Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iranian nuclear program

U.S. Still Flying Blind on Iran Nukes

On a day when we learned, via quotes from anonymous American officials, that Iran is up to its neck in the fighting in Iraq, confidence in Washington’s ability to stay in command of events in the Middle East is dropping rapidly. But the same administration that has dozed as America’s hard-won achievements in Iraq have evaporated is also hoping that its ignorance about what’s happening inside Iran’s nuclear facilities won’t hinder efforts to broker a deal with Tehran.

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On a day when we learned, via quotes from anonymous American officials, that Iran is up to its neck in the fighting in Iraq, confidence in Washington’s ability to stay in command of events in the Middle East is dropping rapidly. But the same administration that has dozed as America’s hard-won achievements in Iraq have evaporated is also hoping that its ignorance about what’s happening inside Iran’s nuclear facilities won’t hinder efforts to broker a deal with Tehran.

The Obama administration’s slender grasp of the facts about Iran’s extensive network of nuclear facilities is the most important point to be gleaned from a New York Times feature that centers on the largely unspecified role that scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh plays in his country’s effort to build a bomb. Fakhrizadeh is, according to the Times, Iran’s J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who led the Manhattan Project to nuclear success during World War Two. His absence from the negotiations being conducted with the West is much remarked upon because he, rather than some of the Islamist regime’s representatives who are taking part, is the key to Iran’s nuclear program. While that absence is motivated largely by a prudent desire to avoid Israelis who rightly think scientists trying to create genocidal weapons are good candidates for elimination, the speculation about the gap between what the West knows about Iran’s program and what Fakhrizadeh could tell us is the focus of the Times piece.

But the point of the questions that abound about Iran’s mysterious nuclear expert ought to alarm those who believe the United States knows what it’s doing in the Iran talks. The U.S. has a poor track record when it comes to monitoring Tehran’s actions outside its borders, such as international terrorism and its military intervention in Syria and now Iraq. But President Obama is betting what’s left of his reputation on the world stage and the security of America’s allies in the region on the strength of a number of assumptions about what Fakhrizadeh and his associates have achieved that are difficult to back up.

As the Times reports, the interesting point about Fakhrizadeh is that the timeline of what Iran has already created is extremely fuzzy. There is widespread confusion about whether the claim that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003 is accurate, especially since no one in Washington or anywhere else outside of Iran seems to be sure about when those activities were resumed under different organizations. Yet the administration seems to be assuming that understanding what Iran’s program achieved in the past is irrelevant since they think that they can trust the regime’s promises going forward and believe U.S. intelligence is capable of keeping track of current work.

But the Times lets slip an ominous truth buried deep in the article:

Obama administration officials say they have no illusions that they will get visibility into many of Iran’s most heavily protected sites, even if a deal is reached in the next month. That will leave verification of the accord reliant on the American intelligence community’s ability to track covert nuclear activity, a record that is littered with failures.

In other words, even after the next nuclear deal with Iran is reached, the administration is assuming they still won’t have access to all of Iran’s most critical nuclear sites. Underlying that assumption is a belief that the deal will not require Iran to open up its facilities devoted to military research or its ballistic missile program.

This next deal will leave, as did the interim agreement signed last fall, Iran’s uranium enrichment program in place and allow it to keep a stockpile of nuclear material that could be upgraded to weapons-grade levels. That means any hope of preventing the Iranians from “breaking out” and using the nuclear program left in place by the deal to produce a weapon–regardless of its promises–hinges on the U.S. knowing almost immediately if Tehran breaks its word. But given the American ignorance about what Iran has already done and sketchy intelligence and lack of access for inspections about its current activity, how can the president or anyone else say with any assurance that this next agreement will be worth the paper it is printed on?

Even with full access and inspections of the nuclear sites we know about—as opposed to those that Washington isn’t aware of that most intelligence experts assume exist—the chances of stopping Iran are slim. But to knowingly sign such an agreement with such poor information is a virtual guarantee of failure.

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The Shelved Iran Report and Diplomacy

With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We don’t know what a new IAEA report on Iran would have said. Given that the interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. in November did not provide for inspections of Iranian facilities where military research is being conducted, it may be that the agency has not learned of any breakthroughs or further evidence of Iran’s clear intent to build a bomb. But past IAEA reports have served an important purpose in clarifying the danger involved in letting Tehran continue to use diplomacy to run out the clock until they reach their nuclear goal. But whether the IAEA acted on its own or if it succumbed to pressure, the effect is the same. The Obama administration and its P5+1 partners understand that the more information is released about the ongoing Iranian efforts to circumvent the diplomatic process, the harder it is to silence criticism of their tactics or to prevent Congress from seeking to put more sanctions in place.

There is no disagreement between the administration and its critics about whether a diplomatic solution is the best way to resolve this issue. No one wants the U.S. to be forced into a position where its only choice really is between the use of force and accepting a situation in which Iran becomes a nuclear power. But the suppression of the free flow of information about the nature of that threat raises suspicions that what is going on now is more about preserving diplomacy for its own sake than anything else.

By agreeing to negotiations that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and loosened existing sanctions, the administration has allowed Tehran to believe that it will never have to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Having triumphed in the interim talks, it is little surprise that Iran’s leaders believe they will achieve their nuclear goal either through diplomacy or by stalling the process until the point where their bomb is a fait accompli. It is to be hoped that the administration means what it says about preventing an Iranian bomb. But the more President Obama seeks to suppress the truth about the Iranian threat and to silence debate about sanctions, the harder it is to believe that he will keep his promises. The goal must be to make it impossible for the Islamist regime to build a bomb, not detente. A diplomatic process that aims for anything less than that is not worth the effort or the sacrifices of the truth required for keeping it alive.

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Iran Negotiators Taking Their Sweet Time

There are some kinds of international negotiations that are not all that time sensitive. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fall into that category. Although the need for a resolution to the conflict is as great today as it ever was, the nature of the discussions are such that, contrary to the allegations of some of Israel’s critics, nothing is happening on the ground that fundamentally changes the possible solution to the problem. The West Bank settlements that the Palestinians want removed are no more and no less likely to be evacuated in exchange for real peace today than they were 15 years ago or will be five, ten, or fifteen years from now, assuming the Palestinians ever decide to accept an Israeli offer.

But that is not the case with the Iran nuclear talks. Since the first discussion between Tehran and the West more than a decade ago, the whole world has known that any negotiations on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program had to be completed before the moment when the Islamist regime achieved weapons capability.

That’s why the Iranians’ delaying tactics over the years were so frustrating and so destructive of any hope for a diplomatic solution. Whether led by supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president, or less presentable figures, the Iranians have consistently stalled nuclear talks. At times Iran has seemed to accept deals with the West only to renege on them later in an effort to run out the clock on negotiations until they achieved their nuclear dream.

Yet with the current round of P5+1 negotiations between Iran and the West, all that is supposedly in the past. The signing of an interim nuclear deal last November was supposed to herald the beginning of a genuine diplomatic process that would erase the sorry record in which Western negotiators were played for fools by a succession of Iranian envoys. But with the conclusion of the first meetings in Vienna of the renewed P5+1 and the reported agreement on a framework for future talks with Iran, the celebrations of this alleged achievement are ignoring some key questions. Why did it take more than three months to begin the next round after the interim agreement? And why, after waiting all that time, will the negotiators take another month off before showing up again in late March for another try? With most observers already assuming that the six-month time frame for this round will be extended, it’s time to ask whether anyone in the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team orchestrating this dilatory process realizes just how much time is being wasted and why that is so dangerous.

