Commentary Magazine


Topic: P5+1 talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Is Kerry the Worst Secretary of State Ever?

During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

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During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

Some observers are wondering today whether Kerry’s decision to essentially recognize Iran’s “right” to refine uranium and his reluctance to include Iran’s plutonium nuclear plans in the proposed agreement will complicate the Middle East peace process that he has spent so much effort promoting. But to claim that America’s decision to prioritize détente with Iran over its obligation to allies will make it harder for an agreement to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. But those who are making this argument are misreading the situation. Israelis are understandably aggrieved about a U.S. policy shift that seems to have accepted Iran’s nuclear program as a fait accompli. But the peace talks were already a disaster before Kerry further alienated Israelis and moderate Arabs over his failed attempt to appease Iran. It was possible to argue that a strong American stand on Iran could have made Israel feel more comfortable making more concessions to the Palestinians. But even before he had announced his betrayal on Iran, Kerry vented his spleen about the standoff against Israel in a way that made no secret of his belief that only they were to blame for the failure of his idea. Having forced both parties into talks that were clearly fated to fail due to the division among Palestinians and their obvious unwillingness to accept statehood on generous terms that they’ve already rejected three times, Kerry can’t own up to the fact that his idea never had a chance and thus prefers to blame Israel for his own errors.

The problem here is twofold.

The first is Kerry’s exalted vision of his own diplomatic skills. As soon he was sworn in, he threw caution to the winds and embarked on a course that a wiser man would have understood was merely a repeat of the mistakes of the past. Better men and more skillful diplomats than Kerry have failed under more propitious circumstances than the current situation, in which Hamas rules Gaza and a weak and fearful Fatah holds onto the West Bank only with the help of Israel. But Kerry’s hubris is such that he appears to be genuinely shocked by the apparent failure of his initiative and is now lashing out wildly and going so far as to threaten Israel with more Palestinian violence if Prime Minister Netanyahu does not bend to his will.

That flaw in Kerry’s makeup is compounded by another fatal shortcoming in a diplomat: his naked zeal for the deal. The Iranians have read him perfectly and found it possible to get the West to come much closer to their position on their right to enrich uranium without having to budge an inch. If Tehran’s envoys refused to accede to France’s reasonable concerns it was because they believe Kerry and President Obama will eventually cave in to their demands just as they’ve moved off of their previous insistence that sanctions will not be weakened.

All this was bad enough, but the ham-handed way Kerry’s has barged around the Middle East making enemies was made even more foolish looking by Kerry’s lame post-Geneva explanations for his behavior. That he did all this only months after presiding over the administration’s disastrous retreat on Syria and the collapse of its influence in Egypt on his watch renders his recent tenure one of the most disastrous in modern American history.

Kerry’s conduct must even have the White House starting to rethink the decision to give him the freedom to carry out his plans. Though his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments in her four years at Foggy Bottom were slim (other, that is, than racking up frequent flier miles), right now she is starting to look like a foreign-policy giant by comparison. The only question now is whether at some point President Obama will have to step up and rein in Kerry before he does his already troubled second term the kind of damage that will not only harm America’s standing abroad but hurt it at home.

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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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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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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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Israel Can’t Take Kerry at His Word on Iran

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

If Iran is allowed to go on enriching uranium and the aspects of its nuclear program that are clearly oriented toward military application, including its hardened mountainside bunkers, are not dismantled, then it will be child’s play for them to evade any promises made to the West in exchange for relaxing or dismantling the sanctions imposed on its economy.

But the U.S. is not asking for that kind of shutdown of Iran’s increasingly vast and complex network of nuclear facilities. Instead, the P5+1 group appears to be pursuing, as it has in the past, a deal that would give Iran the right to go on enriching uranium, albeit at levels that should make it unusable as fuel for a bomb. Nor is it clear that the West will insist on the export of all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium or the closure of even those plants whose military application is most obvious.

The problem with the negotiations going on with Iran is not the fact of diplomacy or the administration’s decision to give it yet another try after so many previous failures. Even those who are most worried about the direction of the talks do not oppose them in principle.

