Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear deal

Selling the Deal Via “the Other Iran” False Narrative

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are in their final stages. We don’t know exactly when the deal will be signed or what exactly it will say. But we already know that it will be the result of a series of humiliating retreats on the part of the United States from previous positions demanding an end to the Iranian program (for a comprehensive then and now comparison of the Obama administration’s positions, see this from the Foreign Policy Initiative). It will more or less guarantee that Iran will become a threshold nuclear state and will have two paths to a bomb — one by cheating the easily evaded terms of the deal, and the other by waiting patiently for it to expire in ten years. That means the real focus at this point will start to shift from the final details of the agreement to an effort to sell Congress and the American people on it. Administration spokespersons and other apologists will be spending the coming months defending the indefensible on the nuclear issue, as well as the failure to address Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. But the most telling aspect of their campaign will be the more subtle efforts to justify the real purpose of the deal: to create a new détente with the Islamist regime. And for that they need to create a narrative that portrays Iran as something other than the theocratic tyranny with ambitions of regional hegemony that actually exists. We will be hearing a lot about “the other Iran” of happy, forward-looking young people who are just like us. But, as seductive as these arguments will be, they must be rejected.

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The nuclear negotiations with Iran are in their final stages. We don’t know exactly when the deal will be signed or what exactly it will say. But we already know that it will be the result of a series of humiliating retreats on the part of the United States from previous positions demanding an end to the Iranian program (for a comprehensive then and now comparison of the Obama administration’s positions, see this from the Foreign Policy Initiative). It will more or less guarantee that Iran will become a threshold nuclear state and will have two paths to a bomb — one by cheating the easily evaded terms of the deal, and the other by waiting patiently for it to expire in ten years. That means the real focus at this point will start to shift from the final details of the agreement to an effort to sell Congress and the American people on it. Administration spokespersons and other apologists will be spending the coming months defending the indefensible on the nuclear issue, as well as the failure to address Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. But the most telling aspect of their campaign will be the more subtle efforts to justify the real purpose of the deal: to create a new détente with the Islamist regime. And for that they need to create a narrative that portrays Iran as something other than the theocratic tyranny with ambitions of regional hegemony that actually exists. We will be hearing a lot about “the other Iran” of happy, forward-looking young people who are just like us. But, as seductive as these arguments will be, they must be rejected.

The New York Times inaugurated this genre of journalism intended to justify Iran détente back in 2009 when Roger Cohen wrote a series of columns intended to both whitewash the regime’s anti-Semitism as well as to portray the country as a fun, exotic place we should like. Earlier this year, the Times had another piece about young American businesspeople visiting there that I wrote about in April. But the latest example of the “other Iran” narrative comes today from Politico where author Christopher Schroeder writes of his trip to the country along with other entrepreneurs where they met lots of nice Iranians. Schroeder tries to acknowledge that his frame of reference does not erase other concerns about Iran, but his argument is clear. He wants Americans to stop thinking of Iran solely through the lens of a conflict that dates back to the 1979 embassy hostage crisis, terrorism, and nuclear deceptions, and to start thinking of the Iranian people as potential business partners.

This is an attractive scenario for many in the business community that see Iran as an untapped market. They see European companies chomping at the bit waiting for the sanctions to collapse so they can dive into Iran and start making money and want their share, too. So, in order to justify an entente with Iran, those with a financial interest in ignoring the reality of Iran’s threats must tell us about the wonderful diversity of Iranian society. It is, they tell us, young and as in love with technology as Americans. They urge us to think about the country in more complex terms. Here’s an example of this kind of thinking from Schroeder’s “The Iran I Saw:”

It’s tempting to simplify these two tales of Iran into a polarizing discussion of “theocracy” versus “technology,” “closed” versus “open,” or even of the tension between “local” versus “global.” All of these simplifications are a huge mistake. For one thing, they grossly diminish an extremely rich, nuanced, and yes, sometimes messy story. Washington in particular and our media in general favors one tale by reducing complexity generally to an either/or (“Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”), when we all know things are much more complicated and contradictory.

Yes, things are always “more complicated and contradictory” than sound bytes. But all this talk about complexity has a clear political purpose: backing the president’s push for Iran detente.

Integral to that will not be a pitch that the deal will effectively prevent Iran from getting a bomb since the deal won’t do that. Instead, we’ll get clichés about Iran being “one of the oldest civilizations in the world” and also, “a magnet to the fastest growing economy in the world [China].” That may make you want to visit and to invest there, but this nothing more than a cheap diversion from the reality of Iranian terror, oppression, and aggression.

During the Soviet era, there was a long, disgraceful history of American journalists and fellow travelers who visited Communist Russia and returned to tell us about all the nice people they met and the wonderful, hopeful things they saw. They told us not to think of the country in terms of its murderous government or its threat to Western freedom and security. Such voices instructed us not to think of Russia as a nation of gulags (if they were willing to admit they existed) but one of opportunity. Though Iran is very different from the Soviet Union, the same dynamic applies to those who tell us about its diversity and the need to look at the world from its point of view.

Let’s be blunt. Whatever the personal motives of those who come back with such tales (and in the case of Schroeder and other business types the motivation is money rather than President Obama’s naïve belief that the ayatollahs want “to get right with the world”), their purpose is plain. They want us to ignore the truth about Iran’s despotic government, its abuse of human rights, its support for terrorism, and its desire to create an axis of terror including Iraqi militias, Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza to both advance its goal of regional hegemony and to destroy Israel (a goal for which its push for nuclear weapons is the only possible justification).

In order to justify striking deals with businesses that are controlled by the Iranian government or its Revolutionary Guard Corps, people like Schroeder need to confuse us with stories about hopeful Iranians. As President Obama seeks to convince us to accept his appeasement of Iran he needs voices like Schroeder to become louder. But neither Congress nor the American people should be fooled. The true face of Iran is not a 20-something with a cell phone that wants to get ahead, but the aging theocrats that govern the country and could soon have their hands on a nuclear weapon. Anything that distracts us from that truth is, at best, self-interested drivel by profit-hungry, unprincipled businesspeople. At worst, the other Iran narrative is a deliberate attempt to create a false narrative to justify the most far-reaching and dangerous act of American appeasement since the end of the Cold War.

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Is the Iran Inspection Process Really Unfettered?

The news that a solution has been found to offer United Nations inspectors access to Iranian nuclear sites makes it appear as if the Obama administration will gets the deal it has been working toward. The Times of Israel is reporting that “a senior U.S. official” is saying that the two sides in the nuclear talks have reached an agreement that, in theory, ought to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency the ability to inspect Iran’s facilities to ensure they aren’t cheating on an agreement that is supposed to prevent from working toward a bomb over the next ten years. If true, that would mean a major obstacle to completion of the negotiations is completed allowing the White House to be able to trumpet the pact as a triumph for American diplomacy and enhance its chances of surviving a Congressional vote on ratification. But the language used by the senior official to describe this achievement ought to give pause to those seeking to declare the deal a success before it is even signed. If, as the source said, a “process” will be required to allow the IAEA to show up at a nuclear or military site, then it’s not clear that what will follow could possibly be the sort of surprise inspection that would actually catch any cheating. Moreover, since it we’re also told it won’t mean that inspectors will have access to all Iranian military sites, the diplomatic victory we may be hearing about in the coming days may not be anything like the unfettered inspections without warning that would be needed for the deal to work.

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The news that a solution has been found to offer United Nations inspectors access to Iranian nuclear sites makes it appear as if the Obama administration will gets the deal it has been working toward. The Times of Israel is reporting that “a senior U.S. official” is saying that the two sides in the nuclear talks have reached an agreement that, in theory, ought to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency the ability to inspect Iran’s facilities to ensure they aren’t cheating on an agreement that is supposed to prevent from working toward a bomb over the next ten years. If true, that would mean a major obstacle to completion of the negotiations is completed allowing the White House to be able to trumpet the pact as a triumph for American diplomacy and enhance its chances of surviving a Congressional vote on ratification. But the language used by the senior official to describe this achievement ought to give pause to those seeking to declare the deal a success before it is even signed. If, as the source said, a “process” will be required to allow the IAEA to show up at a nuclear or military site, then it’s not clear that what will follow could possibly be the sort of surprise inspection that would actually catch any cheating. Moreover, since it we’re also told it won’t mean that inspectors will have access to all Iranian military sites, the diplomatic victory we may be hearing about in the coming days may not be anything like the unfettered inspections without warning that would be needed for the deal to work.

The administration has already begun selling this “compromise” by saying that it’s completely reasonable for Iran to deny access to all of its military sites because the U.S. wouldn’t allow such inspections either. That may be true but, again, as with every other retreat by American negotiators, what the administration has done here is to put the Islamist regime and its nuclear ambitions on the same moral plane as the United States. The U.S. is treating Iran with kid gloves because it sees the rogue regime as a potential partner in a new détente rather than as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with dreams of regional hegemony.

The series of events that led to this compromise show that, as has been the case throughout the negotiations, the Iranians are in control. Once Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out any inspections at all, that was the signal for the U.S to begin retreating from a position that would grant IAEA officials complete access to Iran’s nuclear and military facilities. By restricting inspections only to known sites and giving up the right to enter other military areas, the West has more or less given Tehran the okay to move any illicit nuclear work to those that will be off limits to the inspectors. As I noted last month, Khamenei has been giving Obama a lesson in tough negotiating tactics.