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There are some kinds of international negotiations that are not all that time sensitive. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fall into that category. Although the need for a resolution to the conflict is as great today as it ever was, the nature of the discussions are such that, contrary to the allegations of some of Israel’s critics, nothing is happening on the ground that fundamentally changes the possible solution to the problem. The West Bank settlements that the Palestinians want removed are no more and no less likely to be evacuated in exchange for real peace today than they were 15 years ago or will be five, ten, or fifteen years from now, assuming the Palestinians ever decide to accept an Israeli offer.

But that is not the case with the Iran nuclear talks. Since the first discussion between Tehran and the West more than a decade ago, the whole world has known that any negotiations on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program had to be completed before the moment when the Islamist regime achieved weapons capability.

That’s why the Iranians’ delaying tactics over the years were so frustrating and so destructive of any hope for a diplomatic solution. Whether led by supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president, or less presentable figures, the Iranians have consistently stalled nuclear talks. At times Iran has seemed to accept deals with the West only to renege on them later in an effort to run out the clock on negotiations until they achieved their nuclear dream.

Yet with the current round of P5+1 negotiations between Iran and the West, all that is supposedly in the past. The signing of an interim nuclear deal last November was supposed to herald the beginning of a genuine diplomatic process that would erase the sorry record in which Western negotiators were played for fools by a succession of Iranian envoys. But with the conclusion of the first meetings in Vienna of the renewed P5+1 and the reported agreement on a framework for future talks with Iran, the celebrations of this alleged achievement are ignoring some key questions. Why did it take more than three months to begin the next round after the interim agreement? And why, after waiting all that time, will the negotiators take another month off before showing up again in late March for another try? With most observers already assuming that the six-month time frame for this round will be extended, it’s time to ask whether anyone in the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team orchestrating this dilatory process realizes just how much time is being wasted and why that is so dangerous.

In their defense, the Obama administration considers the terms of the interim agreement to have gotten them off the hook on the time factor. President Obama has represented that deal as having frozen the Iranian program in place. If true, that would not only justify the loosening of sanctions on the regime but the leisurely pace of any future talks. But even a passing glance at the actual terms of the agreement reveals that Iran’s nuclear effort is far from frozen.

The U.S. has claimed the limitations imposed on Iran’s enrichment of uranium means its nuclear program is frozen in place since its centrifuges are now only set to produce fuel at less than five percent rather than the higher levels needed for weapons. But what the president and Secretary of State John Kerry keep failing to mention is that the uranium treated in this manner can easily be converted to weapons use in a nuclear breakout. The same is true of Iran’s stockpile of refined uranium that has been converted to oxide powder.

Even worse, the key Iranian nuclear research on military applications of nuclear power is continuing in the aftermath of the interim deal. Though the president boasted in his State of the Union address of unprecedented inspections being conducted at Iranian nuclear sites that would ensure its program was neutralized, he also failed to mention that no such inspections are being conducted at Parchin, where the Iranian military work is being conducted.

The happy talk about the chances for a successful conclusion to the negotiations being floated at sites such as AL Monitor’s Back Channel blog or even the New York Times ignores the fact that far from being stopped, the clock continues to tick down to the day when Iran reaches the point of no return on its nuclear dream. So long as the centrifuges continue to turn—and with the Iranians issuing clear warnings that they will not consider dismantling them or give up the ballistic missile program that makes their nukes a lethal threat to the U.S. as much as the State of Israel—time remains of the essence. And yet the Western negotiators continue to take their sweet time as if they could go on talking forever in what is already being billed as a “marathon” negotiation.

The acceptance of these delays reflects not only the confidence of the Iranians that they will be able to keep their nuclear program operating until it gives them a weapon but also the realization that the Obama administration may be more focused on containment of Iran than on stopping it.

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Iran and the U.S. Don’t Share Goals

When it comes to Iran, hopes in Washington appear to be outrunning the reality on the ground. Based on the fact that Iran has agreed to a slowdown in its nuclear program–nothing more, and even that hasn’t actually been implemented yet–many policymakers and analysts are envisioning a new alignment in which the U.S. and Iran work together for the greater good of the Middle East.

As Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier today, this New York Times article from Tehran, written by Thomas Erdbrink, is indicative of the current zeitgeist. It claims that Washington and Tehran “are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.”

There is no doubt that Iran has cause to be unhappy about Sunni Islamist extremists in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon who are fighting its proxies–even going so far as to bomb the Iranian embassy in Beirut. But that is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. and Iran share identical goals in the region.

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When it comes to Iran, hopes in Washington appear to be outrunning the reality on the ground. Based on the fact that Iran has agreed to a slowdown in its nuclear program–nothing more, and even that hasn’t actually been implemented yet–many policymakers and analysts are envisioning a new alignment in which the U.S. and Iran work together for the greater good of the Middle East.

As Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier today, this New York Times article from Tehran, written by Thomas Erdbrink, is indicative of the current zeitgeist. It claims that Washington and Tehran “are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.”

There is no doubt that Iran has cause to be unhappy about Sunni Islamist extremists in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon who are fighting its proxies–even going so far as to bomb the Iranian embassy in Beirut. But that is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. and Iran share identical goals in the region.

The U.S. grand objective is pretty clear: stability above all, even if many Americans disagree about whether long-term stability is better achieved by backing dictatorships or nascent democracies. Under the rubric of stability, the U.S. would specifically like to see the defeat of al-Qaeda, the end of the Iranian nuclear program, the negotiation of an accord between Israel and the Palestinians, and the end of the Syrian civil war, among other objectives.

Now what is the Iranian goal? Is it stability above all? Hardly. If that were the case, why would the Iranians be backing insurgent groups such as Hezbollah (which is receiving long-range Iranian rockets) and the opposition in Bahrain (which was the would-be recipient of a boatload of arms from Iran that was intercepted by Bahraini authorities)?

Iran is a revolutionary, not a status quo power, and its goal above all is regional hegemony. Only by accepting Iranian hegemony could the U.S. truly get on the same page as the Islamic Republic. But the cost of such acceptance would be so high (Do we truly want the Quds Force dominant in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Kabul, Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and other capitals? Do we want to permanently alienate allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel?) that it would be unacceptable.

The U.S. and Iran can still cooperate occasionally against common foes–for example the Taliban in 2001. But absent American acceptance of Iranian hegemony such cooperation is likely to prove fleeting and inconsequential–witness more recent Iranian smuggling of arms to the Taliban. The suggestion that some kind of grand bargain is in the offing between Washington and Tehran strikes me as fanciful–unless President Obama is prepared to maker greater concessions to the Iranians that anyone can presently imagine.

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What Obama Wrought: Iran’s Normalization

The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

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The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

When Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s faux presidential election in June, what followed was an orchestrated effort on the part of the regime to sell their new front man as someone who would effect genuine change. Given his long record as a faithful servant of first Ayatollah Khomeini and then his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as his role in past diplomatic deceptions of the West, this was a stretch. But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the supreme leader had made a clever tactical decision in allowing Rouhani to run and then win the election. Those in the West, like President Obama, who were desperate for a way out of the nuclear confrontation with Iran soon became as invested in the myth of Rouhani’s moderation and, by extension, that of the regime itself, as the Iranians had been. Thus, even when the person pulling the strings in Tehran issues forth another proclamation of hate, as Khamenei did this week, the muted response from Washington to the latest broadside of anti-Semitic slander said more about the change in attitude than even their defense of the negotiations.