The problem is the impetus for the talks seem to be the very same illusions about Iran’s intentions that Kerry claims to want no part of. The belief that Rouhani represents a genuine break with Iran’s past is entirely the result of wishful thinking by the West and good public relations by the Islamist regime. But it is not only raising expectations for the talks but also creating a dynamic in which assumptions about Iran’s good intentions are being rapidly transformed into conclusions about them that are unsupported by facts. If Washington believes the lies being fed to it by Tehran it is because this administration is desperate to believe in them and to avoid fulfilling its responsibility to act against Iran.

The Israelis are not alone and as the New York Times reports, the Saudis are just as, if not more, adamant in their opposition to what appears to be a determined effort on the part of the U.S. to reach a rapprochement with Iran.

In reaching out to Iran in this fashion and showing a willingness to grant legitimacy to its nuclear program, the administration is strengthening Iran’s regional status at time when the victories of its Syrian ally are already dismaying the rest of the region.

The problem for those countries threatened by Iran is not so much whether they can trust Kerry but whether Iran can be trusted to keep any agreement it signs with the U.S. Since they know very well that it will never honor any nuclear treaty and will instead seek to go the route of North Korea at the first opportunity, there is little reason to place any faith in the P5+1 talks even if Kerry was telling Netanyahu what he believes to be the truth. The deeper the U.S. is sucked into a diplomatic dance with Iran, the more the world should worry.

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Don’t Trust Obama With Iran’s Cash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Netanyahu Bluffing on Iran?

There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

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There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

As the Times of Israel reported earlier this week, Netanyahu used a speech at a Knesset session devoted to the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to make the case for a unilateral, preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Recalling the complacence of Israeli leaders 40 years ago that led to Egypt and Syria being able to achieve a surprise attack, Netanyahu said that there were important lessons to be learned from this history for the Jewish state:

The first lesson is to never underestimate a threat, never underestimate an enemy, never ignore the signs of danger. We can’t assume the enemy will act in ways that are convenient for us. The enemy can surprise us. Israel will not fall asleep on its watch again,” he vowed.

The second lesson, he added, was that “we can’t surrender the option of a preventive strike. It is not necessary in every situation, and it must be weighed carefully and seriously. But there are situations in which paying heed to the international price of such a step is outweighed by the price in blood we will pay if we absorb a strategic strike that will demand a response later on, and perhaps too late.”

The Israeli leader is right on both points. But Israel’s problem today is different from that of 1973. Then, Prime Minister Golda Meir feared being blamed for starting a war and thought sitting back and taking the first blows would engender greater support from the United States. Indeed, even after it was clear she and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had blundered and cost the lives of many Israelis, she insisted that her decision had been for the best since it helped ensure the U.S. resupply effort during the course of the war.

Today, Israel’s problem is more complex since an attack on Iran while the U.S. is involved in a diplomatic process with it would be viewed as an even more serious offense to the administration than a preemptive attack in 1973 would have been. Simply put, so long as the Iranians can keep the Americans talking to them, they have nothing to fear from Israel and nothing that Netanyahu said changes that.

More problematic is the clear desire on the part of the administration to buy into what rightly appears to the Israelis as the transparent fraudulence of the Rouhani charm offensive.

Vick discussed the analysis of Gary Samore, President Obama’s former top advisor on weapons of mass destruction, who said that any deal that gave the Iranians the ability to convert their stockpile of nuclear material to a bomb in a matter of months would compromise Israel’s security as well as that of the West. But since that is all the Iranians are offering the West, one has to question the motives of an administration when one of its top negotiators tells the New York Times in an off-the-record interview that, “I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before,” when they have done nothing but recycle old proposals that have been previously rejected.

Under the circumstances, no wonder Netanyahu feels the need to rattle Israel’s saber at Iran. Unless he can convince the United States to start acting as it means to keep President Obama’s promises on the issue, it looks as the new diplomatic track will result in a deal that will compromise Israel’s security or buy the Iranians months if not years of extra time to get closer to their nuclear goal.

Netanyahu may not be bluffing about being willing to take the heat that a strike on Iran would generate. Indeed, if the West makes the kind of deal that Iran is offering, he may someday feel he has no choice but to do so. But until the Iranians blow off this attempt to negotiate the way they have every previous attempt, it’s likely that Washington doesn’t believe him.

