Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear deal

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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Obama Assures Iran It Has Nothing to Fear

At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

According to the Times of Israel, Obama said:

“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.”

Though he continued to use rhetoric that left force as an option, the implicit threat of American action if a nuclear weapon were a possibility has lacked credibility since the president began his second term. Once he embarked upon secret back-channel talks in which, one by one, he abandoned his previous pledges about forcing Iran to shut down its program in concessions and virtually every other U.S. position on the issue, force was never a real possibility. The signing of a weak interim deal in November, 2013, and then the framework agreed upon this spring signaled the end of any idea that the U.S. was prepared to act. That is especially so because the current deal leaves Tehran in possession of its nuclear infrastructure and with no guarantees about inspections or the re-imposition of sanctions in the event the agreement collapsed. The current deal, even with so many crucial details left unspecified makes Iran a U.S. partner and, in effect, the centerpiece of a new U.S. Middle East policy that essentially sidelines traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel that are directly threatened by Iran.

Moreover, it must be conceded that the use of force against Iran would be problematic even for the United States and its vast military resources. As for Israel, despite a lot of bold talk by some in the Jewish state, there has always been skepticism that its outstanding air force had the ability to sustain an air campaign for the length of time that would be required to make a difference. Nevertheless, the notion that force would not be effective in forestalling an Iranian bomb is mistaken. Serious damage could put off the threat for a long time and, if sanctions were kept in place or made stricter as they should have been to strengthen the West’s bargaining position, the possibility of an Iranian nuke could have been put off for the foreseeable future.

Yet, while talk about using force has been largely obsolete once the interim deal was signed in 2013, for the president to send such a clear signal that he will not under any circumstances walk away from the current talks, no matter what Iran does, is significant.

After all, some of the most important elements of the deal have yet to be nailed down. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly stated that he will never allow the sort of inspections that would make a deal verifiable. He has also demanded that sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the agreement is signed, and that there should be no provision for them to be snapped back. Nor are the Iranians conceding that their stockpile of nuclear fuel be taken out of their hands.

So if Obama is to get the “verifiable tough agreement” he told Channel 2 he seeks, the U.S. must somehow convince the Iranians to back down on all these points. That’s going to be difficult since the past two years of negotiations with Obama have taught them to wait for him to give up since he always does so sooner or later. The president’s statement makes it clear that, no matter how obdurate the Iranians remain, he will never walk away from the talks. And since this deal is the lynchpin of his foreign policy legacy, they know very well that all they have to do is to be patient.

Iran already knows that the deal in its current form allows them two clear paths to a bomb. One is by cheating on its easily evaded terms. The other is by waiting patiently for it to expire, the sunset provision being another astonishing concession by Obama.

If a tough deal were even a possibility, this would have been the moment for the president to sound tough. But throughout this process, the only toughness the president has shown has been toward Israel as he sought to disparage and dismiss its justifiable worries about his course of action. Merely saying now, as he does in the Channel 2 interview, that he understands Israel’s fears is mere lip service, especially since it comes along with a virtual guarantee to Iran that it needn’t worry about a U.S. strike under any circumstance.

With only weeks to go until the June 30 deadline for an Iran deal, there is no question that Obama’s statement makes an unsatisfactory final text even more certain than it was before. That’s good news for Tehran and very bad news for an Israeli people who have no reason to trust the president’s promises or believe in his good intentions.

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If Obama Wants a Nuclear Deal, He Must Free Iran’s U.S. Hostages

After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

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After having consistently outmaneuvered, out-negotiated and out-waited President Obama during the course of the last two years of negotiations over their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders think they are holding all the cards as the clock ticks down toward a June 30 deadline to complete a pact with the West. They may be right about that but not content with merely taking advantage of Obama’s zeal for a deal as they have throughout the process, the Iranians are also reminding the U.S. that they have other forms of leverage: American hostages. The plight of imprisoned Washington Post report Jason Rezaian has gotten increased coverage in recent weeks as Tehran prepared to bring him to trial on bogus espionage charges before a revolutionary court judge known for harsh sentences. The message to Obama was clear. Don’t try to hold our feet to the fire on key nuclear issues such as inspections or the snapping back of sanctions or we will make Americans in our hands pay the price of your principles. His message in reply should be equally clear: Release the hostages now or forget about the economic windfall that will be yours if the nuclear deal is passed by Congress. That such a response from Washington is unthinkable tells us all we need to know about how the current weak deal was negotiated.

That Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini and businessman Amir Hekmati are all hostages is not in doubt. The trumped up charges on which they are all held are transparent efforts to gain leverage over the United States. As with other cases of Americans held by Iran, we know the only way they will ever gain their freedom is if the United States buys it.

In the past, this has generally been in the form of American concessions to the Iranians on whatever issues or disputes that existed between the two governments. That’s the same pattern that applied during the nuclear talks when Obama steadily retreated form positions demanding the end of Iran’s nuclear program and wound up endorsing a deal that left them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, continuing their research in a pact that will eventually expire and let Tehran do as it likes.

The problem wasn’t just Iran’s tough minded negotiating style but an administration that acted as if a deal that would end the Islamist regime’s economic isolation was wanted more desperately by the United States than the ayatollahs. That’s why Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been laying down markers about the agreement as part of the prelude to the final weeks of talks. By demonstrating his unwillingness to contemplate the sort of inspections and sanctions rules that the president has said are required for the completion of the agreement, Khamenei has dared Obama to walk away from what would obviously be a bad deal. But since he knows that Obama regards a nuclear-based entente with Iran as essential to his vision of American policy in the Middle East, the chances that the president will make good on his threats are small.

The hostages are merely extra insurance for Iran. Just as Iran might allow Obama to get them to back down a smidge on their refusals on inspections to agree to a procedure that would still allow them to cheat, so, too, do they understand that throwing in these victims of circumstances might sweeten up even a bad deal enough to ensure that it gets through Congress one way or the other.

The problem here is not that Obama doesn’t want to win their freedom. It’s that he is going about in the wrong way. Instead of continuing to negotiate the text of the deal with their fate hanging in the balance, the president ought to be issuing some stern warnings of his own. The freedom of Rezaian, Abedini and Hekmati should be the price of continued American participation in the talks, not a present to be given or withheld from the U.S. if its representatives behave themselves in the negotiations. Without their freedom, the deal should not go forward.

Just as important, it should be made clear to the president by Congressional Democrats that he should not even bother submitting a deal for their approval if the hostages are not already safely released. The nuclear pact ought to be rejected on its own merits. But if Americans are still being held in Iran when it is considered, it ought to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Even more to the point, unless they are freed before the deal is sealed, Congress will know that the agreement will be one that ought never to have been signed.

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Obama’s UN Favor for Israel All About a Selling a Bad Iran Deal

After giving the Israelis a scare, the Obama administration stepped in at the last moment last week and spiked a proposal for a United Nations conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The conference would have targeted the Jewish state for its nuclear program and weapons and the Netanyahu government was quick to express gratitude to the administration for at least this one instance, having, as it keeps saying it does, Israel’s back. But contrary to the spin about this coming out of the administration that was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the move tells us nothing about whether President Obama will keep other commitments to Israel or, if necessary, “walk away from a bad deal” with Iran. To the contrary, as welcome as the U.S. stand on this conference was, it was all about keeping Israel and its friends quiet about an impending nuclear deal with Iran that is likely to be terrible.

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After giving the Israelis a scare, the Obama administration stepped in at the last moment last week and spiked a proposal for a United Nations conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The conference would have targeted the Jewish state for its nuclear program and weapons and the Netanyahu government was quick to express gratitude to the administration for at least this one instance, having, as it keeps saying it does, Israel’s back. But contrary to the spin about this coming out of the administration that was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the move tells us nothing about whether President Obama will keep other commitments to Israel or, if necessary, “walk away from a bad deal” with Iran. To the contrary, as welcome as the U.S. stand on this conference was, it was all about keeping Israel and its friends quiet about an impending nuclear deal with Iran that is likely to be terrible.

There’s no question that Israel is greatly relieved about the U.S. keeping its word and heading off what would have been yet another UN-sponsored Israel-bashing festival. With so many senior administration officials issuing thinly-veiled threats about abandoning Israel at the UN out of pique at the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. decision to stick to its longstanding policy of backing Israel’s public ambiguity about its nuclear arsenal was a pleasant surprise. But any predictions about this being an indications that relations between Israel and the United States will start to warm up in the last 20 months of the Obama presidency are likely to prove misleading.