In order to justify their decision to appease the Iranians, it is necessary to not just attempt to launder their image but to treat their representatives as reasonable actors and their positions as merely a different point of view about a difficult subject. But in spite of the U.S. commitment to engagement, this remains the same rogue regime that rightly earned in its place in George W. Bush’s famous line about an axis of hate alongside Iraq and fellow nuclear scofflaw North Korea. It still brutally represses religious minorities and dissenters within its borders and is one of the world’s leading sources of anti-Semitic hate. It is still the leading state sponsor of terror around the world. And its hostile intent toward both Israel and moderate Arab nations like Saudi Arabia is something that neither the supreme leader nor the rest of the regime bothers to hide.

It should also be recalled that Iran’s strategic ambitions were further bolstered this year by the administration’s astonishing retreat in Syria that ensured that Tehran’s close ally Bashar Assad would hold onto power despite President Obama’s repeated calls for his ouster. Indeed, with Hamas now seeking to re-establish ties with Iran after breaking them off in recent years over their disagreement about Syria, the web of the regime’s auxiliaries will stretch across the Middle East posing a threat not just to Israel and Saudi Arabia, but to the United States and the rest of the West.

Yet President Obama clings to the notion that Rouhani’s election means the Islamist regime has been housetrained to the extent that it can be lived with or at least contained. Doing so sets the stage for Iran’s return to the international stage as an accepted player even if it doesn’t observe their nuclear commitments. That’s why even if Obama or his successor has a change of heart about the deal on the table this week, it will be that much harder to ever again isolate it as much as it is today. The fateful step being taken is not just the possibility of Kerry signing a bad deal. It’s the process of normalization that goes with it that represents Iran’s greatest and undeserved victory.

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Why the Deal Is Bad: Iran Nuke Breakout

The noises emanating from diplomatic sources in Geneva this week continue to assure the world that they are close to a breakthrough that will resolve the standoff between the West and Iran. How close they actually are remains a mystery as Secretary of State John Kerry and his colleagues are discovering the same truth about negotiating with Iran that their predecessors discovered long ago: those who make concessions to the ayatollahs are rewarded with more prevarications and delay, not signed agreements. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still playing the optimist card in their attempts to beat back critics of their effort to craft a new era of détente with Iran. That was evident in their response to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who spiced up a week of negotiations by giving a televised speech that abused both the U.S. and France but reserved, as usual, his main vitriol for Israel, which he described as “an illegitimate regime,” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” While the French responded angrily to this provocation, the U.S. was unruffled and answered with the mildest of reproofs:

A senior Obama administration official was more circumspect Wednesday night in responding to the ayatollah’s speech, which also assailed the United States and France. “I don’t ever like it when people use rhetoric that in any way talks about the U.S. in ways that I find very uncomfortable and not warranted whatsoever,” said the senior administration official, who cannot be identified under the diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.

“There are decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran, and we certainly have had many people in our society say difficult things about Iran and Iranians,” the official added. “So I would hope that neither in the U.S. nor in Iran would leaders use rhetoric that may work well in a domestic constituency, but add to the decades of mistrust on both sides.”

To term such a response to hate speech by a world leader seeking nuclear weapons as spineless would be an understatement, especially when the same administration is so fearful that actions by Congress could spook the Iranians away from the talks. But the main problem here isn’t so much the obsequious manner with which President Obama and Kerry are breathlessly pursuing a deal with Iran. It is that the deal they are seeking to entice the Iranians into signing would ensure that Tehran would have the chance to get the weapons the U.S. is seeking to deny them.

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The noises emanating from diplomatic sources in Geneva this week continue to assure the world that they are close to a breakthrough that will resolve the standoff between the West and Iran. How close they actually are remains a mystery as Secretary of State John Kerry and his colleagues are discovering the same truth about negotiating with Iran that their predecessors discovered long ago: those who make concessions to the ayatollahs are rewarded with more prevarications and delay, not signed agreements. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still playing the optimist card in their attempts to beat back critics of their effort to craft a new era of détente with Iran. That was evident in their response to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who spiced up a week of negotiations by giving a televised speech that abused both the U.S. and France but reserved, as usual, his main vitriol for Israel, which he described as “an illegitimate regime,” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” While the French responded angrily to this provocation, the U.S. was unruffled and answered with the mildest of reproofs:

A senior Obama administration official was more circumspect Wednesday night in responding to the ayatollah’s speech, which also assailed the United States and France. “I don’t ever like it when people use rhetoric that in any way talks about the U.S. in ways that I find very uncomfortable and not warranted whatsoever,” said the senior administration official, who cannot be identified under the diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.

“There are decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran, and we certainly have had many people in our society say difficult things about Iran and Iranians,” the official added. “So I would hope that neither in the U.S. nor in Iran would leaders use rhetoric that may work well in a domestic constituency, but add to the decades of mistrust on both sides.”

To term such a response to hate speech by a world leader seeking nuclear weapons as spineless would be an understatement, especially when the same administration is so fearful that actions by Congress could spook the Iranians away from the talks. But the main problem here isn’t so much the obsequious manner with which President Obama and Kerry are breathlessly pursuing a deal with Iran. It is that the deal they are seeking to entice the Iranians into signing would ensure that Tehran would have the chance to get the weapons the U.S. is seeking to deny them.

That conclusion flies in the face of the spin emanating from the administration and its defenders who continue to claim that their proposed deal with Iran will make this scenario less likely. But as Reuters pointed out in an analysis of the current situation, the best Kerry and company can claim is that they will “reduce” the threat of an Iranian nuclear breakout, not eliminate it.

What this means is that the deal Kerry is advocating as saving the world from Iranian nukes will preserve Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allows them to hold onto all of their centrifuges and the rest of the nuclear infrastructure they have created during a decade of stalling futile talks with the West. That means that they will still possess enough nuclear fuel to build bombs and the capacity to “break out” and, within a relatively short period of time, take their non-weapons grade uranium and bring it up to the level needed for military use.

Supporters of the deal are unfazed by this possibility because they assume the West will always have time to react to an Iranian breakout. But this is a convenient fallacy for those whose main object appears to be to end the dispute with Iran rather than actually ending the threat of an Iranian bomb. Once an accord is signed and the U.S. can transition away from focusing on Iran and sanctions are lifted, the chances are that any shift to cheat by Iran will be dismissed by Western leaders who will not wish to be drawn back into a confrontation. Nor will there be any appetite to re-impose sanctions that neither President Obama nor Europeans desperate for Iranian oil and business wanted to enforce in the first place. Like the North Koreans who laughed at the West as they violated signed agreements to create their own nuclear breakout, Iran will have little trouble deceiving the West and will not worry much about a response from an administration that is more concerned about the Israelis than the ayatollahs.

Any nuclear deal with Iran that stopped short of a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, as President Obama promised during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney last year, is a guarantee of future trouble. But an interim accord that started loosening sanctions even before Iran gave up any of their nuclear toys will make it all but certain that the peril will have not been averted.

While Washington is hoping to celebrate their détente with Khamenei, it’s hard to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for railing at this seeming betrayal. Responding to Khamenei’s speech, he had this to say:

“This reminds us of the dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first, and then against all of humanity,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a meeting with Russian Jewish leaders during a visit to Moscow. “The public responded to him with calls of ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’  ” Mr. Netanyahu noted. “Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? This is the real Iran! We are not confused. They must not have nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately, President Obama and Secretary Kerry are confused. Whether Iran signs this week or makes them wait some more while continuing the drive to achieve their nuclear ambition, they are the big winners in a diplomatic process that is now set up to fail to achieve its supposed goal.