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Iran Talks: Perception Versus Reality

Iran is well pleased by the outcome of yesterday’s revived P5+1 talks and why shouldn’t they be? The convening of a new round of negotiations after previous incarnations of this process were pronounced dead because of Iranian intransigence and obfuscation was a victory in and of itself for them. The renewed enthusiasm for talking to a country that has proved time and again that it only uses diplomacy as a method for deceit and delay when it comes to Western efforts to restrain their drive for nuclear weapons was due entirely to the perception that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. That Rouhani has been guilty of playing the same game when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator is a fact that was ignored even as the U.S. and its European allies headed down the garden path with Tehran again. Just by showing up, the Iranians ensured that the meeting would conclude with announcements for another such rendezvous next month.

But just as important for the Iranians was the fact that theirs negotiating partners were so enthralled by the prospect of a new era of relations with Rouhani that they treated the Iranian proposal for ending the dispute as if it were actually something new and worth talking about. The Iranians appear to have impressed the representatives of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany with a power point presentation that supposedly demonstrated how they could go on enriching uranium, hold onto their stockpile of nuclear fuel and yet somehow be trusted not to build a bomb. But once the Rouhani-inspired rose-colored glasses are off, it’s more than obvious to objective observers that the Iranians showed up in Geneva with nothing new to say. That raises the question as to whether the President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand this and even if they do, are they sufficiently committed to keeping their word on Iran that they will not be pressured into pretending that this is the prelude to a genuine breakthrough.

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Iran is well pleased by the outcome of yesterday’s revived P5+1 talks and why shouldn’t they be? The convening of a new round of negotiations after previous incarnations of this process were pronounced dead because of Iranian intransigence and obfuscation was a victory in and of itself for them. The renewed enthusiasm for talking to a country that has proved time and again that it only uses diplomacy as a method for deceit and delay when it comes to Western efforts to restrain their drive for nuclear weapons was due entirely to the perception that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. That Rouhani has been guilty of playing the same game when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator is a fact that was ignored even as the U.S. and its European allies headed down the garden path with Tehran again. Just by showing up, the Iranians ensured that the meeting would conclude with announcements for another such rendezvous next month.

But just as important for the Iranians was the fact that theirs negotiating partners were so enthralled by the prospect of a new era of relations with Rouhani that they treated the Iranian proposal for ending the dispute as if it were actually something new and worth talking about. The Iranians appear to have impressed the representatives of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany with a power point presentation that supposedly demonstrated how they could go on enriching uranium, hold onto their stockpile of nuclear fuel and yet somehow be trusted not to build a bomb. But once the Rouhani-inspired rose-colored glasses are off, it’s more than obvious to objective observers that the Iranians showed up in Geneva with nothing new to say. That raises the question as to whether the President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand this and even if they do, are they sufficiently committed to keeping their word on Iran that they will not be pressured into pretending that this is the prelude to a genuine breakthrough.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public the statements they have issued both before and after the meeting indicates that they haven’t actually budged an inch from where they were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s front man. They are still refusing to shut down nuclear plants, to stop enriching uranium or to have their horde of enriched uranium shipped out of the country so as to ensure that it is not used for a weapon. Nor have they shown the slightest interest in halting their parallel plutonium project by stopping their heavy water research.

 For all the talk about the Iranian charm offensive in which Rouhani plays, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly put it, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the fact is their nuclear stand is virtually identical to what it was when Ahmadinejad, the “wolf in wolf’s clothing,” was their president. If the West were to agree to their terms it would be merely a matter of time before the Iranians would, as the North Koreans did before them, evade their agreements and present the world with a nuclear fait accompli, secure in the knowledge that no one would be able to do a thing about it.

Given the fact that the real boss of Iran is Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and not Rouhani makes this easily understandable. All Rouhani has done is to change the atmospherics. When it comes to the actual policies of the country, they are unchanged because the real leadership is unchanged.

All that has changed is that for the first time, those in the West who want to find an excuse to back away from their commitments to stopping Iran have a rationale. In the past, Iran’s public leadership had no concerns about catering to Western sensibilities thereby rendering it difficult to make the argument that it was run by rational and sensible persons. Replacing Ahmadinejad with Rouhani allows those so inclined to project their own feelings about nuclear weapons onto Iran even if doing it so is the height of absurdity. But it is on that flimsy basis that Iran is asking the West to relax the economic sanctions that are crippling their economy.