This gesture and other moves, such as the president’s speech at a Washington, D.C. synagogue last Friday, are clearly aimed at walking back previous administration efforts to distance the U.S. from Israel and specifically to antagonize and treat Netanyahu as a pariah. But the purpose of this new Jewish charm offensive is tactical, not strategic. As negotiations with Iran head into the homestretch in the coming weeks, the administration is characteristically focused more on the politics of an agreement than on the policy implications of their effort to craft an entente with the Islamist regime.

Though the president reiterated last week that he is prepared to walk away from the talks if they prove unsatisfactory, no one, least of all his Iranian negotiating partners, thinks he will abandon a deal that is the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. After having given in to Iran on virtually every U.S. demand over the course of the last two years of negotiations, Tehran expects him to do so again, even on key issues such as inspections and snapping back sanctions. With Iran’s leaders making it clear it will never allow rigorous inspections or for sanctions to be easily re-imposed, what emerges from the final weeks of negotiations is likely to be a final document that contains many compromises that mark the deal as a Western seal of approval on the regime’s nuclear program and not one that forecloses a path to a bomb.

But even as America’s goal of stopping Iran appears to have been sacrificed in order to achieve what the president hopes will be a new détente with the Islamist regime, the administration is all over the politics of preventing Congress from interfering with such an arrangement. All the president will need is enough votes to sustain a veto of a Congressional vote against the deal (one more than one-third of either the House and the Senate). In order to get those votes, he needs to keep wavering pro-Israel Democrats in line. Given the terms of what looks to be a deal that will sound more like appeasement than restraint of Iran, the president knows he needs to convince those Democrats that the pro-Israel community is not united in opposition to his efforts. And in order to accomplish that, he needs to undo some of the damage that his open hostility toward Netanyahu in the last year has done.

This is, after all, an administration that unfairly blamed Israel for the collapse of the Middle East peace talks even though it was the Palestinian Authority that blew them up with their unity pact with Hamas and by conducting an end run around the talks by going to the United Nations for recognition. And it was only a few months ago that top administration officials were calling Netanyahu a “chickensh*t,” and then treated his speech to Congress about the Iran deal as an insult to Obama. Nor should it be forgotten that Obama halted an arms resupply to Israel during the war with Hamas last summer and subjected it to bitter and unfair criticism during that conflict in order to show the Israelis that they could not count on the alliance.

Those actions as well as the previous fights Obama picked with Israel have raised serious questions about his attitude to the alliance with Israel especially as he warms up to an Iran that still is spouting language about wanting to eliminate the Jewish state. But Obama knows that selling a weak Iran deal to a Congress that is still dominated by friends of Israel won’t be easy. Hence the abrupt shift of atmospherics toward Israel from intense hostility and threats to the sort of friendly gestures and language that we have seen in the last few weeks.

But as welcome as that change may be, no one should be under the impression that this is the last shift in administration policy toward Israel. Once the Iran deal is signed and Congressional interference is headed off, the Israelis should expect the pressure to be back on them. Another push for Israeli concessions to restart the peace process should be expected in spite of the lack of interest on the part of the Palestinians in ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. And in a region where Iran has become bolder and U.S. influence weaker, another round of violence with Hamas or Hezbollah is not out of the question.

Like the last Jewish charm offensive from Obama during his successful re-election campaign, no one should expect this one to last. Moreover, those Democrats who are the targets of this effort should remember how a key element of the last effort to convince them of the president’s intentions — a pledge to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program — has now morphed into something very different and dangerous both for Israel and U.S. security.

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Iran Gives Obama a Lesson in Negotiating

President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

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President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

As I noted yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader made it clear yesterday that the rigorous inspections of their nuclear facilities that President Obama has promised will never happen. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised that inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency aren’t going to be allowed into their facilities or to talk to their scientists. The terms enunciated by the administration are bad enough because they give the Iranians two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by abiding by them and just waiting patiently for it to expire while they continue nuclear research without interference from the West. But if Khamenei’s interpretation of the deal is correct, it will be a sham.