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Obama’s Israel Spat Boosts Iran’s Leverage

Western negotiators sat down again today in Geneva with Iran’s representatives hopeful that they could strike a nuclear deal with Tehran. But after seemingly coming so close to an agreement when the parties last met two weeks ago, most of the spin coming from the Obama administration about this issue wasn’t so much on whether they could entice the Islamist regime to sign an accord as it was on aggressively pushing back against critics of their approach to Iran. In the last several days, the president’s foreign-policy team has been intent on squelching dissent from Israel and Saudi Arabia about Washington’s desire to strike an interim deal with Iran that would leave in place the regime’s nuclear program and its “right” to enrich uranium. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone all-out to lobby Congress against increasing sanctions on Iran as well as to justify a decision to start the process of loosening sanctions without Iran having to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Enlisting their allies in the media like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman and a host of others, their main goal has been as much to delegitimize skeptics about their Iran policy, especially supporters of Israel who rightly see what is going on as the beginning of a betrayal of the president’s repeated promises on the subject.

For the moment, the administration has succeeded. The Senate will not vote on increasing sanctions until after the Thanksgiving recess, giving Kerry plenty of time to get his deal before Congress could theoretically scare the Iranians away from the table. Moreover, by seeking to depict the argument as one between those seeking a peaceful solution to the problem and those who really want the U.S. to fight a war, they have put themselves in line with the same war weariness that helped obstruct the president’s faltering attempts to deal with the crisis in Syria. But the collateral damage from this strategy will be considerable. While Obama and Kerry seem most focused on beating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish state’s American supporters, what they have failed to realize is that by shifting their focus in this manner they may have actually made their goal of an agreement with Iran even more difficult to obtain. And by alienating both Israel and moderate Arab states and treating their understandable concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as secondary to the president’s desire to get out from under his campaign promises on the issue, they may have set the stage for a train of events they will not be able to influence or stop.

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Western negotiators sat down again today in Geneva with Iran’s representatives hopeful that they could strike a nuclear deal with Tehran. But after seemingly coming so close to an agreement when the parties last met two weeks ago, most of the spin coming from the Obama administration about this issue wasn’t so much on whether they could entice the Islamist regime to sign an accord as it was on aggressively pushing back against critics of their approach to Iran. In the last several days, the president’s foreign-policy team has been intent on squelching dissent from Israel and Saudi Arabia about Washington’s desire to strike an interim deal with Iran that would leave in place the regime’s nuclear program and its “right” to enrich uranium. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone all-out to lobby Congress against increasing sanctions on Iran as well as to justify a decision to start the process of loosening sanctions without Iran having to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Enlisting their allies in the media like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman and a host of others, their main goal has been as much to delegitimize skeptics about their Iran policy, especially supporters of Israel who rightly see what is going on as the beginning of a betrayal of the president’s repeated promises on the subject.

For the moment, the administration has succeeded. The Senate will not vote on increasing sanctions until after the Thanksgiving recess, giving Kerry plenty of time to get his deal before Congress could theoretically scare the Iranians away from the table. Moreover, by seeking to depict the argument as one between those seeking a peaceful solution to the problem and those who really want the U.S. to fight a war, they have put themselves in line with the same war weariness that helped obstruct the president’s faltering attempts to deal with the crisis in Syria. But the collateral damage from this strategy will be considerable. While Obama and Kerry seem most focused on beating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish state’s American supporters, what they have failed to realize is that by shifting their focus in this manner they may have actually made their goal of an agreement with Iran even more difficult to obtain. And by alienating both Israel and moderate Arab states and treating their understandable concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as secondary to the president’s desire to get out from under his campaign promises on the issue, they may have set the stage for a train of events they will not be able to influence or stop.

The main problem with the current U.S. approach to Iran is that it is based on the assumption that Iran’s desire to get economic sanctions lifted is greater than their commitment to achieving their nuclear goal. Preserving their nuclear option is, as they have repeatedly stated, their “red line” in negotiations. Having prevaricated and delayed talks with the West with this object in mind for more than a decade, it is a fundamental error to think that they have any intention of giving up now, especially since they have gotten so close to achieving it.

From the Iranian point of view, the charm offensive led by new President Hassan Rouhani has already succeeded since it has driven a wedge between the United States and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia. But by escalating the argument with Israel in this manner, President Obama has failed to realize that by demonstrating his zeal for a deal, even at the cost of heightening tensions with two key allies and alienating a key domestic constituency, he may be influencing the Iranian negotiating position more than he imagines. By trashing all those counseling caution in dealing with Iran as warmongers, the administration may have not so much empowered the alleged “moderates” in Iran but actually given the country’s supreme leader a reason to hold out for even better terms than the West is offering.

The regime’s true boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made clear his contempt for President Obama’s diplomatic efforts yesterday in a speech to members of his Basij paramilitary forces broadcast live in on Iranian TV when he not only put the U.S. down as weak but supplied the usual denunciation of Israel as “an “illegitimate regime” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” Having demonstrated throughout the last five years that he thought President Obama was a paper tiger whose threats should be discounted, it is difficult to imagine that the last two weeks–during which the administration has shown its eagerness to find a way to appease Iran and its desire to distance itself from Israel and the Saudis–have altered Khamenei’s view of the confrontation.

By beating back efforts to impose even tougher sanctions on Iran and essentially marginalizing Israel in this fashion, the president may think he has given himself more room to make diplomacy work. But what he may really have done is to convince Khamenei that, as with Iran’s past decisions to stonewall the West’s efforts, further delay will only net him an even more favorable deal. While raising the pressure on Iran would have given the regime an incentive to compromise or even back down, the American decision to cut Israel loose in this fashion may have done the opposite.

Just as bad is the long-term damage the president’s push for an Iran deal has done to America’s allies in the Middle East. Both Israel and the Saudis understand, even if Obama does not, that Iran will not abide by even the most generous of Western deals and sooner or later will evade or cheat their way to a nuclear weapon. But after being cut out of the diplomatic process in this fashion, they will have less reason to listen to American advice in the future and may even consider acting on their own to stop Iran despite Obama’s insincere assurances that he is looking out for their interests. The net result is a lack of trust that will only undermine Middle East stability and make it less likely anyone will heed the president’s warnings or advice even after Iran goes nuclear.

By downgrading the alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia and trying to delegitimize his critics as warmongers, the president has strengthened Iran’s bargaining position and made it less rather than more likely that there will be a satisfactory conclusion to both the current negotiations and those that will follow. Rather than allowing diplomacy to succeed, what he has done may have ensured that Iran will never be convinced to give up its nukes by any means short of a use of force that no one wants.

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Slurs Won’t Silence Iran Deal’s Critics

The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported yesterday evening that prominent foreign-policy reporter Laura Rozen had some choice words for a think tank analyst who was saying something she didn’t like about Iran. Rozen, who currently writes for Al Monitor and has earned a considerable following for solid work and good sources, apparently doesn’t like it when people cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s current policy aimed at signing a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamist regime to retain its nuclear infrastructure and “right” to enrich uranium. So when she heard the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz speak, she tweeted the following:

I do not think Israel is being well served by people they have picked on U.S. side to promote their talking points.”

She followed up that tweet by stating: “Israel notbbeing [sic] well served by folks they picked to push their talking points.” Both tweets were quickly deleted.

Rozen subsequently deleted the tweets and refused comment about what she meant but, as Kredo noted, her support for a deal with Iran and generally critically attitude toward Israel isn’t exactly a secret. But rather than this being just a minor incident in which a reporter showed, at least for a while, a willingness to expose her opinions about the story she’s covering, there is a broader and more important issue at stake here: the extent to which those who are skeptical about the administration are being subjected to traditional slurs about dual loyalty.

No one who supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself or who views Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as a threat that cannot be ignored need apologize for expressing those views. But the notion that the only reason why someone would oppose administration policy on Iran is that they were “picked” by Israel to “promote their talking points” is one that is dangerously close to the toxic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that also sought to delegitimize supporters of the Jewish state.