Given the unchanged Iranian position, no one in Washington should be even considering loosening sanctions. To the contrary, this is exactly the moment for strengthening them and making it impossible for Iran to sell its oil or transact any business with the rest of the world. That is the only thing that could, even in theory, persuade Khamenei to authorize real concessions rather than merely recycling old proposals that were rightly rejected as merely slowing Iran’s march toward nuclear capability.

But with yet another round of negotiations scheduled for November, the Obama administration appears anxious to play along with Iran. By not contradicting the Iranians deceptive talk of progress, Washington is playing right into their hands. The more the talks are depicted as progressing, the harder it will be to break them off or to heighten the pressure on Tehran to do more than pay lip service to Western concerns. The result is a perfect storm that suits the ayatollah’s interests. They can play at moderation while their centrifuges keep spinning all winter if necessary. And that’s exactly what they’ll until Obama calls them out. But given the administration’s blind faith in diplomacy, it’s far from certain that moment will ever come no matter what the Iranians do.

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Who Let Iran Get So Close to a Nuke?

The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

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The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public, the regime’s representatives have made it clear that they have no intention of exporting their existing stockpile of enriched uranium or of halting their production of more nuclear fuel. But even if the West rejects, as they likely will, the Iranian proposal, there is little doubt that the talks will continue. But the Iranians have already scored a triumph by getting the U.S. to concede their right to a nuclear program, as President Obama said at the United Nations last month, albeit one whose purpose is peaceful. So long as Iran keeps enriching and their existing supply remains within their borders, they retain the capacity to quickly repossess it and get it up to military grade thus rendering the safeguards proposed by Western negotiators meaningless.

Most of those pushing for the new talks because of their belief in Rouhani’s supposed moderation have emphasized the need to turn the page on the failure of past diplomatic endeavors with Iran. But it is precisely because the Iranians have been so good at deceiving the West before that skepticism should be the main theme of American diplomacy with Iran.

This is, after all, not the first time that a president came into office determined to push diplomacy on this issue. When President Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009, he acted as if his predecessor had never tried to reach out to the Iranians. Though the Iranians had repeatedly stiffed the Bush administration’s efforts to cut a nuclear deal with them (with Rouhani being the point man in the deception at one point), President Obama insisted that the U.S. had to restart the process at square one as his outreach efforts were employed.

If rather than ignoring the past in 2009, Obama had built upon the experiences of the past the U.S. might not be in the difficult position in which it now finds itself with little margin for error when it comes to Iran. Had tough sanctions been imposed in 2009 rather than waiting until 2012, not only would the Islamist regime be far weaker, they would also be approaching nuclear talks without having used that time to build up its supply of enriched uranium.

The point of rehashing this history is not so much to blame the president for leaving the world so little margin of error on this threat — though he certainly deserves it — but to illustrate that there is a high price to pay for mistakes. Giving the diplomats more time to fail is not, as the administration seems to think, a cost-free exercise. Having spent five years failing to halt Iran, the same president is now embarking on a diplomatic process that may well prove to be open-ended and unlikely to succeed. Another such triumph for Iran may take the U.S. to the point where it may well be too late to use force to stop the Iranians. If so, instead of merely chalking that up to Iranian bad faith, we would do well to hold accountable those in the West that made this possible.

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A Bad Deal is the Only Kind Iran is Offering

Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

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Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

Caution notwithstanding, it’s clear that the administration is more than eager to play along with the Rouhanimania that has caused the West to revive a P5+1 process that has repeatedly failed. For all of the fact that President Obama and Kerry have always said the right thing about stopping Iran, their actions have never matched their rhetoric. From the point of view of this U.S. foreign policy team, the “window of diplomacy” they constantly refer to, is never closed no matter how often the Iranians have shut it in their faces. Their commitment to diplomacy and engagement with Iran is not so much a tactic as it is a function of their near blind faith in international agreements, the United Nations and multilateralism.

The Iranians know that as their decision to make it clear that they will never agree to the export of their stockpile of enriched uranium illustrates. They also know that the Europeans have never swerved from their intention to craft a nuclear deal that would allow the ayatollahs to hold onto a functioning nuclear program, albeit one with safeguards that would theoretically prevent it from being converted to nuclear use.