As for the process that the senior official claims will be sufficient to grant the IAEA access to those areas not already within their purview, any such procedure will probably grant the Iranians plenty of warning time to clean up their act. Without the right to show up announced at such places, any inspection process is, by definition, almost worthless. Thus, when looked at more closely, this compromise may not provide the sort of inspections that the U.S. has long promised would have to be essential to any deal. By seeking to preserve the Iranians dignity and to mollify Khamenei, what the administration has done is to actually give away the game as they have on every other nuclear issue including uranium enrichment, the underground bunker at Fordow, their continued possession of thousands of centrifuges and the fact that the deal will expire in ten years leaving the Islamist regime free to do as it likes after that. The Iran inspection process may sound good but it may turn out to be more of a scam than insurance against cheating.

Congress should not be deceived by any deal that stops short of surprise and unfettered access to all of Iran’s sites. Despite Secretary of State Kerry’s boasts, it is well known that Western intelligence has no idea what is going on at nuclear sites that have not already been acknowledged by the regime. If reports about this compromise are accurate, we’ll never know more about them or what is really going on at Iran’s military sites. That’s a formula for an Iranian bomb, not a reason for Congress to okay a weak deal that is getting weaker with each passing day.

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Iran’s Nukes are Iraq’s Moment of Truth

Iranian influence in Iraq has grown greatly since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shortly after I returned to Iraq in July 2003, I had driven with Iraqi friends down to see the marshes which Saddam Hussein had ordered drained in order to try to extinguish the Marsh Arabs’ thousands-year way of life. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and drink stand on the outskirts of Kut. Peeking out from behind a bunch of bananas was a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. A month later, I stopped unannounced at a tribal leader’s house in al-Amara. When I had scheduled a visit with him through local Coalition Provisional Authority officials a week before, he was obsequious to the Americans; when I came back unannounced, there in his reception room where he had served us tea a week before was a huge portrait of Khomeini. Then, of course, there was the time in Baghdad when I was visiting an Iraqi politician. It was getting late and so I took his offer to sleep on a couch in his living room rather than traverse Baghdad after curfew. On the other couch when I woke up? An Iranian official, who had even more reason to avoid getting caught by the American army breaking curfew. And then, there was the time when I was exploring Basra in December 2003. I stayed at a local hotel, and was wandering along the trash-strewn local canals which decades before had made Basra the “Venice of the Gulf.” Sharing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) office was Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. Read More

Iranian influence in Iraq has grown greatly since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shortly after I returned to Iraq in July 2003, I had driven with Iraqi friends down to see the marshes which Saddam Hussein had ordered drained in order to try to extinguish the Marsh Arabs’ thousands-year way of life. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and drink stand on the outskirts of Kut. Peeking out from behind a bunch of bananas was a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. A month later, I stopped unannounced at a tribal leader’s house in al-Amara. When I had scheduled a visit with him through local Coalition Provisional Authority officials a week before, he was obsequious to the Americans; when I came back unannounced, there in his reception room where he had served us tea a week before was a huge portrait of Khomeini. Then, of course, there was the time in Baghdad when I was visiting an Iraqi politician. It was getting late and so I took his offer to sleep on a couch in his living room rather than traverse Baghdad after curfew. On the other couch when I woke up? An Iranian official, who had even more reason to avoid getting caught by the American army breaking curfew. And then, there was the time when I was exploring Basra in December 2003. I stayed at a local hotel, and was wandering along the trash-strewn local canals which decades before had made Basra the “Venice of the Gulf.” Sharing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) office was Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy.

The irony here is that, for all the attempts Iran made to infiltrate Iraq — successfully in some cases — most Iraqi Shi’ites resented them or soon came to due to the Iranian leadership’s arrogance and its deaf ear to Iraqi nationalism. The bulk of the Iraqi Army at the front lines during the Iran-Iraq War were Shi‘ite conscripts who fought honorably to defend Iraq; they neither defected to Iran out of sectarian loyalty nor were they in position to question the justice of a war which Saddam Hussein started. On January 6, Iraqi Shi‘ites alongside Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis commemorate Iraqi Army Day, celebrating the institution, not the previous regime that often abused it. Within hours after the war began, Iran violated an agreement struck between its UN ambassador (now Foreign Minister and chief negotiator) Mohammad Javad Zarif and American diplomats Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad and inserted a number of proxies and its own men into Iraq. One of their missions was to seize personnel records in the Defense Ministry and then proceed to hunt down and kill any veteran pilot from the Iraq-Iran War on the assumption that they had bombed Iran. The Iranian Red Crescent participated in this assassination wave, providing yet one more reason why the Iranian government and its NGOs should not be taken at their word.

Ever since President Barack Obama ordered a complete withdrawal from Iraq in order to fulfill a 2007 campaign pledge, Iranian influence has grown in Iraq. The reason for this has less to do with the hearts of Iraqis than their minds: Because they could no longer balance American and Iranian influence and demands in order to preserve their independent space, they needed to make greater accommodation to Tehran. It’s one thing to push back on over-the-top Iranian demands when several thousand American troops are garrisoned around the country. It is quite another to tell Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani to shove his demands where the sun don’t shine when he has the wherewithal to kill anyone who stands in his way and every Iraqi regardless of sect or ethnicity knows that the United States really does not have their back. Hence, Iraq allowed some Iranian overflights to support and supply Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria (the same regime to which Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now appear prepared to accommodate). And Iraqis also traveled to Syria to support the Assad regime against Jabhat al-Nusra and/or the Islamic State (again, which the United States now appears to be doing, having demanded that ‘moderate’ Syrians whom U.S. forces train not target Assad). More recently, Americans have criticized the role that Iranian-backed militias play in the Iraqi security forces. This concern is certainly warranted, although every time a politician, journalist, or think-tank analyst recommends arming Sunni tribes directly, they simply drive the Iraqi public away from moderates like Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has been solicitous of American interests and concerns, and into the hands of harder-line pro-Iranian politicians.

So what can Iraq do to signal that it is not simply an Iranian proxy like so many of its critics say? Taking a public stance against the Iranian nuclear program would be a good first step. Under no circumstances, can the Iranian nuclear program be an Iraqi interest. Forget the Washington talking points: Everyone in the Persian Gulf, Arabs and Persians alike, know that the deal currently being finalized secures a path to an Iranian nuclear breakout. They also have a far more realistic assessment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) than the Obama administration. Not only is it unlikely that the IRGC will abide by any agreement, but it is also likely that if Iran does acquire a nuclear capability, it will find itself so overconfident behind its own nuclear deterrence that it will further erode Iraqi sovereignty.

Iran may not like Iraq siding, in this instance, with almost every member of the Gulf Cooperation Council but Oman (which feigns neutrality), but certainly it must expect that any Iraqi government — even one which reflects the Shi‘ite majority of Iraq — will stand up for Iraqi national interests and oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions with the same cautionary statements heard from Saudi, Emirati, and Kuwaiti diplomats and officials.

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Clapper Walks Back Downplaying of Iranian Terror

In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

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In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

In his letter to Senate Intelligence Committee obtained by Fox News’s Catherin Herrige Clapper admits that terror conduct by Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries “directly threatens the interest of the United States and its allies.” Moreover, he also pointed out what has long been common knowledge: Iran and Hezbollah have been instrumental in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, which serves as a lynchpin for their efforts to wage war against Israel. He also noted that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq pose a direct threat to other groups in that country as well as to U.S. personnel and interests.

While not conceding that he lied by not mentioning Iran in his testimony, he did own up to the fact that, “A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hezbollah – which was not included in any of the drafts of the testimony – would have been appropriate.” That’s true, especially since he now claims that his view of Iran as a threat has been a consensus position within U.S. intelligence for decades.

The Bush administration was widely and often unfairly accused of manipulating intelligence assessments, especially in terms of information that was released to the public. But here we see that it is the Obama administration that has sought, fortunately, in vain to cover up accurate intelligence about Iran in the hope of making Congress more receptive to its efforts to create an entente with the Islamist regime with a weak nuclear deal as its centerpiece.

If, as is almost certainly to be the case, the U.S. strikes a nuclear deal with Iran in the coming month, the result will be the complete collapse of sanctions on Tehran. That will start with the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. in what will amount to a large cash bonus to the regime that will flood it with cash after being isolated for so long. In response to concerns about Iran’s terror connections, administration apologists claim that specific groups or individuals will remain affected by international sanctions. But what they conveniently omit from their arguments is that money is fungible, especially in an authoritarian regime like that of Iran.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the deal President Obama is pushing is that as loose as the provisions about the nuclear threat may be, it completely ignores other aspects of Iran’s behavior. Contrary to the president’s efforts to segregate terrorism from the discussion about the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program may play a pivotal role in strengthening their terrorist auxiliaries and allies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. By letting Iran keep its infrastructure, the U.S. may eventually acquiesce to a potential nuclear umbrella over terrorist groups. Just as bad, by strengthening Iran’s economy by ending sanctions, the West is indirectly funding the same terror groups that its intelligence services are trying to stop.

This admission by Clapper provides yet another good reason why Congress can and must refuse to ratify any agreement that fails to address the issue of Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terror. Just as the details of the pact fall short of Obama’s own criteria for a good deal, one that doesn’t even mention terrorism should be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

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For the Iran Nuclear Deal, ‘the Game Is Pretty Much Up’

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran. Read More

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The administration has rolled out three arguments for why the Saudis won’t go nuclear.

(1) ‘They’re too poor to go nuclear’ – this argument has appeared a couple of times in print in recent weeks. The assertion is difficult to square with the North Korean experience, where the DPRK has built industrial-scale nuclear infrastructure despite having functionally no economy.

(2) ‘They’re afraid of an international backlash, including an oil embargo’ – there are a couple of NSC staffers who are fond of this argument. I think it’s fair to say that the administration has had trouble getting people to accept that the West will forgo Saudi energy.