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The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported yesterday evening that prominent foreign-policy reporter Laura Rozen had some choice words for a think tank analyst who was saying something she didn’t like about Iran. Rozen, who currently writes for Al Monitor and has earned a considerable following for solid work and good sources, apparently doesn’t like it when people cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s current policy aimed at signing a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamist regime to retain its nuclear infrastructure and “right” to enrich uranium. So when she heard the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz speak, she tweeted the following:

I do not think Israel is being well served by people they have picked on U.S. side to promote their talking points.”

She followed up that tweet by stating: “Israel notbbeing [sic] well served by folks they picked to push their talking points.” Both tweets were quickly deleted.

Rozen subsequently deleted the tweets and refused comment about what she meant but, as Kredo noted, her support for a deal with Iran and generally critically attitude toward Israel isn’t exactly a secret. But rather than this being just a minor incident in which a reporter showed, at least for a while, a willingness to expose her opinions about the story she’s covering, there is a broader and more important issue at stake here: the extent to which those who are skeptical about the administration are being subjected to traditional slurs about dual loyalty.

No one who supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself or who views Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as a threat that cannot be ignored need apologize for expressing those views. But the notion that the only reason why someone would oppose administration policy on Iran is that they were “picked” by Israel to “promote their talking points” is one that is dangerously close to the toxic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that also sought to delegitimize supporters of the Jewish state.

Let’s understand that there are reasonable arguments to be made pro and con the Obama administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran. In the wake of the new Iranian charm offensive and the warm response it generated in Washington, we have seen, as Seth noted yesterday, the revival of support for containment of a nuclear Iran, something that indicates that some of those urging diplomacy understand that sooner or later Tehran will talk or cheat its way to a bomb or nuclear capability.

But instead of trying to make the not terribly reasonable case that this is something that is not dangerous, what we seem to be hearing lately is resentment about Israeli complaints about the direction of U.S. policy rather than a coherent refutation of their concerns.

This is outrageous on two counts.

First, the idea that Israel is trying to manipulate American policy for its own purposes and against the best interests of the United States or the West flies in the face of President Obama’s own repeated statements about the dangers from a nuclear Iran. It was the president who has specifically ruled out containment of Iran and said their acquisition of a weapon was unacceptable from the point of view of U.S. security. It should also be pointed out to those who wish to defend an apparent U.S. acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium or to hold onto its nuclear plants that the president specifically pledged the contrary during the presidential debates in 2012. At the presidential debate on foreign policy with Mitt Romney, Obama said the following:

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

That does not seem consistent with the Iran deal Secretary of State John Kerry has been promoting.

Second, treating those who speak out about the danger from Iran as Israeli hirelings spouting their “talking points” is an all-too-familiar revival of the old dual loyalty slur against American Jews. The point here is that those who support appeasement or acceptance of a nuclear Iran don’t seem to be able to make their arguments without first attempting to delegitimize opponents.

The existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel justifies that country’s concerns about diplomacy that seems to be predicated on an abandonment of the president’s promises. But this problem isn’t just about Israel. As the president has stated, it is a threat to the U.S. and the West too. If he is backing away from that stand, he should say so. Those who support this move should be just as honest and also refrain from using slurs aimed at silencing opponents. The administration would like Congress and the American people to ignore their critics, but slamming them as Israeli agents doesn’t pass the smell test.

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A Saudi-Israel Alliance Against Iran?

The administration is again floating rumors of an impending nuclear agreement with Iran this weekend, leaving Israel and other nations worried about the prospect assessing their options. Given the proven lack of professionalism and incompetence of the Obama foreign-policy team and Iran’s predilection for stringing Western interlocutors along, any assumption that an accord is a certainty when the parties meet again in Geneva later this week is unjustified. But given Secretary of State John Kerry’s obvious zeal for a deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia are looking to France for some assurances that it will continue to play the unlikely role of the diplomatic conscience of the West, as it did at the last meeting of the P5+1 talks. French President Francois Hollande reiterated his demands for a tougher deal that would make it harder for Iran to break any pact intended to spike their nuclear ambitions during a visit to Israel.

The French are still apparently holding out for conditions that Iran may never accept, such as putting all of their nuclear facilities under international control, ceasing construction of the plutonium plant at Arak and reduction of their existing uranium stockpiles. But France is still accepting the principle that Tehran can go on enriching uranium, albeit at low levels. Which means that Israel must still be pondering the very real possibility that it will be faced with a situation in which it will not be able to rely on the U.S. to act against Iran.

It is in that context that the story published today by Britain’s Sunday Times about Israel and Saudi Arabia preparing to cooperate on a strike against Iran must be understood. According to the paper, both countries rightly believe a Western deal with Iran would likely be a disaster that would expose them to a deadly threat. Accordingly, they are, if this report is to be believed, exploring the possibility of the Saudis offering the Israelis the use of their air space for strikes on Iran as well as providing rescue aircraft, tanker planes, and drones to facilitate a possible attack.

Let’s state upfront that these details should be viewed with some skepticism.

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The administration is again floating rumors of an impending nuclear agreement with Iran this weekend, leaving Israel and other nations worried about the prospect assessing their options. Given the proven lack of professionalism and incompetence of the Obama foreign-policy team and Iran’s predilection for stringing Western interlocutors along, any assumption that an accord is a certainty when the parties meet again in Geneva later this week is unjustified. But given Secretary of State John Kerry’s obvious zeal for a deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia are looking to France for some assurances that it will continue to play the unlikely role of the diplomatic conscience of the West, as it did at the last meeting of the P5+1 talks. French President Francois Hollande reiterated his demands for a tougher deal that would make it harder for Iran to break any pact intended to spike their nuclear ambitions during a visit to Israel.

The French are still apparently holding out for conditions that Iran may never accept, such as putting all of their nuclear facilities under international control, ceasing construction of the plutonium plant at Arak and reduction of their existing uranium stockpiles. But France is still accepting the principle that Tehran can go on enriching uranium, albeit at low levels. Which means that Israel must still be pondering the very real possibility that it will be faced with a situation in which it will not be able to rely on the U.S. to act against Iran.

It is in that context that the story published today by Britain’s Sunday Times about Israel and Saudi Arabia preparing to cooperate on a strike against Iran must be understood. According to the paper, both countries rightly believe a Western deal with Iran would likely be a disaster that would expose them to a deadly threat. Accordingly, they are, if this report is to be believed, exploring the possibility of the Saudis offering the Israelis the use of their air space for strikes on Iran as well as providing rescue aircraft, tanker planes, and drones to facilitate a possible attack.

Let’s state upfront that these details should be viewed with some skepticism.

There will be those who will file this story along with last year’s much-publicized rumor about Azerbaijan preparing to help Israel hit Iran. When that story was first floated, it was leaked by Obama administration sources that probably hoped to reduce any cooperation between the Azeris and Israel by exposing it. But the fact that the Saudis are almost as panicked by Washington’s desire for détente with Iran as the Israelis is not exactly a secret. Whether they have gone so far as to do some planning about how to help the Israelis hit their hated Iranian enemy may be debated. Certainly doing so would expose Riyadh to considerable criticism in the Muslim and Arab worlds. But even if the story is exaggerated or inaccurate, it says something about the current situation that an alliance of this sort between Jerusalem and a sworn enemy of Zionism is even thinkable.