Thus rather than give the Iranians an incentive to face facts and give up their nuclear dream, the prelude to the latest talks have given them good reason to give nothing in their proposals that impinge on their ability to flout any deal and move quickly to realizing their nuclear ambition much as North Korea did after a similar round of diplomatic appeasement aimed at stopping them.

In Kerry’s favor is the fact that he won’t be in Geneva tomorrow, a source of no small amount of frustration for the Iranians. If he was offered the opportunity for a dramatic announcement and photo op, it’s hard to imagine that he would have the character or the principles to turn it down even if meant accepting a bad deal. What the Iranians are clearly hoping is that by using their time honored tactics of prevarication and delay, they can not only drag out the process — and thus buy their scientists even more time — but to lure Kerry to a future gathering where such a temptation might prove too much for him.

By now the administration should have learned that the only deal they would ever get from Iran is a bad one. No amount of economic pain felt by their citizens can convince Rouhani’s boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to see reason and abandon their nuclear ambition. Nor do they believe in Obama’s threats. The ayatollahs see the president as a paper tiger that will never make good on the promise to use force as a last resort. And their contempt for him will grow if they can peel off his European allies away from the flimsy coalition against Iran that the president built. But in the long run, with Washington as enthralled by the false promise of Iranian moderation as London and Paris (let alone, Moscow or Beijing), the odds of Kerry being able to retain his aversion to a bad deal must be considered slim.

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Obama and Iran’s Nuclear Red Line

Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

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Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

It should be understood that any nuclear deal that leaves Iran’s nuclear program in place is an invitation to a repeat of what happened when the West tried to use diplomacy to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. Anything short of a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure including its plutonium project as well as the well-documented enrichment of uranium will simply delay the Islamist regime’s push toward a weapon. But if Iran is allowed to not only keep its nuclear plants operating — ostensibly to give the oil-rich nation a new source of energy — but to keep the enriched uranium inside their borders, the diplomatic process will be revealed to be a scam whose only purpose is to allow the West to pretend to be doing something about the problem.

By stating its “red line” in this manner, the Iranians are challenging President Obama. The administration’s rhetoric on the Iranian threat has been consistently strong even though it has not been matched by actions that are aimed at achieving its goals. For five years, its attempts at engagement and diplomacy have failed miserably even as the president continued to insist that there was still time to try again. But now that the P5+1 talks are about to resume and with happy talk about Rouhani’s beneficent influence on Iranian policy the conventional wisdom of the day, the president will be put to a test that will allow us to finally assess the sincerity of his pronouncements on the issue. If Iran is allowed to get away with keeping its red lines on enriched uranium or is permitted to drag out the talks on such a false premise as the U.S. puts off toughening economic sanctions, it will no longer be possible to argue that he is serious about stopping Tehran.

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Congress Won’t Spoil Iran Diplomacy

With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

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With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

This is a dismaying prospect for those who, like the president and Secretary of State John Kerry, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the Rouhani charm offensive. That effort has a two-fold purpose. One is to give Western governments whose heart was never really in the effort to stop Iran an excuse to back away from the sanctions that have ruined the Islamist regime’s economy. As I wrote yesterday, the Europeans are already signaling that they wish to go in this direction and are also warning Israel that there is little chance they will stick to a position that requires the Iranians to give up all enrichment of uranium or to scrap their plutonium option.

There is little reason to trust Rouhani, a veteran of Iran’s bait-and-switch diplomacy as well as a faithful servant of a hateful, anti-Semitic terrorist-sponsoring regime. Nor is there any reason to think that he is any less interested in preserving Iran’s nuclear options than his far-less-presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But those who are appalled at President Obama’s consistent rhetorical stand threatening the Iranians with force if they don’t back down and give up their nukes (a group that may include the president himself) have used Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s fake democratic election as an excuse to reboot a diplomatic process that the Iranians had seemingly finally ended earlier this year. But with the international press buying into Rouhani’s appeal, a path may have been cleared that will lead to Western recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and putting in place safeguards that will be as easily ignored once the sanctions are scrapped as were similar efforts to stop North Korea from going nuclear.

But that’s where Congress comes in. Unlike most of the foreign-policy establishment, few there are buying into the Rouhani ruse. Indeed, one Iran appeaser lamented to the Times that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Iranian threat in which he rightly labeled Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” was “widely ridiculed in this town but it largely reflects the views of many members of Congress.”