(3) ‘American security assurances will be sufficient to reassure the Gulf, so they won’t chart their own course’ – this was the point of the Camp David summit between the President and the Gulf states. There have been claims that it worked. According to what former Defense Secretary William Cohen told Bloomberg View this morning, it very much didn’t:

The administration’s intent was to have a counter-proliferation program. And the irony is, it may be just the opposite… Once you say they are allowed to enrich, the game is pretty much up in terms of how do you sustain an inspection regime in a country that has carried on secret programs for 17 years and is still determined to maintain as much of that secrecy as possible… [the Syria CW red line] was mishandled and everybody in the region saw how it was handled. And I think it shook their confidence in the administration… The Saudis, the UAE and the Israelis were all concerned about that… They are looking at what we say, what we do, and what we fail to do, and they make their judgments. In the Middle East now, they are making different calculations.

Remember how Saudi nuclearization plays out. It’s not just that the Sunnis will acquire nuclear weapons, and within a few years there will be a polynuclear unstable Middle East – although that’s a disaster all on its own. It’s also that Saudi nuclearization will rebound and destroy the JCPOA deal with Iran that started the cascade in the first place. There is no chance that the IRGC will sit on the sidelines while the Saudis go nuclear. Nobody pretends otherwise. They’ll back off the deal and match the Saudis.

That makes the deal all cost and no gain: the administration will have seeded a polynuclear Middle East, detonated Washington’s alliances with its traditional allies, and shredded the sanctions regime – and it won’t even have a denuclearized Iran to show for it. Instead of the status quo of no deal and no nukes, it’ll be a world of no deal but yes lots of nukes.

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Former Obama Advisers Join Chorus of Iran Deal Critics

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

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With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

The former Obama advisers that signed the statement are: Dennis Ross, the longtime diplomat and Middle East peace processor who oversaw Iran policy during the president’s first term; David Petraeus, the former general appointed by Obama to lead the CIA; Robert Einhorn, the veteran State Department official responsible for the enactment and enforcement of sanctions on Iran on Obama’s watch; Gary Samore, who served as the president’s chief adviser on nuclear policy; and General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsible for implementing the president’s decisions on building up forces in the region.

As the New York Times notes in its article on the statement, all of these men:

Joined in hours of Situation Room meetings during the president’s first term, and some into the second, to devise both the strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table — a mix of sanctions, sabotage of the nuclear program and the prospect of a broader relationship with the West — and the negotiating objectives.

The statement also makes clear that, contrary to the efforts of the administration to smear all critics of their deal as advocates for war, the signatories support a negotiated settlement of the issue. Nor do they completely dismiss, as many critics rightly do, the current framework as a negligible achievement. But they say that unless the president insists on the deal meeting the same criteria that he has repeatedly enunciated are necessary for it to meet the goals he set forth when the negotiations began, then it will fail to accomplish his stated mission of preventing Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

The statement outlines five key areas where Western negotiators must stand their ground:

1. Monitoring and Verification: The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the “IAEA”) charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. This must include military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.

2. Possible Military Dimensions: The IAEA inspectors must be able, in a timely and effective manner, to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities (“Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD”). This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.

3. Advanced Centrifuges: The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first ten years, and preclude the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacity after the initial ten-year period. The goal is to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible, and ensure that any such deployment occurs at a measured, incremental pace consonant with a peaceful nuclear program.

4. Sanctions Relief: Relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement. Non-nuclear sanctions (such as for terrorism) must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced.

5. Consequences of Violations: The agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran is found to be in violation of the agreement, including by denying or delaying IAEA access. In addition, the United States must itself articulate the serious consequences Iran will face in that event

But the statement goes on to raise yet another important point concerning the nature of the framework that is set to expire after ten years, potentially leaving Iran free after that to build a bomb:

Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires. Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this.

This statement comes in the wake of a series of astonishing concessions on the part of the administration in which it has abandoned positions — such as the need for Iran to come clean about its past military research — that it declared were inviolable back in April when the framework was announced. Yet with so many important issues yet to be resolved in the negotiations such as the lifting of sanctions and the nature of inspections, the signatories urge the president to refuse to give in again to Iran as he has done on virtually every issue over the past two years. Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Tuesday that he would never allow inspections and would insist on lifting all sanctions immediately and permanently. Clearly, Iran expects the U.S. to fold again. If the negotiations are to continue, then the U.S. should stop acting as if they needed a deal more than the Iranians. If Obama’s spine finally stiffens, the West still has enough leverage to force Iran to give up its demands.

But the source of their anxiety is not that the administration lacks a strategy to achieve its goal. The problem is that the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he thinks a bad deal is better than no deal at all so every time Iran says no, he buckles. Given this history, it’s difficult to fault the Iranians for believing it won’t happen.

That’s why this statement is so important. It is a warning to Congress that the Iran deal should not be treated as a partisan issue in which Democrats will rally to the president’s side no matter their misgivings. The consequences of a nuclear Iran are too serious for this to be a political football. Democrats and Republicans must warn the White House that they will not acquiesce to surrender to a nuclear Iran that an unsatisfactory deal ensures. It is difficult to imagine the president deciding to change course at this late date. But the fact that some of his former confidantes are joining the ranks of the Iran deal’s critics shows that this deal can and ought to be stopped.

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Force? Obama Already Told Us There is No Plan B on Iran

In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

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In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

The chances of the U.S. ever resorting to force against Iran were always slim, but last month the president sent a very clear signal to Tehran they needn’t fear a change of heart on that score. Speaking to Israel’s Channel Two, the president not only didn’t repeat past promises about all options being on the table but specifically dismissed the utility of the use of force against Iran:

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

There’s some truth to this assertion but since the entire premise of the framework with Iran that he was trying to sell to the Israelis as well as Congress is to merely delay Iran’s program and to lengthen its “break out” time towards a bomb, his reservations about force seem to lack credibility.

But the main point to be gleaned from this statement is that it was a clear signal to Iran that Crowley’s scenario about the Americans walking out of the talks this week in frustration and ordering B-2 bombers loaded with MOP to be put on alert is something that will never happen.

Over the course of the last two years of negotiations with Iran, President Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that his desire for an agreement on virtually any terms outweighs any concern about Iran eventually getting a bomb. He jettisoned his demand for an end to their nuclear program (as he promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) as well as international demands that they cease enriching uranium. The current agreement already allows Iran to retain thousands of centrifuges and to maintain a program of nuclear research. Even worse, the deal will expire after ten years leaving Iran largely free to do, as it likes after that.

These overly generous terms were secured by tough Iranian negotiating tactic that have were answered with American surrenders on almost every crucial point. As Secretary of State John Kerry explained after the interim Iran deal was signed in November 2013, once the Iranians said “no,” the U.S. came to the conclusion that its demands were never going to be met so the administration simply accepted this situation and moved onto the next point. This was repeated only this month when the U.S. conceded that Iran won’t come clean about its past military nuclear efforts prior to the signing of the deal but, contrary to past promises, won’t consider this a reason to abandon the negotiations.

Now that the talks to finalize the nuclear deal are coming down the homestretch, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Iran believes this pattern won’t be broken. As I wrote earlier today, the statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader yesterday in which he made clear that the sort of inspections that would make the deal verifiable won’t be allowed are a direct challenge to President Obama.

If Iran had the slightest worry that the president believed force was an option they would never dare to throw down the gauntlet in the talks in this manner. But two years of Obama’s weak negotiating tactics have forced them to conclude that they can defy the U.S. with impunity. Nor are they afraid of Israel resorting to force because they are positive that the U.S. won’t allow it, a point that is reinforced by the fact that, as Crowley notes, the administration has not shared the MOP system with Israel despite its boasts about bolstering the security relationship with the Jewish state.

At this point, it doesn’t matter that the United States has the capacity to take out the bunker at Fordow and every other Iranian nuclear facility. Crowley writes that the existence of MOP may have helped bring Iran to the table and that it could influence their behavior in the future since it will remain as a deterrent to cheating on the pact. The first assertion is arguable but the latter is not. Without a president who is prepared to negotiate from a position of strength the ability of the MOP to take it out Iran’s nukes is irrelevant both to the current talks and to what follows.

An advanced bunker buster system like MOP should have empowered President Obama to demand an agreement that would have eliminated for all time any possibility of an Iranian weapon. But it didn’t. The deal now in place offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire. And the military option isn’t stopping Iran from making sure the deal that is being finalized now is substantially weaker than President Obama claimed it was back in April when it was announced.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s successor will be able to walk away from this mess, assuming that Congress isn’t able to prevent it from being put into effect. In January 2017, MOP may for the first time become a factor in U.S.-Iranian relations. But by then it may be too late. Even a commander-in-chief determined to get tough on Iran may be faced with the fact that sanctions can’t be easily re-imposed and the international seal of approval on Iran’s nuclear program may make it harder to justify using force to take out the same facilities that the U.S. gave a seal of approval to only a year and a half earlier. Still, MOP or an even more advanced system will be there to be used to stop an Iranian bomb if the U.S. has the will to act. But after years of exploiting Obama’s weakness, the Iranians probably think they’ll jump off that bridge when they come to it.

