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Rouhani Throws Down the Gauntlet on Lifting Sanctions

Despite President Obama’s straw man argument positing a false choice between diplomacy and war, critics of Obama administration strategy object not to the idea of diplomacy with Iran, but rather the manner in which Team Obama carried it out. Whereas Ronald Reagan prefaced his diplomacy with the Soviet Union with a massive military buildup both to negotiate from a position of strength and, in hindsight, to bankrupt his Soviet adversary, President Obama’s willingness to unfreeze assets and offer sanctions relief suggested the White House considered leverage a dirty word.

When engaging rogue regimes—and Iran is the textbook example of the concept encoded by President Clinton’s national security advisor Tony Lake—it is important to recognize that not all parties come to the bargaining table motivated by the same desires. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may truly have sought to bring an enemy in from the cold, and their actions may also have been motivated by ambition, hence the liberal use of the term “historic” in their subsequent statements. But for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, traditionally the supreme leader’s Mr. Fix-It, the goal was simply to relieve the financial pressure decades of mismanagement, declining oil prices, and sanctions had put upon the Islamic Republic.

Hence, as Seth Mandel notes, the idea of how to implement, and the extent of, sanctions relief seems increasingly to loom large and could potentially disrupt the entire accord. Obama suggested—wisely—that any relief would be gradual, calibrated to Iranian behavior. Speaking from the Rose Garden yesterday, he said:

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions — our own sanctions, and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.

The State Department’s press sheet, for its part, says:

Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments. U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place… All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).

That’s not the Iranian understanding, however, nor does the Iranian leadership believe this to be an issue that can be swept under the rug. Speaking on Iranian television today at around 2 p.m. Tehran time, Rouhani said:

All sanctions will be terminated on the day of the agreement’s implementation. Based on this framework, all sanctions — financial, economic, and banking sanctions — will be terminated on the same day that the agreement is implemented. On the same day of the deal’s implementation, all [UN Security Council] Resolutions against Iran — meaning six resolutions — will be terminated.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been increasingly strident in his tweets regarding the question of when Iran would see sanctions relief.

The questions before President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are: first, whether they will forfeit what little remaining leverage the international community has in order to keep Iran at the table. And, second, how such a misunderstanding could occur between Kerry and Zarif after the two spent so much time together. Simply put, did Zarif say one thing to Kerry, and then another to Rouhani? If so, then what does this suggest about the charming diplomat’s integrity and the future course of the agreement?

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2 Responses to “Rouhani Throws Down the Gauntlet on Lifting Sanctions”


    I submitted the following comment to a discussion on the PBS Newshour last night. It quickly replied: “Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by PBS NewsHour.” That objection invariably means the comment won’t appear. Why it deserved censorship beats me.

    > PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

    That the deal is verifiable is false.

    That it will be fully implemented is false.

    That all the world’s major powers will respond should it be violated is false.

    That it is a question of THIS DEAL OR WAR is false.

    Obama pins his hopes on inspectors. He forgets that IAEA inspectors visited Osirak in Iraq 11 times and 11 times declared it benign. In 1995, Saddam’s son-in-law fled with a suitcase of blueprints showing that Osirak had been the center of an active nuclear weapon program. Hans Blix confessed to the Guardian: “He had us fooled.” Whatever we know of Iran’s violations of the NPT came from Iranian informants, not inspectors.

    The US was blindsided by the Soviet’s first atomic bomb test in 1949, and again their first H bomb test three years later. It never suspected Russia had the ability to shoot Sputnik into space. The same happened with the Chinese A and H bombs, and the Pakistani and Indian atomic tests. The CIA even failed to anticipate the crumbling of the Soviet Union.

    The record argues that UN inspectors and US spies are sure to be fooled. Relying on one year’s warnings is equally laughable. Furthermore, once Iran makes a dash for the bomb, it will before long be brandishing a fistfull of red buttons that will make the world much too afraid to threaten sanctions. Moreover, it took over a decade to impose effective sanctions on Iran. That once lifted they can be quickly restored is wishful thinking from the same delusional US official who negotiated for President Clinton in Pyongyang to stop North Korea’s A bomb.

    What is the alternative to: THIS DEAL OR WAR?

    Either the regime in Tehran really is determined, sooner or later, by hook or by crook, to have a nuclear arsenal, or it is not. If a review of the twenty-five year record shows that Iran is genuinely disinterest in nuclear weapons, then sanctions must be immediately dropped with an apology and reparations for the harm they have done. If the record shows Iran in clear pursuit of the Bomb then delaying the show-down ten or fifteen year is the worst possible action. Because that dictatorial regime will not become politically weaker with time, but stronger; the removal of sanctions will enhance it. And it will also become stronger militarily and technologically. Delay is good for Iran. It also works for Obama who wants to escapes a showdown on his watch.

    That we should therefor now bomb Iran does not follow. But it makes good sense to do everything we can to unseat that bloody minded mullahcracy, rather than make it comfortable. The Kremlin and Stalin were recognized as evil in the early1950s when our Strategic Air Command could reach Moscow, but they could not return the favor. Still, rather than bomb the Russian people we were content to outlast the regime, while making life as miserable for it as possible. Why treat Tehran differently?

    Against Iran we now have a coincidence of favorable factors. Tough int’l sanctions are in place and hurting. So too is the low oil price. The US Congress is ready to add further sanctions.

    Why be afraid to say, that we mean to stay the course until that regime breaks? And if the mullahs want to risk going for broke on nukes, they will have less money to do so with sanctions in place. Finally, the harsher conditions become in Iran the sooner the regime collapses, and the larger the supply of local dissidents and informants.


    Everything you say is truthful and makes sense, but Obama doesn’t.
    The lifting of the sanctions is a HUGE mistake that the US is sure to regret. Obama avoids this mess on his watch but passes it on to his successor. And Iran definitely will become much stronger in time and so much more dangerous.

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