He’s right. There is a solid bipartisan majority in both houses that understands that the only measures short of war that can impact the situation are draconian sanctions. The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for businesses to deal with Iran and for the regime to go on using the sale of oil to finance their nuclear and terrorist activities. Had it not been for the determined efforts of senators like Republican Mark Kirk or Democrat Robert Menendez, the administration might well have succeeded in spiking past sanctions bills that it now brags about having enforced.

It should also be understood that the notion that Congress will give ammunition to Iranian hardliners and hurt Rouhani’s peaceful efforts is an absurd reading of what is happening in Tehran. His boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is using Rouhani as a human shield. But nothing has changed about Iran’s policies or its intentions, as their successful recent military efforts in Syria prove.

If diplomacy has any chance at all it will only be because Congress has forced Obama’s hand via enacting measures that have manufactured economic pressure on Iran. That’s as true today as it was two years ago. Just as important, the excuses that will be used to put off more sanctions once next week’s Geneva meeting proves as much a failure as past gatherings need to be discounted in advance. The whole point of the Iranian diplomatic strategy is to create delay. The Times accurately summarizes the rationale for delaying sanctions:

The problem, say former administration officials, is that this round of talks is unlikely to produce a tangible proposal. While Iran may signal a commitment to negotiate, they say, it is not expected to offer to suspend its enrichment of uranium or mothball suspect facilities.

“If people on the Hill are waiting for dramatic results on the evening of Oct. 16 to decide whether to pass sanctions, that’s wrong,” said Robert Einhorn, a former special adviser for nonproliferation in the State Department. “One shouldn’t set up a situation where unless major progress is being made, we impose new sanctions.”

Actually, that’s exactly what the U.S. should be doing. Nothing short of a total economic embargo of Iran will convince the ayatollahs that their latest effort to pull the wool over the West’s eyes won’t work. If Congress listens to the voices calling for them to pull their punches on Iran, the result won’t be a diplomatic breakthrough. What will follow will be more months and perhaps years of delay that will enhance the chances that Iran will get its bomb long before President Obama summons the will to do something about it.

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Euros Signal They’re Ready to Appease Iran

Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

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Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

President Obama and other administration figures have defended the decision to revive the P5+1 talks as merely a case of the West doing its due diligence to see if diplomacy deserved another chance after several years of humiliating failures. In theory, that’s a reasonable point of view. But with European diplomats already warning Israel that their governments are prepared to accept a deal that stops way short of ending all Iranian enrichment of uranium, the effort is taking on the appearance of a decision to back away from pressure on Iran rather than merely a last gasp of diplomacy before sanctions are tightened and the threat of force is contemplated.

The Iranian proposal strikes a familiar chord with those who have been following the farcical series of negotiations with Iran that started more than a decade ago. The Iranians have often talked about accepting limits on how much uranium they could enrich or even about agreeing to transport some of it out of the country only to always renege at the last minute. That was the tactic when Rouhani headed his country’s nuclear negotiating team and he has bragged about his success in hoodwinking the West on the issue.

It is bad enough if President Obama and his European partners allow themselves to be sucked into another dead-end process that could drag on for months if not longer and therefore give Iran another year to get closer to its nuclear goal. But if, as the Euros are signaling, the P5+1 group is prepared to accept a deal that will allow Iran to retain its nuclear capability–albeit with restrictions that will supposedly make it impossible for them to build a bomb–the problem is even bigger than that.

A decision to leave Iran’s nuclear program, and even its enrichment process, in place will be justified as a measure that will still prevent them from getting a bomb. But as the West learned to its sorrow when dealing with a far less powerful or dangerous opponent like North Korea, such agreements can be evaded. Anything less than a complete shutdown of the enrichment process is more or less a guarantee that, like the North Koreans, sooner or later Iran will be able to get its bomb.

Just as serious is the possibility of loosening sanctions in exchange for such unsatisfactory halfway measures.

It should be remembered that it took years for Congress to pressure President Obama into agreeing to and then implementing tough sanctions on Iran as well as years for him to persuade the international community to back watered-down versions of the U.S. sanctions program. Once they are loosened, it will be difficult if not completely impossible for them to be revived. The Europeans have little appetite for this conflict and are desperate to find a way out of it. The same may well be true of President Obama, despite the tough rhetoric he continues to employ against Iran. But even if he doesn’t buy into the Iranian offer, if it results in a breakup of the West’s solid front on Iran, the Iranians may be home free either way.

