which they will abandon the push for more sanctions on the Islamist regime in order to force it to stop its drive for nuclear capability. But a few hours after that story was posted, The Hill reported “a source at an organization present at the meeting told The Hill his group ‘categorically denies that any commitment was given for any such moratorium.’” 

That was confirmed in a separate story in The Jerusalem Post in which David Harris of the AJC explicitly denied on the record that any such promise was made and that they were still backing more sanctions on Iran. A source with an organization that was represented in the meeting also reached out to me personally to “categorically and unequivocally deny that any commitment was made to a moratorium on public or private efforts on sanctions.”

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it would be right for these groups to bow to the wishes of the White House and hold off on their advocacy—and I would argue that it’s a terrible idea that would elevate the value of continued access to the administration over the responsibility to fight the drift toward appeasement of Iran—the provenance of this story poses some fascinating questions. The contradictory reports leave me wondering who’s telling the truth about Jewish groups backing off on sanctions? And, even more to the point, who leaked the report about the moratorium and why?

Let’s remember that all the initial reports coming out of that meeting spoke of it being one that was marked by tension about the administration’s embrace of the Iranian charm offensive led by their new President Hassan Rouhani. While not opposed to diplomacy, they had good reason to wonder whether this latest attempt by President Obama to “engage” Iran was a prelude to an abandonment of his pledge to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. According to Haaretz, the administration promised at the meeting that they would not relax existing sanctions and would also not follow through on a proposal to allow Iran access to its funds that have been frozen in the United States as an incentive to keep negotiating. But in exchange they appear to have extracted some kind of pledge from all or some of the groups present (and it was significant that the Jewish contingents at the meeting did not include, as is usually the case with this administration, representatives of left-wing groups that can be counted upon to back anything the president wants) to back down on advocacy for more sanctions.

It’s possible that the contradictory reports are based on the various parties at the meeting misunderstanding what might have been an agreement to disagree or at least to lower the volume on any pushback from pro-Israel groups about the administration’s full-court press this week to spike any move in the Senate toward making it even harder to do business with Iran. Different people at the same meeting could have walked away with different conceptions about its conclusions. But it is also possible that Haaretz is spot-on and the groups have essentially caved to the administration in order to give it more time to allow diplomacy to work. A third possibility is that the whole thing is a fabrication intended by the administration or its left-wing Jewish helpers to undermine the momentum for increased sanctions.

The guess here is that the source for the leak would be more likely to have come from the administration than the Jewish organizations since it is in the former’s interest to have the alleged agreement known to Congress while the latter would probably have wished to keep it secret so as to prevent their supporters from deluging them with protests at what appears, at least on the surface, to be a less-than-courageous decision. If, as some of the organizations are claiming, that the Haaretz story is untrue, is makes it even more likely that the administration is responsible for this story. The fact that it was leaked to Haaretz, a left-wing publication that is often highly critical of American pro-Israel groups, is also suspicious.

It may well be that the administration has repeated in private what it has been saying publicly all along: that it will never allow Iran to have a bomb and that all options are on the table to prevent it from doing so. It is also important that they are not so enthralled with the renewed nuclear talks that they are willing to weaken existing sanctions and that they have rejected the proposal they floated earlier this month about letting Tehran have its frozen cash.

But the argument the administration is using to try to persuade the Senate Banking Committee to hold off on more sanctions is so weak that it is hard to understand how anyone familiar with the diplomatic situation can possibly advocate it with a straight face. Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who were dispatched to the Senate for a private hearing on the subject, are claiming that more sanctions could blow up the diplomatic process. They are also saying that increased American sanctions would provide a justification for America’s European partners to go off on their own as well and that this would undermine the pressure on Iran rather than intensify it.

But, as the administration has told us, the only reason Iran is back at the table is because of the economic pressure the sanctions have put on their economy. More such pressure would only give them more of a reason to negotiate seriously rather than merely feigning such interest in order, as they have consistently done for the last decade, to run out the clock to give their nuclear program more time to succeed.

The Europeans and Americans have always had different sanctions laws, so the new proposals Obama is trying to stop wouldn’t change that. Nor would it scare the Iranians away from the table. To the contrary, an American decision to hold off on more sanctions would encourage the Iranians to think they have little more to worry about from Washington and allow them to dig in their heels in the talks at which they have, to date, offered nothing new.

At the heart of this debate is the fear that what the administration is after is not so much an end to the Iranian threat as an unsatisfactory deal that will allow it to avoid a confrontation with Tehran while still giving them cover to say the president kept his word. So far, all indications are that the renewed P5+1 talks are heading in that direction. With Iran refusing to give up enrichment of uranium or to agree to export their stockpile of nuclear fuel—positions that the ayatollahs have said constitute their “red line” in the talks—any agreement on those lines would be easily evaded. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said at an ADL event yesterday, “Engagement is not appeasement, nor is it containment.” But that depends on how it is employed, and there is little reason to trust that this administration knows the difference.

After all, the president and his minions have opposed virtually every effort to toughen sanctions on Iran, including the very measures they now boast about as proof of their toughness. Had Congress not acted to impose these measures against the president’s wishes, there would be no reason for Iran to negotiate.

The timing here is also important. If the moratorium reported in Haaretz is carried out, in effect the Jewish groups would be giving the administration three months to go on dithering and accomplishing nothing at a time when, as I wrote earlier this week, other reports are posing the possibility that Iran is actually much closer to nuclear capability than we have been led to believe. At a time when Iran may be moving toward or actually passing the point of no return on its nuclear program, more delays are unconscionable.

While no one should question the good intentions of these groups, bowing to administration pressure in this fashion would be a terrible mistake. Indeed, if they have made no such promise they deserve praise for standing up to the pressure. Now is the time for them to be raising their voices to increase the pressure on Iran, not lowering them to do the White House an undeserved favor.