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The Ayatollah Throws Down Another Challenge to Obama

What is supposed to be the last round of talks before a nuclear deal is sealed between the West and Iran is about to begin in Vienna. But lest anyone doubt who has the whip hand in the negotiations at this crucial moment, Iran’s Supreme Leader sent a strong message to President Obama on Tuesday. In a speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would not permit any long freeze on Iran’s nuclear research, absolutely ruled out foreign inspections of the country’s military nuclear facilities and made it clear he expected all sanctions on Iran to be lifted as soon as an agreement is signed. This Khamenei challenge lays out positions that are incompatible with the terms that President Obama said would be enforced when he announced U.S. acceptance of a proposed nuclear framework with Iran back in April. The speech may be dismissed as mere posturing for a domestic audience by the Iranian theocrat, but, given the history of the past two years of talks between the administration and Iran, it also demonstrated that Khamenei expects the next round of talks to follow the same pattern as previous negotiations with the U.S. In other words, if Obama wants there to be a nuclear deal with Iran, he’s going to have to concede to Iran on all these issues just as he has done on virtually every other point in the last two years.

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What is supposed to be the last round of talks before a nuclear deal is sealed between the West and Iran is about to begin in Vienna. But lest anyone doubt who has the whip hand in the negotiations at this crucial moment, Iran’s Supreme Leader sent a strong message to President Obama on Tuesday. In a speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would not permit any long freeze on Iran’s nuclear research, absolutely ruled out foreign inspections of the country’s military nuclear facilities and made it clear he expected all sanctions on Iran to be lifted as soon as an agreement is signed. This Khamenei challenge lays out positions that are incompatible with the terms that President Obama said would be enforced when he announced U.S. acceptance of a proposed nuclear framework with Iran back in April. The speech may be dismissed as mere posturing for a domestic audience by the Iranian theocrat, but, given the history of the past two years of talks between the administration and Iran, it also demonstrated that Khamenei expects the next round of talks to follow the same pattern as previous negotiations with the U.S. In other words, if Obama wants there to be a nuclear deal with Iran, he’s going to have to concede to Iran on all these issues just as he has done on virtually every other point in the last two years.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been lambasted by critics of the negotiations for the latest U.S. retreat in the face of Iranian intransigence. Having stated explicitly, both to the media and to Congress, that any agreement would have to be premised on Iran coming clean about its past military nuclear research, his recent decision to back down on that demand was rightly seen as a humiliating retreat that demonstrated the administration’s zeal for a deal far exceeding its willingness to press for a pact that would actually achieve its goal of stopping Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon. Without the extent of progress toward possible military dimensions of their nuclear project there’s simply no way the U.S. can accurately gauge how much time it would take for Iran to “break out” to a weapon, a key point on which President Obama’s promises about the deal hinge.

That followed a familiar pattern of American diplomacy toward Iran. Whenever an impasse arose during the past two years of talks, the administration has always backed down. It was true of the president’s original goal that a deal would mean the end of Iran’s nuclear program (which he promised the nation during his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney), it’s right to enrich uranium, or to keep thousands of centrifuges. On these key sticking points as well as on the notion of a deal that would permanently prevent Iran’s nuclear efforts, the president has never stood his ground but instead surrendered and then justified the move by saying that he had no choice and that the world was better off with a deal of some kind than with none at all.

Nevertheless, administration supporters keep insisting that the president means what he says about insisting that the deal will include intrusive inspections of Iran’s facilities that will come without warning, the only thing that might actually deter cheating. They also say he means it this time when he says that sanctions would only be lifted gradually rather than at once and that the U.S. should be able to snap them back into place if Tehran cheats.

But as Khamenei has repeatedly said, the Iranians will never agree to any of these points. Indeed, having claimed that Iran could be a good nuclear negotiating partner because of a fatwa supposedly issued by Khamenei that prevented Iran from building a weapon, the administration is now worried about another religious fiat dictated by the Supreme Leader that forbids foreign inspections. While the credibility of the Khamenei fatwa against nukes is doubtful, we can be sure he means what he says about no inspections and the lifting of sanctions.

The framework Obama touted in April as heralding a new era with Iran already provided Iran with two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded restrictions and the other by merely patiently waiting for it to expire in ten years. But without inspections and gradual sanctions relief, even that dubious concept is exposed as a sham that even a docile Democratic caucus in Congress could never approve.

Yet it is impossible to blame Khamenei and the Iranian negotiators for thinking that they can always bludgeon Obama and Kerry into submission by merely saying no. Why would they think that after so many retreats that this is the one time the president will stand up to them? That’s especially true when you realize that he has staked so much of his legacy on the dubious concept of a new détente with the Islamist regime. As much as Iran needs sanctions relief, the president has shown he needs this deal at any price. Without a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama’s foreign policy collapses in ruins. Khamenei knows this as well as Obama, and that is why he is raising the ante in the last days of the talks. If Obama accepts these terms, it won’t merely be another humiliation for the administration. It will be a signal to even wavering supporters of the president, that this bad deal must be rejected.

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Why the State Department Won’t Discuss ‘Parameters’ for Iran

Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

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Another day, another attempt to have the State Department – one week before the deadline for a deal – state the U.S. position regarding Iran’s obligation to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. At yesterday’s press conference, the State Department spokesperson was asked to clarify his comments from Friday, which he had made in response to requests that he clarify his comments from Wednesday, and once again he declined to answer a basic question about the deal:

QUESTION: … In your responses to us on Friday, you alluded to the possibility that the final deal could contain – your word now – “parameters” for IAEA access. And I just want to nail this down with you so that there is clarity. Could it be the case that any final deal that we would negotiate and ink would itself contain parameters for access that would be subject to further negotiation after the finalization of the final deal?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to talk about what the final deal will or will not look like. Again, negotiators are hard at work right now, and I think we need to give them the space to do that work. What I – what is true, however, is that at Lausanne in April, it was agreed that Iran would provide the parameters to allow the necessary access by IAEA inspectors. That was agreed in April, and that agreement is still in effect. That does not constitute the final deal, though, James, and that’s what they’re working out right now. And that’s really as far as I can go with it today.

Actually, the April 2, 2015 “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” does not contain the word “parameters” in the bullet point regarding the IAEA’s longstanding concerns about Iran’s PMDs. The bullet point provides as follows: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program” (emphasis added).

In four successive press conferences, reporters have asked whether the deal is going to contain the “measures,” or just “parameters”; whether requiring Iran to “address” the IAEA concerns means Iran must resolve them, or just make some response to the IAEA (since Iran has been stiffing the IAEA’s questions for years); whether the IAEA’s concerns regarding PMDs need to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased or removed or suspended; etc. In the four days, no less than seven reporters have been asking the questions, and none of the questions has been answered.

Perhaps reporters will try a fifth time, but there is a reason the State Department spokesperson will not answer these questions. Whatever the administration is able to negotiate with Iran, the administration is going to call a “good deal.” If it were to state now that the deal must contain specific measures enabling the IAEA to fully resolve its concerns about the PMDs before sanctions are eased, removed, or suspended, the administration will have provided Congress a standard by which to judge whether the deal is a good one. But it has become obvious that the administration believes that any deal is better than no deal, so that any deal is – by definition – good, even if it only has “parameters” that “address” PMD concerns but do not resolve them, and even if sanctions relief is not dependent on such a resolution.

After four days of questions that could easily be answered if the administration were concerned about having its demands met, rather than having a deal done, it is clear that the almost comic refusal of the State Department spokesperson to answer direct questions, posed multiple times by multiple reporters day after day, is a reflection of the colossal collapse on PMDs, which itself is simply the latest in the cascade of concessions by an administration desperate for a deal. There will be more.

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U.S. Seeks Post-Deal “Parameters,” Not Pre-Deal Answers from Iran

Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

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Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

QUESTION: In your briefing two days ago, you stated from the podium that Iran must give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. And I just want to confirm with you that it is the policy of the United States that Iran must resolve those questions, not just address them.

MR KIRBY: … [A]s part of any deal and before there can be a deal, it needs to be determined … that the IAEA will have the access that they need to resolve their concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, past and present.

QUESTION: … so they will get the access before the deal is signed?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said that —

QUESTION: Aha.

MR KIRBY: I said that in order for there to be a deal, they have to have provided the parameters for the access that IAEA needs (emphasis added).

QUESTION: Right. You – but you realize the problem with that? Iran has made promises, many promises in the past, and not followed through or fulfilled them. So you’re saying that they don’t have to give the access before a deal is done; they just have to say they will give access (emphasis added).

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

So while there is a UN resolution obligating Iran to provide immediately whatever the IAEA requests, the administration will settle for post-deal “parameters” for “access,” rather than pre-deal compliance — much less a completed IAEA report on Iran’s undisclosed nuclear activities. On Friday, reporters sought to clarify what “parameters” for “access” meant, and got this:

QUESTION: Just to clarify the remarks you just made in response to Matt’s question, is it the case that when we have a final deal with Iran, if we reach one, it will contain the parameters for access, as you just stated? Or it will be – it will contain, that deal, the specific terms of access?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to talk about the issues that are still under negotiation … [T]he IAEA will need to have the access it needs to resolve the issues of possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. And without the parameters for that sort of access, there’s not going to be a deal….

QUESTION: But when you say “parameters of access,” what you’re essentially telling us is that as part of a final deal, those parameters could themselves be subject to further negotiation. And it’s always been understood here that the final deal will have the actual terms of a deal, not further parameters to be worked out, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details that are being negotiated now….

The question of whether the specifics of “access” will be set forth in the Iran nuclear deal, or will only be general principles subject to further negotiation, is not exactly a “detail.” So the reporters tried a third time:

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? I’m a little confused … because, one, Iran is a member of the IAEA, so it should already be subject to the IAEA’s overview; two, those are already enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. So why did you need 18 months or however many months of negotiations to merely say what they are already required to do and haven’t been doing all along?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – all I can tell you is what was agreed to in Lausanne … about the IAEA getting the access – being able to get the access it needs. And again, I’m just not going to go beyond that right now. There are still issues that are being negotiated in Europe …

QUESTION: Well, given that the PMD issue was supposed to be resolved in a deal, and now that it’s – that resolution process would continue past a deal if a deal is reached – does lack of access or lack of resolution require the breaking of the deal? Or would that be a deal-breaker even after a deal is already signed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, Brad. I’m just not.

