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.