The point here is that when Kerry assured the world that he was neither blind nor stupid, it’s obvious that the Israelis and Saudis are prepared to answer in the affirmative with respect to both adjectives. By rushing to a deal that would, even in its most stringent form, effectively guarantee Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, the West is setting in motion a train of events that could very well lead to the Islamist regime eventually achieving its nuclear ambition. The Israelis and the Saudis both know Iran is, like North Korea, perfectly capable of cheating and evading international observers in such a manner as to use its considerable existing uranium stockpile to create a bomb. Moreover, they have also, like Iran, probably already come to the conclusion that the Obama administration has no intention of ever making good on any threat to use force against Iran.

Iran is probably still more interested in employing its traditional delaying tactics that give them more time to work on their nuclear project than in signing a deal, no matter how favorable it might be to their cause. But they’d be smart to snatch the kind of lopsided nuclear deal Kerry is trying to sell them. The Israelis and Saudis know this and have to consider the possibility that President Obama is about to leave them both on their own and that France won’t hold out indefinitely for better terms. So even if you don’t believe that the Mossad has already begun talks with Saudi officials, there’s no doubt both countries are clearly thinking about how they will survive a Western betrayal on Iran. 

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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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Why Congress Must Act Now on Iran

The administration is in full damage-control mode today as the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to make a nuclear deal with Iran has exposed the true nature of its diplomatic agenda. While both the president and Kerry have consistently claimed that their only goal was preventing Iran from going nuclear, the botched effort to rush to a deal last week was based on a decision to accept in principle the Islamist regime’s longstanding claim that it had a “right” to enrich uranium. While many in the Senate think the administration is making a terrible mistake, the White House and its defenders are claiming there is no real choice. As the New York Times asks in its editorial defending a faltering Kerry, “what is the alternative?”

But the administration and the Times are asking the wrong question.

By getting trapped in a diplomatic tangle that can only be resolved by a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure, its uranium enrichment process, and its plutonium option in place, Kerry is accepting Iran’s point of view about the dispute. In essence, he is telling Congress, Israel, and the Saudis that there is no way the Iranians will ever give up their reactors, centrifuges or their stockpile of enriched uranium so all we can do is get them to accept limits that, even if they will be easily evaded, will at least avoid the threat of further confrontation or war. If the question they are really posing to critics is not whether this course of action is the best way to avoid a nuclear Iran but whether it is the best way to avoid a messy and unpredictable conflict, Kerry is right.

But if we change the question from how best to come to some agreement with the ayatollahs to how to stop them from getting a bomb, the answer is very different. And that is why Congress must use the pause in the talks to step up and demand that the president and Kerry stick to what has always been America’s goal: preventing a nuclear Iran. And the only way to do that is to tighten sanctions and to insist that any deal be predicated on eliminating any chance that the Islamist regime will not do as the North Koreans have already done and simply negotiate and delay their way to a bomb.

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The administration is in full damage-control mode today as the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to make a nuclear deal with Iran has exposed the true nature of its diplomatic agenda. While both the president and Kerry have consistently claimed that their only goal was preventing Iran from going nuclear, the botched effort to rush to a deal last week was based on a decision to accept in principle the Islamist regime’s longstanding claim that it had a “right” to enrich uranium. While many in the Senate think the administration is making a terrible mistake, the White House and its defenders are claiming there is no real choice. As the New York Times asks in its editorial defending a faltering Kerry, “what is the alternative?”

But the administration and the Times are asking the wrong question.

By getting trapped in a diplomatic tangle that can only be resolved by a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure, its uranium enrichment process, and its plutonium option in place, Kerry is accepting Iran’s point of view about the dispute. In essence, he is telling Congress, Israel, and the Saudis that there is no way the Iranians will ever give up their reactors, centrifuges or their stockpile of enriched uranium so all we can do is get them to accept limits that, even if they will be easily evaded, will at least avoid the threat of further confrontation or war. If the question they are really posing to critics is not whether this course of action is the best way to avoid a nuclear Iran but whether it is the best way to avoid a messy and unpredictable conflict, Kerry is right.

But if we change the question from how best to come to some agreement with the ayatollahs to how to stop them from getting a bomb, the answer is very different. And that is why Congress must use the pause in the talks to step up and demand that the president and Kerry stick to what has always been America’s goal: preventing a nuclear Iran. And the only way to do that is to tighten sanctions and to insist that any deal be predicated on eliminating any chance that the Islamist regime will not do as the North Koreans have already done and simply negotiate and delay their way to a bomb.

What almost happened last weekend in Geneva was so dangerous precisely because by presenting a fait accompli to the world, Kerry would have permanently altered the terms of the debate about Iran. The proposed accord that Kerry planned to sign, had not the French intervened at the last minute to insist on better terms for the West, would have left in place the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and made the achievement of their nuclear capacity inevitable and taken tougher sanctions and the use of force off the table for good. Though Kerry is acting as if this is only a temporary setback that will be rectified later this month when the parties reconvene, it did not escape Iran’s notice that Kerry was hot for a weaker deal than was ultimately offered. That means they will continue to hold out for those easily transgressed terms since they reason that sooner or later the U.S. will tell the French to pipe down and let diplomacy triumph.

That is why it is crucial that Congress act in such a way as to strengthen the West’s resolve not to settle for a bad deal now. There is little chance that Iran will ever give up its nuclear quest, as it has become a fundamental issue for the regime. But a sanctions bill now will signal to Tehran that its belief that America is the weak link in the international community’s efforts to rein them in is mistaken.

The whole point of Kerry’s haste to put a deal with Iran in place is that he wanted to avoid a debate on its terms and to head off any effort by Congress to tighten sanctions. The Senate should move ahead on the sanctions that will make it more difficult for Iran to continue selling its oil and using the proceeds to fund terrorism and its nuclear project. Kerry’s latest follies make it imperative that what we have now is not so much an argument about tactics but also one about the goal of American diplomacy.

What must be rejected are not only the terms of a weak diplomatic deal that was so repugnant that even the French couldn’t stomach them, but the mindset that made it possible. After years of failed diplomacy, the administration is now accepting the notion that rollback of Iran’s nuclear program is impossible. That’s why even though no agreement was signed in Geneva, the latest negotiations were such a triumph for Iran.

Instead of conceding defeat, an America that was truly dedicated to frustrating Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be doubling down on sanctions rather than offering to weaken them. Iran has proved time and again that it regards diplomacy as merely a way to delay and prevaricate until they reach their nuclear goal. But even if we were to hold onto hope that diplomacy could succeed, the only way that could possibly happen is by increasing pressure on the Iranians now that they are finally feeling the impact of sanctions. If every chance must be given to diplomacy, then what is needed now is an approach that illustrates to Iran’s supreme leader that his only alternative to war is a surrender of his country’s “right” to enrichment and the rest of their nuclear toys.

Thus, the responsibility now for members of the Senate is not so much to poke a stick in Kerry’s eye by ignoring the administration’s pleas and passing the tough sanctions that were already approved by the House as it is for them to help restart the discussion about what America’s goals are. If the rush to appeasement of Iran is to be halted, now is the moment for action.

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Thank Heaven for the French?

Had Secretary of State John Kerry not been absolutely certain that a deal with Iran was about to be signed there’s no way he would have showed up in Geneva to take credit for what he thought would be a foreign-policy coup. Indeed, as reports tell us, he was not alone in that opinion as the Iranians, European Union foreign-policy chief, and just about everyone else there were just as sure the latest meeting of the P5+1 negotiating club would end in a celebration. But to their surprise—and to the relief of those in the United States, Israel, and moderate Arab states that were looking on in horror at an agreement that eased international sanctions on Iran in exchange for little if nothing from Tehran—the party was spoiled by an unlikely voice of reason: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. As Britain’s Guardian notes today, Fabius’s “torpedoing” of the talks by his insistence on more concessions on both the Islamist state’s enrichment of uranium and their construction of a plutonium plant enraged the Iranians and frustrated Kerry and some of the other negotiators. While there is a lively debate about the French motive for their tough stance, those who care about stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon can only say thank heaven for the French.