The latest IAEA report states that at Iran’s Parchin military site, the IAEA “has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment and probable construction materials,” and that “the activities that have taken place at this location since February 2012 are likely to have undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.” In the years since UN Resolution 1929 was adopted, Iran has used the time well.

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If Iran Still Backs Terror, Why is the U.S. About to Lift Sanctions?

Yesterday, the State Department issued its annual report on international terrorism and the results are both alarming and unsurprising. Of particular interest is the section on state sponsors of terrorism. On the list as the worst offenders are Sudan, Syria and Iran. The details about Iranian state sponsored terrorism are particularly sobering. It backs terrorists who are aiding the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria as well as providing funding and arms for Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups. Just as damning is the fact that State says Iran continues to refuse to bring senior al Qaeda figures to justice or to identify those in their custody. The report also restates the widely reported fact that Iran “continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.” But unless the Obama administration grows a spine and changes its policies within weeks the United States will sign a nuclear deal with Tehran that will soon result in a vast windfall of cash falling into Iran’s hands. Yet nowhere in the nuclear framework agreement is there any promise, however lacking in credibility, that Iran will foreswear the same activities that the State Department just reported and which, by U.S. law, ought to mandate continued sanctions rather than an end to restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime.

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Yesterday, the State Department issued its annual report on international terrorism and the results are both alarming and unsurprising. Of particular interest is the section on state sponsors of terrorism. On the list as the worst offenders are Sudan, Syria and Iran. The details about Iranian state sponsored terrorism are particularly sobering. It backs terrorists who are aiding the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria as well as providing funding and arms for Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups. Just as damning is the fact that State says Iran continues to refuse to bring senior al Qaeda figures to justice or to identify those in their custody. The report also restates the widely reported fact that Iran “continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.” But unless the Obama administration grows a spine and changes its policies within weeks the United States will sign a nuclear deal with Tehran that will soon result in a vast windfall of cash falling into Iran’s hands. Yet nowhere in the nuclear framework agreement is there any promise, however lacking in credibility, that Iran will foreswear the same activities that the State Department just reported and which, by U.S. law, ought to mandate continued sanctions rather than an end to restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime.

The State Department report is quite clear on what the law demands from the government as to its policy toward state sponsors of terror:

A wide range of sanctions are imposed as a result of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including:

  • A ban on arms-related exports and sales;
  • Controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism;
  • Prohibitions on economic assistance; and

Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

It should be recalled that during the Congressional debate over the Corker-Cardin bill that the administration was adamant that any approval of the impending Iran deal should not be conditioned as Tehran ceasing its terrorist activities. We now see why. As the State Department reports makes clear, Iran has done nothing to step back from its role as world’s leading state sponsor of terror.

Iran’s role in Syria plays a key part of the report. Iran’s role in sending Hezbollah cadres into Syria has been widely reported and Tehran has even admitted that it has sent members of its own Revolutionary Guard Corps into Syria to act as advisors to those carrying out mass slaughter of civilians and dissidents. But just as interesting is the State Department’s assertion that Iran has equipped, trained and funded Iraqi and Afghan fighters who have been sent into that country to help suppress opposition to the Assad regime.

Iran is also a primary obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians because of its funding and arms supplies funneled to terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Iran had previously been a primary supporter of Hamas but broke with the rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza over differences on Syria. But now that Iran and Assad appear to be in no danger and short of money and arms after last summer’s war, Hamas appears to have come back into Tehran’s good graces. But even during their split, Iran was still doing its best to keep other radicals so as to ensure that Palestinian leaders are too afraid to make peace with Israel even if they wanted to do so.

But in spite of this activity reported by its own State Department, there is little doubt that the administration is bound and determined to go ahead and sign a nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement will almost certainly ensure that the Islamist regime will have all the cash it needs to keep funding terror and perhaps even up the ante with regard to groups threatening Israel or moderate Arab governments. Given Iran’s need for economic sanctions to be lifted, the U.S. ought to have plenty of leverage over the ayatollahs. But as with the nuclear negotiations, Western negotiators have simply acquiesced to Iran being allowed to carry on with its state sponsorship of terror in order to get them to sign a deal. Just as the U.S. has caved in on finding out about Iran’s military research, its right to enrich uranium, its possession of thousands of centrifuges and even putting a time limit on the deal, the administration has also ignored the issue of terrorism.

This raises interesting legal questions since Congress will be within its rights to demand to know how the U.S. can lift sanctions on Iran and thereby giving its economy an enormous shot in the arm while simultaneously branding it as a state sponsor of terrorism. The answer is that this administration has punted on its responsibility to act against Iranian-backed terror just as it has bailed on its duty to stop Tehran from getting Western approval for becoming a threshold nuclear power.

The administration has made concession after concession on nuclear issues but on terror, it hasn’t even tried to get Iran to “get right with the world” as President Obama hopes it will.

By itself, this report ought to stand as a damning indictment of the administration’s conduct during the nuclear talks. It also should be held as sufficient, even without the copious evidence that the nuclear deal is too weak to stop Iran from either cheating its way to a bomb or waiting patiently for the pact to expire before getting a weapon, as a reason for the proposed nuclear deal to be rejected by Congress.

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Kerry’s False Choice on Iran

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from his sickbed to confirm last week’s report about the United States abandoning its previous insistence that Iran come clean about its past work on military applications of nuclear technology. As I noted last week, this is just the latest in a long list of U.S. concessions that have resulted in a proposed nuclear deal that appears to offer Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating and another by patiently waiting for the current framework to expire. It is, as Rick Richman wrote earlier today, nothing less than a shameful collapse. By itself this ought to serve as a good reason why Congress should reject this Iran nuclear deal when it inevitably comes before them for consideration sometime this summer. But in addressing Kerry’s excuse for his surrender, we find the same sort of false reasoning that landed the U.S. in this embarrassing position in the first place.

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Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from his sickbed to confirm last week’s report about the United States abandoning its previous insistence that Iran come clean about its past work on military applications of nuclear technology. As I noted last week, this is just the latest in a long list of U.S. concessions that have resulted in a proposed nuclear deal that appears to offer Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating and another by patiently waiting for the current framework to expire. It is, as Rick Richman wrote earlier today, nothing less than a shameful collapse. By itself this ought to serve as a good reason why Congress should reject this Iran nuclear deal when it inevitably comes before them for consideration sometime this summer. But in addressing Kerry’s excuse for his surrender, we find the same sort of false reasoning that landed the U.S. in this embarrassing position in the first place.

In explaining his decision to drop a demand that Iran reveal the truth about its military research, Kerry said that the administration wasn’t “fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” That’s quite a change in tone from his testimony to Congress on the issue in February when he assured the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that there would be no agreement with Iran unless this was resolved. In excusing this retreat, Kerry said the U.S. knew exactly what Iran has already done, a claim that is transparently false since it is well known that U.S. intelligence in and on Iran is at best sketchy.

Even worse, it represents an assumption that Iran has ceased such work even though everything we do know about the regime tells us that they will never give up their nuclear ambition and will do just about anything to conceal such efforts. As with so much of the Obama administration’s policy, the entire underpinning of diplomatic engagement with Iran is based on wishful thinking and blind faith in the goodwill of a determined Islamist adversary that the president thinks wants to “get right with the world.”

Yet as disturbing as Kerry’s assumptions about Iran’s willingness to give up its nuclear dreams is the way he has again talked himself out of a strong position. As with every other impasse during the course of the last two years of negotiations, when presented with an Iranian refusal, Obama and Kerry simply gave up. That was true when Iran refused to give up enriching uranium or to dismantle its centrifuges or even to accept a permanent agreement rather than one that would expire in ten years. And it is now again true when it comes to knowledge about their military research.

It bears repeating that contrary to Kerry’s dismissal of the problem, without an exact knowledge of just how far Tehran’s program has gotten on military dimensions of their nuclear effort, all of the administration’s assumptions about the length of time it will take for them to “break out” to a bomb are mere guesses. Rather than a detail that as no relevance to the future, this information is vital to the admittedly slim chances that the proposed pact will succeed in halting their march to a weapon.

Just as infuriating as this disingenuous point is Kerry’s attempt to claim that the military research information isn’t as important as inspections and access to Iran’s facilities now. He’s right that the latter is essential but it is not an either or question. If the U.S. is serious about stopping Iran, it needs both. Such a false choice is a rhetorical trap, not a serious argument for contradicting the promises that Kerry made to both Congress and the media on this issue.

Unfortunately, the Iranians are balking at providing the access that Kerry rightly insists must be obtained. And we all know what happens when Tehran says “no” to this administration. As with the question of how and when sanctions will be lifted, we must expect more Obama surrenders on important issues in the coming weeks as Kerry fights to save a deal that any self-respecting diplomat would walk away from. Iran has no reason to believe a word Kerry says about what the U.S. must obtain in the nuclear deal. Nor should Congress when it is finally allowed to have its say on this fiasco.