Neither the president nor the Europeans wish to be accused of waving the white flag on Iran. But neither do they appear to have the will to resist the temptation offered by Rouhani’s PR efforts and to instead keep their promises on Iran. Whether next week’s talks result in a weakening of sanctions in exchange for Iranian lies or merely the wasting of more weeks and months, the scene appears to be set for Western appeasement of the ayatollahs.

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So Much for Diplomacy; Iran Doubles Down on Nuclear Work

In case the West didn’t get the message last week during the latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks, Iran is making sure President Obama and other leaders understand that they mean what they say about their determination to pursue their nuclear ambitions. Reuters reports that yesterday on what the Islamist regime calls National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran announced that operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant. If that wasn’t enough to set off alarms in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, the Iranians also made it clear they had no intention of stopping the refinement of high-grade enrichment uranium that could be used for bombs.

Western negotiators had arrived at the talks in Kazakhstan last week hopeful about a positive Iranian response to concessions made at the previous session in February. But when the Iranians ignored the Western proposals—which would have loosened sanctions and allowed them to keep a nuclear program in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment—they were “puzzled.” But the Iranian strategy isn’t much of a mystery. They believe they can continue to stonewall the West by running out the diplomatic clock until they get their bomb.

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In case the West didn’t get the message last week during the latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks, Iran is making sure President Obama and other leaders understand that they mean what they say about their determination to pursue their nuclear ambitions. Reuters reports that yesterday on what the Islamist regime calls National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran announced that operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant. If that wasn’t enough to set off alarms in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, the Iranians also made it clear they had no intention of stopping the refinement of high-grade enrichment uranium that could be used for bombs.

Western negotiators had arrived at the talks in Kazakhstan last week hopeful about a positive Iranian response to concessions made at the previous session in February. But when the Iranians ignored the Western proposals—which would have loosened sanctions and allowed them to keep a nuclear program in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment—they were “puzzled.” But the Iranian strategy isn’t much of a mystery. They believe they can continue to stonewall the West by running out the diplomatic clock until they get their bomb.

The commencement of mining at the two new facilities as well as the milling plant won’t mean anything in the short-term rush to produce a weapon, but it shows Iran is in the nuclear business for the long hall. The yellowcake or raw uranium derived from the mines is desperately needed as their supply of material is limited. While Reuters says the uranium at the Saghan and the Ardakan mines is low-grade and expensive, it will nevertheless expand their stores of the mineral in the face of international sanctions that have made it difficult to procure it elsewhere. While these mines cannot supply Iran’s needs indefinitely, they could be enough to keep their program going and keep them relatively self-sufficient until they obtain a small stock of nuclear weapons that would change the strategic equation in the region.

The timing of the announcement is also telling.

By demonstrating that it has no intention of either slowing the refinement of existing stores of uranium at its underground mountain bunker facility at Fordow, as well as by working to keep their centrifuges supplied with yellowcake in the future only days after leaving Western diplomats looking foolish in Almaty, Iran is showing that it isn’t bluffing about persevering in the face of economic sanctions. Moreover, by once again humiliating the West in the talks, the Iranians are also announcing that they don’t take President Obama’s threats seriously about there being a limited window of time for diplomacy to succeed and that all options, including the use of military force, are on the table.

If Iran truly believed the U.S. was prepared to use force to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, they might be seriously negotiating rather than repeating their pattern of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic. While President Obama has been escalating his rhetoric about Iran in the last year as he has ruled out containment as a strategy and vowed repeatedly never to allow it to gain a weapon, he has continued to pursue a diplomatic solution. While experts differ as to whether the a tipping point will be reached in months or a year before it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop the Iranian program, there’s no doubt time is rapidly running out and the P5+1 talks are doing nothing but giving the Iranians confidence that they can indefinitely string out their negotiating partners.

The nuclear day events in Tehran are just one more indication that the moment of truth is fast approaching when the president will be forced to either make good on his vows or implement the same dangerous containment scenarios that he has already said would be too dangerous to contemplate.

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