Fabius’s unexpected decision to take a strong stand on details that Kerry had assumed would be swept under the rug the West was being sold by Iran exposed the flimsy nature of the consensus in favor of the proposed deal. Critics of the deal were worried that the Iranian agreement to freeze enrichment would be easily evaded and that the West’s move to start to ease sanctions would start a process that would lead inevitably to the collapse of sanctions regardless of what Iran did. In response, supporters of the accord seemed less interested in the actual terms of the accord than they were in the idea of finally getting the Iranians to sign on to anything. For them the act of diplomacy was the thing they cared most about since any deal would make the use of force—by the U.S. or Israel—unthinkable and lock the international community into a process where Iran would become their partner rather than an outlaw to be curbed.

While Kerry is trying to act as if there was no failure but merely a delay, the failure of the talks leaves open the question as to whether the next meeting will enable Kerry to get his photo-op. Yet by standing up to the Obama administration, Fabius may have created a dynamic that will not allow the U.S. to look weaker than the French.

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Had Secretary of State John Kerry not been absolutely certain that a deal with Iran was about to be signed there’s no way he would have showed up in Geneva to take credit for what he thought would be a foreign-policy coup. Indeed, as reports tell us, he was not alone in that opinion as the Iranians, European Union foreign-policy chief, and just about everyone else there were just as sure the latest meeting of the P5+1 negotiating club would end in a celebration. But to their surprise—and to the relief of those in the United States, Israel, and moderate Arab states that were looking on in horror at an agreement that eased international sanctions on Iran in exchange for little if nothing from Tehran—the party was spoiled by an unlikely voice of reason: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. As Britain’s Guardian notes today, Fabius’s “torpedoing” of the talks by his insistence on more concessions on both the Islamist state’s enrichment of uranium and their construction of a plutonium plant enraged the Iranians and frustrated Kerry and some of the other negotiators. While there is a lively debate about the French motive for their tough stance, those who care about stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon can only say thank heaven for the French.

Fabius’s unexpected decision to take a strong stand on details that Kerry had assumed would be swept under the rug the West was being sold by Iran exposed the flimsy nature of the consensus in favor of the proposed deal. Critics of the deal were worried that the Iranian agreement to freeze enrichment would be easily evaded and that the West’s move to start to ease sanctions would start a process that would lead inevitably to the collapse of sanctions regardless of what Iran did. In response, supporters of the accord seemed less interested in the actual terms of the accord than they were in the idea of finally getting the Iranians to sign on to anything. For them the act of diplomacy was the thing they cared most about since any deal would make the use of force—by the U.S. or Israel—unthinkable and lock the international community into a process where Iran would become their partner rather than an outlaw to be curbed.

While Kerry is trying to act as if there was no failure but merely a delay, the failure of the talks leaves open the question as to whether the next meeting will enable Kerry to get his photo-op. Yet by standing up to the Obama administration, Fabius may have created a dynamic that will not allow the U.S. to look weaker than the French.

Why did the French disrupt Kerry’s plans? It’s hard to say. The Iranians claimed Fabius was “acting as a servant of the Zionist regime.” Some might put it down to the French impulse to oppose anything the U.S. wants, even if it forced them to take a tougher stand while they normally prefer softer approaches to confronting Iran and other Islamist forces. But whatever Fabius’s motives might have been, what he has done is to draw attention to the fact that Kerry and Co. were rushing to make a deal without nailing down the details about what the Iranians are expected to do.

Kerry has defended this process and pretended that what he was about to sign was a good deal. He believes that by taking halfway measures he is advancing the cause of stopping the Iranians. He thinks talking to the Iranians has a value in itself and worth the price of chipping away at sanctions. Those who support this process claim that those who call for a complete shutdown of the Iranian nuclear program are unrealistic. But the real lack of realism stems from those who ignore the Iranian history of cheating on the nuclear issue and who think this time will finally be different.

The point here is that contrary to Kerry’s rhetoric, this is not a labor negotiation in which both sides must be allowed to walk away with something and a solution always lies in splitting the difference between the two sides. Any Iranian deal that doesn’t definitively end their chance of building a weapon, whether via uranium or plutonium, is a scam, not a diplomatic triumph. Insistence on this point doesn’t make the deal’s critics warmongers. It makes them realists.

It can only be hoped that the pause between this weekend and the next P5+1 meeting will stiffen the spines of the Western negotiators rather than making them more eager to give away the store. For that opportunity, we should be grateful to Fabius. Indeed, with most of the focus in recent weeks on whether to strengthen rather than weaken sanctions, the rush to a deal in the days leading up to the Geneva meeting happened without a full debate about its terms. It’s not just that the administration can’t justify being weaker on Iran than France. Kerry’s deal cannot stand up to scrutiny.

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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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No Time to Waste in Pressuring Iran

When Haaretz reported last Friday that four major American Jewish groups agreed to a moratorium on advocacy for increased Iran sanctions at a White House meeting, there were those who expressed the opinion that the entire tale was a fake. The notion that AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations would agree to pipe down about a measure the administration opposed despite their public support for it seemed far-fetched. The leak of the agreement to a left-wing newspaper was, in the view of some skeptics, a setup. That view was reinforced in the following 24 hours as both AIPAC and the AJC denied in absolute terms that they had ever made such a promise and reiterated their opposition to such a moratorium. But the statement made earlier this week by ADL head Abe Foxman confirming that he had agreed to suspend advocacy for more sanctions demonstrates that there was more to this than some thought.

Interestingly, Foxman insists that he continues to support toughening the economic pressure on Iran even while saying over the next month his group won’t urge senators to back the legislation that will make that possible. That such a normally stalwart opponent of appeasement of the anti-Semitic regime in Tehran would agree to such a “time-out” illustrates the difficulty of saying no to powerful figures like National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who reportedly was at the meeting. But as much as the whole affair is the epitome of inside baseball, Washington-style, it is worth examining the process by which the administration is seeking to spike the tough sanctions already approved by the House of Representatives. That the White House appears willing to pull out all the stops in a public and private campaign to spike further economic restrictions on doing business with Iran calls into question not only their priorities but the ultimate intent of this effort. Though Rice reportedly assured the Jewish groups that the president would not renege on his promise to stop Iran and wouldn’t ease existing sanctions without reciprocal progress from Tehran, their obsessive desire to avoid offending the ayatollahs is exactly the sort of thing that makes it unlikely that diplomacy can succeed.

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When Haaretz reported last Friday that four major American Jewish groups agreed to a moratorium on advocacy for increased Iran sanctions at a White House meeting, there were those who expressed the opinion that the entire tale was a fake. The notion that AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations would agree to pipe down about a measure the administration opposed despite their public support for it seemed far-fetched. The leak of the agreement to a left-wing newspaper was, in the view of some skeptics, a setup. That view was reinforced in the following 24 hours as both AIPAC and the AJC denied in absolute terms that they had ever made such a promise and reiterated their opposition to such a moratorium. But the statement made earlier this week by ADL head Abe Foxman confirming that he had agreed to suspend advocacy for more sanctions demonstrates that there was more to this than some thought.