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Kerry Dismisses the U.S. Collapse on Iran

Power Line has posted a lengthy email from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the U.S. collapse on the demand that Iran answer the outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about past work on nuclear weapons. The email is worth reading in its entirety. To fully appreciate the collapse, we need to go back to February 19, 2015, when the New York Times published an article entitled “Inspectors Say Iran Is Evading Questions as Nuclear Talks Enter a Crucial Stage,” and then review Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress six days later. The article described an IAEA report that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions that had been pending for more than three years, and quoted a European official saying: “the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Six days later, Secretary of State Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and assured it in unambiguous terms that the questions would have to be answered if Iran wanted to have an agreement:

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Power Line has posted a lengthy email from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the U.S. collapse on the demand that Iran answer the outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about past work on nuclear weapons. The email is worth reading in its entirety. To fully appreciate the collapse, we need to go back to February 19, 2015, when the New York Times published an article entitled “Inspectors Say Iran Is Evading Questions as Nuclear Talks Enter a Crucial Stage,” and then review Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress six days later. The article described an IAEA report that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions that had been pending for more than three years, and quoted a European official saying: “the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Six days later, Secretary of State Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and assured it in unambiguous terms that the questions would have to be answered if Iran wanted to have an agreement:

[Committee Chairman] ROYCE: … as you’ve acknowledged, this is a critical part of these negotiations. And it’s a fundamental test of Iran’s commitment. … And I’ve talked to the secretary-general of the IAEA about this. … IAEA inspectors have amassed over 1,000 pages which showed research, development and testing activities on technologies needed to develop a nuclear weapon. And of the 12 sets of questions that the IAEA has been seeking since 2011, Iran answered part of one of those. And so I’d like to ask you for a response on the concerns on the part of the IAEA and us on the committee.

KERRY: Well, they’re legitimate. And the questions have to be answered. And they will be unless – if they want to have an agreement.

ROYCE: Well, we had 350 members write you expressing deep concern about this lack of cooperation and, of course, from our standpoint in – unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s program, we’re not going to be able to judge a year’s breakout time with certainty. That’s the conundrum we face here. And they’re withholding that information …

KERRY:as I said, [the IAEA questions] are going to have to be answered. [Emphasis added].

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry told the State Department press corps “we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” Ceren’s email calls the Kerry comments “a collapse [of] the administration’s core promise to lawmakers on any deal,” and cites multiple representations by U.S. lead negotiator Wendy Sherman and comments by Kerry in April to PBS after the Lausanne “parameters” were announced by the State Department, a point noted last week by Jonathan Tobin.

It is a shameful collapse, the latest in a continuing series, and another “red line” down the drain.

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Obama’s Cascade of Iran Concessions Continues

This morning the Wall Street Journal editorializes on the latest concessions in President Obama’s pursuit of his Lausanne legacy: (1) defunding the Lebanese civil-society initiative that was an alternative to Iran-sponsored Hezbollah; (2) removing the CFO of the A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network from the sanctions list; (3) eliminating sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program; and (4) ending sanctions on 23 of 24 Iranian banks. These come on top of: (i) early elimination of all nuclear sanctions, (ii) waiving answers to outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency questions before signing a deal, (iii) a huge “signing bonus,” (iv) the lack of “anywhere, any time” inspections, (v) subjection of “snap back” sanctions to an unrealistic administrative process, (vi) failure to dismantle any centrifuges (which will simply be stored) or facilities (which will continue to operate), and (vii) the sunset provision that guarantees Iran nuclear capability at the end of the agreement. And these are not likely to be the last concessions.

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This morning the Wall Street Journal editorializes on the latest concessions in President Obama’s pursuit of his Lausanne legacy: (1) defunding the Lebanese civil-society initiative that was an alternative to Iran-sponsored Hezbollah; (2) removing the CFO of the A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network from the sanctions list; (3) eliminating sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program; and (4) ending sanctions on 23 of 24 Iranian banks. These come on top of: (i) early elimination of all nuclear sanctions, (ii) waiving answers to outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency questions before signing a deal, (iii) a huge “signing bonus,” (iv) the lack of “anywhere, any time” inspections, (v) subjection of “snap back” sanctions to an unrealistic administrative process, (vi) failure to dismantle any centrifuges (which will simply be stored) or facilities (which will continue to operate), and (vii) the sunset provision that guarantees Iran nuclear capability at the end of the agreement. And these are not likely to be the last concessions.

Iran will likely want to run the negotiations past the June 30 “deadline,” if only to demonstrate again that an Obama “deadline” is the only date by which a new deadline must be set. If the president wishes to avoid the embarrassment of another ignored “deadline,” he will likely face a last-minute demand for a compensating concession. Moreover, in any negotiation in which one party knows the other is too invested in the deal to abandon it, the first party will frequently make a last-minute demand, secure in the knowledge that it is too late for the other party to reject it. The president has disclosed publicly that he believes there is no viable alternative to a deal, and the cost of that disclosure is likely to be another last-minute demand.

It is perhaps worth remembering in this connection that on September 22, 1938, Neville Chamberlain flew to Germany to meet with Hitler and conclude the Munich agreement, having already joined France in pressuring Czechoslovakia to hand over the Sudeten lands to Hitler. To his profound shock, Chamberlain found that Hitler had more last-minute demands, which were “proposals of a kind which I had not contemplated at all.” But a week later, Chamberlain essentially accepted them, and returned to cheering crowds happy for “peace in our time.” The rest is history, which may be repeating itself.

We do not know what the culminating Obama concession will be, only that it is not likely that we have seen it yet.

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Obama’s Iran Deal Surrender Confirmed

Among the many promises made by the Obama administration after the framework nuclear deal was announced in April was a commitment to insisting that Iran come clean on all its past work on military dimensions of its nuclear project. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly promised that Iran had to provide all this information to the West before the final version of the agreement could be put on paper and signed prior to the June 30th deadline. Though it was feared that President Obama’s commitment to getting a nuclear deal at any price would lead to such an important aspect of an agreement being jettisoned, we were reassured that the administration would stick to its demands. But now it appears that those promises were worthless. As the Associated Press reports, U.S. and Western diplomats are now saying they “are prepared to accept a nuclear agreement with Iran that doesn’t immediately answer questions about past atomic weapons work.” That leaves us wondering what other concessions are also imminent and whether Congress will consider, as it should, this abject surrender to be a sufficient reason to reject the pact when it comes before them for approval.

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Among the many promises made by the Obama administration after the framework nuclear deal was announced in April was a commitment to insisting that Iran come clean on all its past work on military dimensions of its nuclear project. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly promised that Iran had to provide all this information to the West before the final version of the agreement could be put on paper and signed prior to the June 30th deadline. Though it was feared that President Obama’s commitment to getting a nuclear deal at any price would lead to such an important aspect of an agreement being jettisoned, we were reassured that the administration would stick to its demands. But now it appears that those promises were worthless. As the Associated Press reports, U.S. and Western diplomats are now saying they “are prepared to accept a nuclear agreement with Iran that doesn’t immediately answer questions about past atomic weapons work.” That leaves us wondering what other concessions are also imminent and whether Congress will consider, as it should, this abject surrender to be a sufficient reason to reject the pact when it comes before them for approval.

Lest there be any doubt about the administration’s promise to get Iran to open up about its military work, here’s what Secretary of State John Kerry said about the issue in an interview on PBS’s News Hour with Judy Woodruff on April 8:

Woodruff: Still, another issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?

Kerry: No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done.

Woodruff: Because it’s not there now.

Kerry: It will be done.

Woodruff: So that information will be released before June 30th, will be available.

Kerry: It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.

Apparently not.

What makes this surrender so appalling is that it is just the latest of a long string of Western concessions to Iran. At every point during the last two years of negotiations, the United States has backed down on key demands on allowing Iran the right to enrich uranium, the scale of the nuclear infrastructure it is allowed and virtually every other vital aspect of the issue. Whereas in the fall of 2012, President Obama was promising Americans during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal would involved the end of Iran’s nuclear program, by this year that position had evolved to one that granted it the right to go on enriching uranium and keeping thousands of centrifuges spinning in an agreement that would expire after a set number of years rather than constituting a permanent stricture on Tehran’s ability to produce a bomb.

The reason for these concessions was explained away by claiming that the original demands were unrealistic and that a deal that didn’t include them was better than no deal at all. That appears to be the same dynamic that is driving the West to back down on Iran revealing its past military work.

Why is this important? The answer is that, without such information, the West can have no real idea about how close the Iranians are to building a weapon. The entire conceit of the current deal is a belief that the structure it imposes on Iran lengthens the period during which they could “break out” to a nuclear weapon supposedly leaving the U.S. sufficient time to detect the violations and then take action to stop it. But if the exact level of Iran’s military development is unknown then talk about a coherent response to a breakout is meaningless. Far from a meaningless detail, Kerry was right in April to say that a deal wouldn’t be possible without this information. But faced with an intransigent Iran that is confident that President Obama will blink any time the deal is threatened, the West has once again backed down.

The commitment to getting complete information about Iran’s military research and development wasn’t the only such pledge since at the time of the announcement other important details of the pact, such as provisions for lifting and possibly snapping back sanctions, the disposition of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel and rigorous inspections of its facilities were also unresolved. To make matters worse, Iran soon made it clear it had no intention of agreeing to any of the West’s requests in order to get a deal signed. Though the administration has continued saying that it will insist on these points, the concession on military research shows that such promises can’t be trusted.

Over the course of the past two years, President Obama has consistently demonstrated that his priority is détente with Iran, not stopping its nuclear program as he had promised. Where once he and Kerry insisted that no deal is better than a bad deal, it’s now abundantly clear that getting a terrible deal at any price is their only objective. Congress should be paying attention to this dispiriting display and send an equally clear message to the White House that it will block adoption of any agreement with Iran that doesn’t fulfill the administration’s own pledges.

