Commentary Magazine

Put Iran to the Test

To suggest that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has truly endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is now being implemented is an overstatement. Rather, in an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani, Khamenei has effectively declared he will accept the agreement so long as the United States accepts his interpretations. He has put many of Iran’s commitments with regard to the plutonium-producing Arak heavy water reactor and the depletion of Iran’s uranium stock on hold until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s programs have been sufficiently addressed. In effect, unless Iran gets a satisfactory ruling that it has cooperated fully and resolved issues, it simply will continue business as usual (all the while receiving sanctions relief and its unfrozen assets as if it were cooperating).

In addition, Khamenei has demanded, in effect, that Iran will not suffer any new sanctions, regardless of in what behavior it might engage:

During the eight years, the establishment of any type of sanctions on any level and for any excuse (including the repeated and self-made excuses of terrorism and human rights) by any of the countries of the negotiations will be considered a violation of the JCPOA and the administration is obligated according to paragraph 3 of Parliament’s resolution to take the necessary steps and stop JCPOA activity.

If President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry accede to Khamenei’s interpretation, they will in effect be granting him immunity from any accountability if, for example, he openly conducts terrorism against civilians, anywhere on earth. He also effectively reserves the right to further restrict the already deplorable state of religious freedom in Iran. If he decides, for example, that Iran’s remaining Baha’is should be imprisoned or put to death, he effectively expects to pay no penalty.

Both Obama and Kerry appear to have put ego and ambition above U.S. security and simple good sense, hence the almost complete collapse on U.S. red lines and the repeated reporting that U.S. negotiators kept discussing who might play them in a future movie about their efforts. But, even if Congressional Democrats successfully prevented real debate on the Iran deal, Obama and Kerry cannot stop states from imposing their own state sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights and religious freedom.

The “Defund Iran” effort can handicap Iranian ambitions. In short, it seeks to stop the investment or spending of state tax dollars in corporations doing business with state sponsors of terrorism. As national co-chair Josh Mandel says, “We can’t let the Federal government force our states to choose terrorists over taxpayers.”

Now, if states do sanction Iran, Khamenei might uphold his threat to walk away from his agreement. That might not be a bad thing if the timing is right. While the deal formally began this past week, it will take several weeks before Iran gets the $100 billion “signing bonus” in frontloaded unfreezing of assets. If states impose sanctions quickly, they might force Khamenei to make good on his pledge before he gets his money.

Likewise, it is essential for even Democrats who endorsed the deal — Cory Booker, for example — to pressure the White House to demand inspections of suspect sites, including military sites, which Khamenei has decreed off-limits. Even if Booker and his colleagues believe the deal, however flawed, was better than nothing, if they are sincere about U.S. and regional state security, they should not allow Khamenei to receive his financial before even testing whether or not he will comply with his commitments (putting sites off-limits to inspectors is not compliance). In short, it’s time to put Iran to the test.

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