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Will the White House Spike Iran Sanctions?

Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

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Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

That the administration is going all out to halt the drive to toughen sanctions was apparent yesterday when it called a group of Jewish leaders (without, as is their usual practice, of including more marginal left-wing groups) into the White House to try and get them to back their opposition to the new legislation. They seem to have failed, though the Democrats’ Jewish support group, the National Jewish Democratic Council, appears to be succumbing to the presidential pressure in this respect.

The excuse for the new negotiations with Iran is the supposed moderation of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that is alleged to have created an opening for diplomacy. But the Iranian charm offensive has not impelled Tehran to change its position one bit. The Iranians are still defending their “right” to enrich uranium and refusing to let their stockpile of nuclear fuel out of their country. Both of these points would allow the Iranians to easily cheat on a nuclear deal despite any assurances to the contrary. This was confirmed again today when Iran’s top nuclear official denied the claim that they had already stopped enriching uranium to the 20 percent mark that makes it viable for a weapon.

The past has shown that the only thing that has caused Iran to even talk about the nuclear issue is the threat of increased sanctions. It was the sanctions that the administration belatedly enforced in the last two years that brought about the pain in the Iranian economy that is the impetus of the charm offensive that has fooled so many Westerners. By again trying to stall more sanctions, the president is sending yet another signal to Tehran that he doesn’t intend to keep pressing them, let alone credibly threaten force once the talks prove futile, as they have every previous time in the last decade.

Indeed, if the president were serious about gaining a satisfactory resolution to the dispute with Iran he would be demanding more sanctions from Congress in order to strengthen his hand in the talks, not trying to weaken it.

All this means that, as it has had to do in the past, Congress must rise to the challenge and ignore the advice from Obama, Kerry, and Lew. Just as it forced the president’s hand throughout a five-year period when Obama was more interested in engaging the Iranians than pressuring them, the House and the Senate must act now to finish the economic isolation of the Islamist regime and boost the otherwise dim chances for a diplomatic solution that will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon rather than merely delaying it.

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Don’t Trust Obama With Iran’s Cash

For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

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For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

As Goldberg wrote on Wednesday and the New York Times reports today, the plan for allowing Iran access to some of the $50 billion of its assets that are currently frozen in U.S. financial institutions was conceived at a highly reputable institution: the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies which is home to scholars who have been at the forefront of the battle to sound the alarm about Iranian nukes and other important issues. According to these reports, Mark Dubowitz, the Foundation’s founder is the author of a scheme by which the U.S. would trade chunks of that cash that Iran wants in exchange for various Iranian moves such as the closing down of some or all of its nuclear plants, suspension of enrichment or the export of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The motivation for the idea seems sound. Its authors rightly believe that if the administration were to begin the process of dismantling the restrictions on dealing with Iran as payment for some concessions, it would lead to the quick unraveling of all the sanctions. Since Europe is desperate to get Iranian oil back on the market, that would mean the Iranians cold make promises (as they have done before) and be rewarded with tangible benefits. And once the sanctions are cracked open it will be impossible to re-impose them leaving Tehran free to go back to nuclear development with little to fear from the West.

But by leaving the sanctions in place and merely doling out some of Iran’s frozen cash, the U.S. could retain control of the process and keep the pressure up on the ayatollahs without worrying about sanctions enforcement falling apart. What’s more this could also allow the U.S. layer in the even tougher sanctions now before Congress should the Iranians balk at taking the first steps toward dismantling their drive for a weapon. Using the frozen assets as the bait for Iran seems to be a way of protecting the sanctions while giving President Obama some leeway to negotiate.

It all makes perfect sense but the problem with it remains the people being entrusted with the tools for pressuring Iran.

It has taken several long years for Congress, the White House and then America’s European allies to assemble the sanctions that are now being used against Iran. Once the administration starts buying into Iran’s attempts to wriggle its way out of sanctions, there may be no stopping them. After Washington starts dispensing cash to Iran, it will be a short hop and a skip to ending sanctions, especially for those here and in Europe that were never happy about them in the first place.

Moreover, as this week’s diplomatic contacts illustrated, this may not be an administration that can be trusted to properly evaluate Iran’s moves.

The Iranians have repeatedly demonstrated the way they use diplomacy to buy time to further their nuclear development and to deceive the West. Any agreement, partial or otherwise that leaves in place their ability to enrich uranium, continue heavy water research for a plutonium alternative or allows their facilities to keep operating will allow Tehran to eventually evade or trash any restrictions on their nuclear development.

But just as the Iranians must not be given an inch to maneuver to lie their way to a bomb neither should the Obama administration be given any method by which it can find a way to avoid keeping its promises on the issue.

By giving the administration a method to start dealing out goodies to the Iranians, pro-sanctions advocates are, in effect, negotiating with themselves and accepting the premise that the current diplomatic track is one that can lead to a real solution. That’s opening a pathway that will grant legitimacy to a strategy whose only real aim is to cut a deal with Iran, not ending the nuclear threat. Give the president an excuse to start backing down and, no matter how well-crafted the plan might be, he is almost certain to use it to move away from pressure on Tehran.

As even Goldberg has conceded, there is little reason to believe Iran has any intention of giving up its nuclear ambition. And nothing they have proposed this week, despite the joy their recycled offer brought to the administration, has undermined that conclusion. Iran’s charm offensive is working because they are feeding Washington lies the administration wants to believe. The Iranians already view President Obama with contempt. Once he starts rewarding their disingenuous promises with cash, that will only grow. Any loosening of sanctions of any kind prior to a complete dismantling of the Iranian program is a guarantee that diplomacy will fail. And any deal based on such a notion is more likely to get us closer to an Iranian bomb than it is to ending the threat.

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