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Obama Bending Over Backwards to Preserve Iran Nuclear Deal

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details. Read More

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details.

This requires some extremely creative reinterpretation of the April 2 fact sheet by State Department spinners who are now claiming that, on second thought, pretty much ALL sanctions are nuclear-related: “For example, they say measures designed to stop Iran from acquiring ballistic missiles are nuclear-related because they were imposed to push Iran into the negotiations. Also, they say sanctions that may appear non-nuclear are often undergirded by previous actions conceived as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” Clearly the current leaders of the State Department are graduates of the Bill Clinton School of Linguistics: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

That the Obama administration is willing, nay eager, to concede points that were considered non-negotiable a mere two months ago should hardly be surprising. The entire history of the administration’s talks with Iran is the story of one American concession after another. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Top Obama administration officials entered negotiations with Iran in September 2013 hoping to dismantle most of the country’s nuclear infrastructure,” but the Iranians wouldn’t agree to that. So “the goal of the talks shifted—away from dismantling structures and toward a more complex set of limitations designed to extend the time Iran would need to ‘break-out’ and make a dash toward a nuclear weapon.”

Even now, after all of the concessions the administration has made, some points of difference remain, at least in public; for example, on how quickly sanctions will be phased out and how much freedom Iran will need to grant to international inspectors. The Iranians are demanding an immediate lifting of sanctions while the Obama administration claims that it will be conditional based on compliance. The Iranians are also insisting on the right to deny inspectors access to their military sites while the Obama administration claims that the agreement will be enforced by the most intrusive inspections ever. Is there any doubt about how these disputes will be resolved? There is little doubt that, after the reported latest cave-in on non-nuclear sanctions, the administration will cave on those points, too, while obfuscating to deny that it has done so.

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What’s Worse? Falsehoods About the Iran Deal or Heckling Jacob Lew?

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew clearly drew the short straw among administration officials when he was given the unpleasant task of giving a speech extolling the nuclear deal with Iran to a New York conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Lew delivered a full-throated defense of the agreement as well as of President Obama’s commitment to Israel. But what was clearly a right-leaning audience was having none of it. Throughout his address, some in the audience heckled Lew to the point where Post editor Steve Linde had to intervene to chide them for being “disrespectful.” This has prompted some justified criticism of those guilty of rudeness to a man who is not only an official who deserves to be heard without interruption, but also generated brickbats from the left hurled at the Post because it prints a lot of critical pieces about the administration. Those who did the booing deserve to be called out for rudeness. But before the Jewish world begins another round of breast-beating about the decline of civility and threats to democracy, let’s remember two facts about the incident: a) Lew wasn’t prevented from speaking or booed off the stage; and b) His speech wasn’t completely truthful.

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Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew clearly drew the short straw among administration officials when he was given the unpleasant task of giving a speech extolling the nuclear deal with Iran to a New York conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Lew delivered a full-throated defense of the agreement as well as of President Obama’s commitment to Israel. But what was clearly a right-leaning audience was having none of it. Throughout his address, some in the audience heckled Lew to the point where Post editor Steve Linde had to intervene to chide them for being “disrespectful.” This has prompted some justified criticism of those guilty of rudeness to a man who is not only an official who deserves to be heard without interruption, but also generated brickbats from the left hurled at the Post because it prints a lot of critical pieces about the administration. Those who did the booing deserve to be called out for rudeness. But before the Jewish world begins another round of breast-beating about the decline of civility and threats to democracy, let’s remember two facts about the incident: a) Lew wasn’t prevented from speaking or booed off the stage; and b) His speech wasn’t completely truthful.

Lew deserves some sympathy for not only having to give a speech to a hostile audience but for being on the receiving end of some offensive comments. Lew, an Orthodox Jew with a long and honorable record on issues such as Soviet Jewry and Israel that ought to at least have guaranteed him the right to be heard in silence rather than insults, didn’t deserve to be called a “court Jew.” Indeed, the Post more or less fell over itself to make amends for the embarrassment by praising him in an editorial.

There is no excuse for being unable to sit in silence when you hear something you disagree with. Ours is a time when serious people rightly complain about the way controversial, politically incorrect, or non-leftist speakers have been banned from some college campuses or had their speeches obstructed by intolerant demonstrators. It is incumbent on pro-Israel audiences to listen respectfully to administration representatives or anyone else they disagree with.

But let’s not turn Lew into a martyr. Nobody stopped him from speaking. All he had to endure was a few catcalls. Was it rude and uncivil? Yes. Are comments from the peanut gallery a threat to democracy? No. They are an expression of democracy. No one is obligated to give Lew or anyone else in public life a standing ovation if they disagree with their remarks. Cold silence would have been a more effective response, but if a little heckling is the worst thing that ever happens to Lew in his public life, he should count himself fortunate.

But even as we chide the hecklers, let’s not forget something else about that speech. The audience had a right to be upset with Lew.

It’s clear that the comments that angered the audience the most was his defense of President Obama as a friend of the Jewish state. There is a case to be made for the administration for its financial support for the alliance with Israel. The security relationship has grown on the president’s watch. But there is an equally good case to be made that no president has done more to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position, its hold on Jerusalem, or has demonstrated more of an appetite for fights with Israel’s government than Obama. In the last several months, Obama’s absolute commitment to détente with Iran, as well as his unwillingness to be honest about Palestinian rejectionism, has brought the alliance to a crisis.

But while it is possible to debate the administration’s position on Israel what is indisputable is the mendacious way in which it has sought to defend the Iran deal. Just last week, President Obama claimed again on Israel TV that Tehran had frozen its nuclear program the very same day that the New York Times reported that its stockpile of nuclear fuel had grown by 20 percent since the interim agreement was signed in November 2013. While both Obama and Lew claim that sanctions are still in place and have not weakened, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency says that violations are not being reported by Western nations. The UN watchdog says those countries that support the negotiations with Iran are clearly reluctant to speak out about the impending collapse of sanctions since doing so would impact the talks. It left little doubt that those with an investment in the notion that Iran is keeping its word are turning a blind eye to scofflaws rather than undermine the rationale for continued negotiations.

This is not a minor point and one that is particularly relevant to Lew since it is the Treasury Department that enforces the sanctions.

Lew’s disingenuous defense of the deal ignores the fact that it provides Iran with two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on the agreement, and one by patiently waiting for it to expire. But even if we set that point aside, he and the president have been consciously and deliberately not telling the truth about key elements of the deal and Iran’s behavior.

Incivility is always deplorable. But in the grand scheme things, falsehoods uttered to push through a dangerous deal that will empower Iran and destabilize the Middle East seem to me to be more blameworthy than a few rude comments. If the audience at the conference should be ashamed, so should Jacob Lew and his boss.

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Israel-Saudi Cooperation Debunks Obama’s Foreign Policy Vision

President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

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President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

That Israel and Saudi Arabia are now united in seeking to derail Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is not a secret. But for the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry to share a stage at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington with a former top advisor to the government of Saudi Arabia confirms this amazing turnabout. As Eli Lake reports in Bloomberg, Dore Gold, a key advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired Saudi general Anwar Majed Eshki both largely agreed with each other on Iran. Both see Tehran as bent on achieving hegemony in the Middle East and must be stopped.

Despite the bellicose reputation of the Netanyahu government, it was actually the Saudi who sounded more extreme in his prescription for a solution to the problem. Eshki recommended a seven-point plan that starts with regime change in Iran as well as creating an independent Kurdistan form territory carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Gold endorsed neither proposal.

It must be noted that the two were not in complete accord on everything. The Saudi general said that Israel would have to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative before cooperation between the two nations could be formalized. But if you want to know why Netanyahu spoke in praise of that proposal last week in which he said he liked the general idea behind it, you now understand why he’s changed his mind about something he once rightly dismissed as a stunt with no real substance. The Saudis have yet to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone endorsed its legitimacy. Moreover, as Lake points out, 12 years ago, Gold wrote a book detailing Saudi involvement in financing Palestinian terror and hatred.

But thanks to Obama, the behind-the-scenes relationship between Israel and the Saudi has now come out into the open.

The two nations have little in common. Israel is a vibrant democracy while the Saudi kingdom is a theocratic oligarchy with little freedom. But both understand that Obama’s Iran-centric foreign policy threatens their security. With the Iranians financing and providing military assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria, its axis of influence is growing. Once it signs a deal with the United States and the rest of the West, it will become a threshold nuclear power and have two different pathways to a bomb, one by cheating and one by patiently waiting for Obama’s deal to expire. All that places Israel and the Gulf states in jeopardy, requiring them to begin working together on finding a way to put the region back into balance now that the president has destabilized it.

That America’s two key allies feel they have no choice but to begin tentatively working together to thwart U.S. policy isn’t merely ironic. It’s tangible evidence to the bad faith of an administration that has always been obsessed with appeasing enemies and discarding friends. But there is more to be unpacked from that CFR event than that obvious fact about the danger from Iran.

Obama came into office convinced that U.S. influence in the Middle East, as well as regional stability, revolved around one problem: the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving their conflict with Israel was the president’s top foreign policy from his first day in office. His belief that the U.S. was too close to Israel and that by establishing more daylight between the two allies, he could help broker an end to the long war between Jews and Arabs. To accomplish that goal, he picked fights with Israel, undermined its diplomatic position, and did his best to pressure the Israelis into making concessions that would please the Palestinians. The failure of this policy was foreordained since the Palestinians are still unable to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the events of the past six years have also shown that his focus on the Palestinians as the source of the problem was a disastrous mistake. The Arab spring, civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the Iranian nuclear threat proved that the Palestinians had little or nothing to do with the most serious problems in the region. Indeed, by forcing Israel and the Saudis to cooperate against Iran with little attention being paid to the dead end peace process with the Palestinians, Obama has effectively debunked the core idea at the heart of his foreign policy.

