If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.
In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though, as the New York Times noted this morning, even the CIA, Europe, and Israel believe such sites exist where uranium enrichment can continue unhindered. The president will also have to hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to effectively monitor activity inside Iran and detect cheating despite the fact that, as the Times also conceded, “Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime” the IAEA had said was needed to ensure that the program is peaceful.
It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize. But since that scenario rests on a series of assumptions that range from highly unlikely to completely far-fetched, the only possible reaction to the deal from sober observers must be dismay. In exchange for measures that only slightly delay Iran’s nuclear progress that don’t come even close to putting them into compliance with United Nations resolutions on the nuclear question, the administration has begun the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. Even more seriously, it has, in effect, normalized a rogue regime that is still sponsoring international terrorism, waging war in Syria, and spewing international sanctions, while effectively taking any threat of the use force against Tehran off the table. All in all, this is a good day for the ayatollahs and bad one for U.S. interests and allies that are endangered by any result that leaves Iran’s nuclear capability intact.
The details of the agreement are troublesome. Even while Iran gets a significant cash gift in terms of billions of dollars of unfrozen funds, its centrifuges will not be dismantled and it will be allowed to go on enriching uranium that can be converted to weapons-grade fuel. Its nuclear facilities will stay open, including the plutonium plant under construction. Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be diluted or converted into oxide, but that is nothing more than a storage option since the administration knows very well it could quickly be restored to its former state. Iran will have inspections, but they will be limited and there is little doubt that the IAEA, which has met every possible obstacle and obstruction to its work in Iran, will go on being stiffed no matter what the piece of paper obtained by Secretary of State Kerry says.
Far more important than even these points, Iran has effectively won its diplomatic objective of getting the West to recognize its “right” to enrich uranium. Though the U.S. is saying the two sides have agreed to disagree on this point, by signing a deal that allows Iran to go on enriching the question is now off the table in perpetuity. Iran’s nuclear program is effectively rendered legal by this deal. From now on, all disputes about enrichment will be considered as mere quibbling by the international forums that have heretofore accepted the West’s arguments about the question.
As for the vital sanctions relief, it is true the release of some of their frozen assets does not change the tough restrictions on doing business with Iran that are still in place. If we assume that the U.S. and its European allies will stick to their resolve to go on squeezing Iran, the small chance that President Obama’s initiative will truly lead to an end to their nuclear program would be enhanced. But that is an even shakier belief than any of the other suppositions that form the foundation of this policy.
As anyone who has ever closely looked at the way that the U.S. enforced sanctions against Iran, let alone its less-zealous European allies, the restrictions were always filled with holes. The New York Times reported back in 2010 that the Treasury Department had already issued over 10,000 exemptions to the sanctions against Iran, thereby allowing Tehran billions more in business deals. Just as troubling, the Daily Beast reported earlier this month that as far back as June the U.S. had all but stopped enforcing a crucial aspect of the sanctions by largely halting the designation of violators of the rules. That more or less gave impunity to those doing business with Iran.
Does anyone want to seriously argue that now that the president has proclaimed that Iran has embraced diplomacy and that a path to resolving the nuclear question has been agreed to, the Treasury Department and the White House will actually ramp up enforcement? Does anyone seriously believe Kerry’s piece of paper will not act as a green light to the Europeans, who have been desperate to resume business with Iran, and cannot fail to interpret it as a sign they can ease up as well? And can anyone argue with a straight face that nations like China that have continued to do business with Iran will not only increase such efforts after the U.S. has declared that peace with Iran is at hand.
The president can pretend that he is still holding the ayatollah’s feet to the fire. But now that he has normalized a regime that goes on sponsoring terror, threatening Israel and spewing anti-Semitic hate, there will be no reassembling the coalition against Iran even if he eventually comes to the conclusion that he has been, like every other diplomatic partner of Iran, fooled by them.
The president’s campaign promise to end Iran’s nuclear program is now officially thrown on the scrap heap of history. He can only hope that when Iran does choose to take the final step to a weapon he will no longer be in the White House or that Americans will have been so diverted by other concerns that no one will care or seek to hold him accountable. But whether Tehran waits that long or not, this is a dark day for the cause of international peace and security. Iran has got its long-sought Western seal of approval for a nuclear program that enhances its power immeasurably. The rest of the region and those elsewhere who are not deceived by this agreement can only tremble.