Interestingly, Foxman insists that he continues to support toughening the economic pressure on Iran even while saying over the next month his group won’t urge senators to back the legislation that will make that possible. That such a normally stalwart opponent of appeasement of the anti-Semitic regime in Tehran would agree to such a “time-out” illustrates the difficulty of saying no to powerful figures like National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who reportedly was at the meeting. But as much as the whole affair is the epitome of inside baseball, Washington-style, it is worth examining the process by which the administration is seeking to spike the tough sanctions already approved by the House of Representatives. That the White House appears willing to pull out all the stops in a public and private campaign to spike further economic restrictions on doing business with Iran calls into question not only their priorities but the ultimate intent of this effort. Though Rice reportedly assured the Jewish groups that the president would not renege on his promise to stop Iran and wouldn’t ease existing sanctions without reciprocal progress from Tehran, their obsessive desire to avoid offending the ayatollahs is exactly the sort of thing that makes it unlikely that diplomacy can succeed.

The conceit behind the drive to stop further sanctions is that adopting measures that will complete the work of halting the sale of Iranian oil—that pays for the regime’s nuclear venture—sends the wrong signal. The administration and its apologists and cheerleaders have fallen for the Iranian charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani hook, line, and sinker. Iran’s recent behavior, including its position at the first round of the reconvened P5+1 talks, was no different than past stands with regard to its “right” to enrich uranium or to hold onto to its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel. Yet opponents of further sanctions still claim that Iran is moving toward the West, even though they can point to no evidence, either in terms of diplomatic initiatives or statements from the country’s supreme leader, that back up this assertion. As such, they are engaged in a circular argument that holds no water.

It is not just that the existing sanctions—which were opposed by the administration and other liberal opponents of the current proposal—are the only thing that brought Iran back to the table at all. It is that by showing an unwillingness to raise the price of intransigence, President Obama is embarking on a diplomatic process with no clear end game. That plays right into the now-familiar Iranian strategy of dragging out such talks for months and even years, buying more time for its nuclear program to achieve its goal. If opponents of the administration are insisting on more sanctions now, it is not because they oppose diplomacy–though only a fool would think they had much of a chance given Iran’s behavior. Rather, it is because the strategy being charted by Washington, and on behalf of which they are seeking to enlist the support of pro-Israel groups, is one that is almost guaranteed to drag out the process to no useful end.

The key to understanding this issue is in knowing that time is the crucial factor. Every month wasted on inaction or feckless U.S. engagement brings the Iranians closer to realizing their ambition of obtaining a weapon or to achieving a nuclear capability that will render the use of force impossible. AIPAC and the AJC were right to want no part of such a path. The ADL, which in this case appears to have made a decision that prioritized keeping friendly relations with the White House over support for what it knew to be right, should rethink its decision to stay quiet, even if it is only for a crucial month or two.

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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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Iran Passes the Point of Nuclear No Return

Good news comes from Vienna today. Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency met with representatives of Iran sent by its new President Hassan Rouhani, and the result was a “very productive meeting” according to a joint statement issued by the two parties. In contrast to their usual contempt for the IAEA, the Iranians made “constructive” noises about resuming the nuclear inspections they have been thwarting for years even though no details about what their new proposals might be were revealed. Though a slender reed upon which to base a policy of faith in Iran’s good intentions, it will likely strengthen the resolve of the United States to push ahead with the latest round of the P5+1 talks that will resume next week. Indeed, in defending the decision to allow the U.S. to be drawn into another lengthy negotiation with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to a dinner for the Ploughshares Fund that he had no patience for those warning about the dangers of such a policy. As the Times of Israel reports:

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” the secretary of state continued. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.”

But lost amid the enthusiasm for diplomacy was yet another troubling statement that ought to chill those hopes for a quick resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran. Also speaking yesterday in Washington, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, said that Iran has, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program. Heinonen confirmed the report released last week by the Institute for Science and International Security that said Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb in about a month. That finding renders moot most of what is being discussed by Western diplomats with the Iranians. If the Iranians have reduced the “breakout time” needed to convert their vast stockpile of low-enriched uranium into nuclear fuel, then even if Tehran agreed to proposals about limiting their enrichment capacity, their path to a weapon is clear. If this is true, the administration’s arguments against tightening sanctions on Iran must be seen as a sign that it is, despite Kerry’s protestations that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” determined to reach an agreement with the ayatollahs that will not remove the threat of an Iranian bomb.

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Good news comes from Vienna today. Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency met with representatives of Iran sent by its new President Hassan Rouhani, and the result was a “very productive meeting” according to a joint statement issued by the two parties. In contrast to their usual contempt for the IAEA, the Iranians made “constructive” noises about resuming the nuclear inspections they have been thwarting for years even though no details about what their new proposals might be were revealed. Though a slender reed upon which to base a policy of faith in Iran’s good intentions, it will likely strengthen the resolve of the United States to push ahead with the latest round of the P5+1 talks that will resume next week. Indeed, in defending the decision to allow the U.S. to be drawn into another lengthy negotiation with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to a dinner for the Ploughshares Fund that he had no patience for those warning about the dangers of such a policy. As the Times of Israel reports:

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” the secretary of state continued. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.”

But lost amid the enthusiasm for diplomacy was yet another troubling statement that ought to chill those hopes for a quick resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran. Also speaking yesterday in Washington, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, said that Iran has, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program. Heinonen confirmed the report released last week by the Institute for Science and International Security that said Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb in about a month. That finding renders moot most of what is being discussed by Western diplomats with the Iranians. If the Iranians have reduced the “breakout time” needed to convert their vast stockpile of low-enriched uranium into nuclear fuel, then even if Tehran agreed to proposals about limiting their enrichment capacity, their path to a weapon is clear. If this is true, the administration’s arguments against tightening sanctions on Iran must be seen as a sign that it is, despite Kerry’s protestations that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” determined to reach an agreement with the ayatollahs that will not remove the threat of an Iranian bomb.

Throughout the debate about the nuclear threat from Iran, we have been assured by the administration that any danger of the Islamist regime cheating on a deal in order to procure a weapon that they had theoretically renounced was slim because of the lengthy “breakout” period that would be needed before they could complete the construction of a weapon. This is especially crucial since the terms of a proposed agreement seem to center on limiting the Iranians to uranium enrichment below the 20 percent that is required for a bomb. Should they break their word, the U.S. has believed that it would take so long for them to amass the required uranium that it would surely be discovered in the meantime. But if the Iranians only need two weeks to do the trick, those calculations go right out the window.

Given the vast number of centrifuges already enriching uranium in their facilities, this calculus may mean that anything short of Iran’s destruction of their nuclear plants and the export of all of their stockpile would not stop them from building a bomb. But since the Iranians have already stated that their “red line” in the talks is protection of their “right” to enrich and a refusal to give up any of their uranium, it’s difficult to understand what Kerry is talking about when he speaks so enthusiastically about the talks and makes veiled references to Israeli fear-mongering about Iran.

It also means that Iran’s willingness to talk about talking further about letting the IAEA monitor some of its facilities tells us nothing about their behavior or their intentions.

Even more important, this means that Congress should ignore administration pleading not to pass new sanctions against Iran. As even former Obama administration staffer Dennis Ross wrote today in a Los Angeles Times op-ed with Eric Edelman and Michael Makovsky, if the U.S. is really serious about stopping Iran via diplomacy rather than force, it must, among other things:

Intensify sanctions and incentivize other countries to do the same, issue more forceful and credible statements that all options are on the table, initiate new military deployments and make clear the support for Israeli military action if conducted.

The time for eyewash from the administration about the “window of diplomacy” with Iran is over. Having wasted five years on feckless engagement and dead-end diplomacy, the recent information about Iran’s breakout capacity may mean it is already too late to stop them by means short of force. But if the president and Kerry allow themselves to be sucked into another Iranian attempt to run out the clock on nuclear talks, no one should be deceived as to the meaning of such a decision or the potentially lethal consequences for Israel, the Arab nations of the Middle East (that are just as worried about the Iranian threat as the Israelis), and the entire world.

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