Israel-Saudi cooperation is certainly an example of how a president of the United States can create change. But it’s also proof of the bankruptcy of Obama’s dangerous vision for American foreign policy. His legacy won’t be so much an entente with Iran as it is the necessity of American allies having to band together to try to avoid the consequences of his disastrous misjudgments.

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Obama Still Doesn’t Understand the Palestinians or Iran

On Tuesday night, President Obama’s complete interview with Israel’s Channel 2 aired. The full text not only makes his comments about the Iran nuclear deal that I discussed Monday sound even more misleading, but also reveals again how tone-deaf he is to the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians.

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On Tuesday night, President Obama’s complete interview with Israel’s Channel 2 aired. The full text not only makes his comments about the Iran nuclear deal that I discussed Monday sound even more misleading, but also reveals again how tone-deaf he is to the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians.

It should again be noted that this interview, like his address to a Washington synagogue last month, is part of a Jewish charm offensive whose main purpose is to undermine opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. His goal is to convince Israel and its supporters to pipe down about the administration’s dangerous appeasement of Tehran and thereby, at the very least, secure enough votes in Congress to sustain a presidential veto of a vote to disapprove the agreement.

In order to persuade Israel and its friends to calm down about a dangerously weak deal that gives Iran two pathways to a bomb — one by easily cheating on it, and another by patiently waiting for it to expire — the president has been pouring on the love for Israel and paying lip service to its security. That is not without value as it establishes a baseline of support that makes it a little bit harder for the president to shift course and apply pressure on the Jewish state once he gets his deal approved. But it’s difficult if not impossible to believe in the reassurances he’s handing out when his defense of the deal is so misleading. It’s also hard to take his professions of affection for Israel seriously when he mischaracterizes the nature of the conflict with the Palestinians and why peace has yet to be achieved.

The first point that needs to be highlighted is that in the Channel 2 interview, the president again repeated his mantra about Iran’s nuclear program being “frozen” as a result of the interim deal the U.S. negotiated with Tehran in November 2013. Here’s what he said:

I said that in exchange for some modest relief in sanctions, Iran is going to have to freeze its nuclear program, roll back on its stockpiles of very highly enriched uranium—the very stockpiles that Prime Minister Netanyahu had gone before the United Nations with his picture of the bomb and said that was proof of how dangerous this was—all that stockpile is gone.

That would be great if it were true. But as the readers of the New York Times learned this morning, it isn’t. As I wrote yesterday, the administration is flummoxed by the revelations in an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued last Friday that shows that the stockpile of Iran’s nuclear fuel is not only not frozen, it has increased in the last 18 months by more than 20 percent. Though State Department spokesperson Marie Harf went ballistic on the Times for printing a story that she said was “inaccurate,” her only argument for that bizarre assertion is that she thinks Iran will make its nuclear stockpile disappear once the deal is completed and signed. As Iran has made clear, that’s not going to happen. But the main point to be gleaned from all this is that the president went on Israeli TV and failed to speak the truth about Iran’s stockpile. Nothing, not even the facts reported in a newspaper that often serves as an administration cheerleader is enough to stop the president from spouting inaccurate claims about his entente with the Islamist regime.

As for the conflict with the Palestinians, the president deserves a little credit for honesty when he conceded that a peace deal wouldn’t be reached during his presidency. But he also doubled down on the assertion that the primary obstacle to peace was the Israeli government’s skepticism about a two-state solution.

Obama’s focus on Israel’s lack of enthusiasm for more territorial withdrawals must be considered to border on an obsession. The Palestinians have shown no interest in negotiating with Israel on any terms and still won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. As Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah reiterated in an interview this past weekend in the Washington Post, the PA is solely interested in making an end-run around U.S.-led negotiations and getting the international community to recognize Palestinian independence without requiring them to make peace with Israel first.

After repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers that included statehood and control of almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem, and more terrorism, support for the peace process among the Israeli people evaporated. Though most would back a two-state solution if it led to real peace, they understand that the PA leadership in the West Bank can’t make peace even if it wanted to and the Hamas rulers of Gaza only want war to the death.

Under the circumstances, quibbling about what Prime Minister Netanyahu says about two states is irrelevant to the problems of a region rightly more about the threat from an Iran that is being boosted by Obama than Israel’s failure to make another futile peace offer. Yet, Obama continues to have hardly a word of criticism for a Palestinian political culture promoted by the PA that glorifies death and terrorism while claiming to be disappointed in an Israel that isn’t living up to his expectations. In the interview, he continued to implicitly compare the Palestinian struggle to wipe Israel off the map to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Contrary to Obama’s specious charge, Israel hasn’t succumbed to “the politics of fear” but has instead embraced the politics of realism. Thus, the point isn’t so much that Obama’s view of the conflict continues to tilt in the direction of the Palestinians as he is completely disconnected from the reality on the ground that Israelis must confront.

Such a stance isn’t merely unhelpful, but also continues to give the Palestinians the impression that the world will tolerate their rejectionism. If Israelis must again spend part of their summer in bomb shelters as Hamas launches yet another terror offensive, we should think back on the signal that Obama sent the Palestinians about Israel’s isolation and understand that he set the stage for more violence rather than peace.

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If Iran’s Program is Frozen, Why Is Their Nuclear Stockpile Growing?

The Obama administration is puzzled. They’re convinced that Iran is committed to a process of negotiations over its nuclear program that will forestall its efforts to build a bomb and begin a new period of détente between the Islamist regime and the West. Moreover, they’ve been preaching endlessly that the interim agreement signed in November 2013 “froze” the Iranian program in place. How then to explain the fact that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the size of their stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by more than 20 percent over the last 18 months while they were talking with the West and supposedly freezing their nuclear work in place? Washington isn’t offering any explanations, though some experts quoted in the New York Times hypothesize that the build up is the result of “technical problems” that have created a backlog of material that ought to be turned into fuel rods for reactors. Maybe it’s just that. However, another possible explanation may be more in line with everything we already know about the way Iran operates: Perhaps they’ve been just increasing their stockpile at a furious pace in order to get closer to their ultimate goal of producing a weapon.

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The Obama administration is puzzled. They’re convinced that Iran is committed to a process of negotiations over its nuclear program that will forestall its efforts to build a bomb and begin a new period of détente between the Islamist regime and the West. Moreover, they’ve been preaching endlessly that the interim agreement signed in November 2013 “froze” the Iranian program in place. How then to explain the fact that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the size of their stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by more than 20 percent over the last 18 months while they were talking with the West and supposedly freezing their nuclear work in place? Washington isn’t offering any explanations, though some experts quoted in the New York Times hypothesize that the build up is the result of “technical problems” that have created a backlog of material that ought to be turned into fuel rods for reactors. Maybe it’s just that. However, another possible explanation may be more in line with everything we already know about the way Iran operates: Perhaps they’ve been just increasing their stockpile at a furious pace in order to get closer to their ultimate goal of producing a weapon.

Not all of the news from the latest IAEA report is bad for the administration. Its inspectors who had access to Iran’s known nuclear facilities (but obviously not to the ones that intelligence experts have always suspected the West may not be aware of) say the regime isn’t racing toward a bomb. Why should it? The framework deal that President Obama has embraced offers them two paths to one while still getting the West to drop the economic sanctions that have hurt its economy. It can sign an agreement and then cheat on it, especially if Obama folds on his insistence that it include intrusive inspections or the ability to quickly snap back sanctions. Or it can simply wait patiently for the deal to expire under its appalling sunset provisions and then do as they like.

But the fact that Iran’s stockpile has been increasing at a time when President Obama has been proclaiming that their program was “frozen” is more than an inconvenient detail that can be swept under the rug. Under the terms of the framework, Iran is, at least according to the United States, obligated to shrink its nuclear stockpile by approximately 96 percent from the amount reported by the IAEA in a matter of months after the agreement is signed. Iran doesn’t have the capacity to convert its fuel into rods that can’t be used for bombs that quickly and has made it clear that it has no intention of allowing the precious stockpile to be taken out of the country. This creates an apparently insoluble problem for an administration that is all-in on a negotiating process that isn’t working the way they thought it would. One “senior American official” admitted that the U.S. had no idea how this could be resolved: “We’re not certain. It’s their problem, not ours. But it’s a problem.”

Yes, it is a problem, but the senior official has it backward. The Iranians don’t see such an anomaly as a problem because they are always seeking to push the envelope with the West. It’s actually a much bigger problem for the administration since facts like these undermine the rationale for the deal and will make it harder even for Democrats to vote to ratify the deal when it comes up for a vote in Congress.

If the final negotiations on the Iran deal proceed as if we didn’t know that Iran has been expanding its nuclear stockpile, it calls into question the credibility of the entire process. With no assurances about Iran opening up its facilities on military applications of nuclear research, inspections and the re-imposition of sanctions, the obstacles to a final agreement before the June 30 deadline loom large. But, if administration negotiators treat every instance of Iranian bad faith as merely a detail to be swept under the rug, as they have throughout this process, the Iranians have no reason to live up to their word. Moreover, President Obama has shown that he will concede on every point if the Iranians stand their ground setting up a final stage of talks that point inevitably to Western “compromises” that will once again depart from the supposed goal of ensuring Tehran never gets a bomb. While Iran’s nuclear stockpile grows, the administration’s credibility on this issue shrinks with each passing week.

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