That leaves us wondering whether the president is prepared to risk his long sought after deal in order to obtain the terms that he has said make it viable. With only weeks to go before the self-imposed deadline of June 30 to get the pact on paper, the question would seem to be which of the two Khamenei or Obama will blink. But the answer is not so clear-cut as that. The Iranians are clearly baiting Obama but are also sending out signals they will accept a “compromise.”

That’s the upshot of an Associated Press report about comments from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about the Iran deal. Fabius said the Iranians are currently offering the West a deal on inspections that would allow the UN to visit a site of a suspected violation of the deal’s terms but only after a 24-day notice being given. Needless to say, such a waiting period is almost as bad as no inspections at all. Indeed, even if the Iranians go down a bit from 24 to a lower number, anything other than the right to rigorous surprise inspections is a lock-solid guarantee of cheating by the Islamist regime. But by publicly staking such an absurd stand on the issue, the Grand Ayatollah has set up Obama for a compromise that will undermine the entire foundation of the agreement.

So while Obama is defending his partners in a new Middle East entente as being rational anti-Semites, his Iranian counterpart is demonstrating a degree of diplomatic skill far above that of the president. Having spent the last two years undressing the president in public as his demands for an end to their nuclear program has given way to an agreement that at best, enshrines Tehran as a threshold nuclear power, Khamenei is now pushing Obama to the brink knowing full well that the president will never give up his legacy-making agreement if Iran doesn’t agree to his terms. Obama told Goldberg that he knows that if Iran gets a bomb, it will have his name on it even if it is 20 years from now. Sadly, that inscription is being written in the final weeks of talks as the Iranians give Obama one last lesson in how to negotiate.

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Should Israel Take Obama’s Iran Payoff?

For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

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For months, President Obama has been trying to find a way to silence Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran. Up until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant in his opposition to what he and many Americans feel is an effort to appease the Islamist regime that will have catastrophic consequences for the security of both the United States and Israel. But, if reports are correct, the Israeli government is preparing to make the best of an awful situation by accepting a massive military assistance package from the U.S. in exchange for what an unnamed senior administration official describes as “some quiet from the Israelis.” While it can be argued that expediency demands that Netanyahu seek to get what help from the Americans that he can, with the outcome of the nuclear negotiations still hanging in the balance, this isn’t the moment for the Israelis to go into the tank for Obama on Iran.

As the Israeli press is reporting, the Americans are prepared to pay what the administration official called, “a hefty price” for Israel’s silence in the upcoming months as a nuclear agreement is debated in Congress. That price will supposedly include up to 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets and anti-missile batteries. Given the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge over potential Arab and Iranian foes, it’s a tempting offer. Especially alluring for the Israelis is the prospect of more Iron Dome batteries as well as funding for more short-range David’s Sling batteries and the long-range Arrow-3 missile defense.

If, as seems likely, there is nothing Israel can do to prevent the U.S. from appeasing Iran and signing a weak deal that may not even guarantee rigorous inspections, then perhaps the only rational alternative is to accept a bribe from the administration for their silence. The same reasoning led some Arab countries to attend a summit here last week which, though boycotted by the kings of both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, resulted in a U.S. promise about selling them more advanced military hardware. Even if it was accompanied by a weak guarantee of their security that impressed no one, let alone Iranians, the Arabs were not so proud that they turned down U.S. assistance.

Moreover, it can be argued that if Israel doesn’t accept Obama’s bribe now, the offer may be off the table once the nuclear agreement is a done deal. The U.S. has been openly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations once the nuclear deal is put to bed. It’s not likely that they’ll be as forthcoming in the next year and a half. Given the ongoing threat of another war with Hezbollah or Hamas, anything that can help augment the Jewish state’s anti-missile defense arsenal is vital.

But even though the outcome of the Iran talks seems like a foreordained conclusion now, Netanyahu would be foolish to throw in the towel on the nuclear question. There are four key reasons why this is so.

The first is that no matter how much of a done deal the Iran negotiations seem, there is still no guarantee that the Iranians won’t ultimately pull out of them. Given the sweet deal that Obama has given them that would make no sense. The president hopes to create a new entente with Tehran but predicting Iran’s behavior is never easy. It is always possible that the Iranians will torpedo the talks in the hopes of getting an even sweeter offer from an administration that is desperate for detente with the Islamist regime. Until proven otherwise, the Israelis should not do anything that would be seen as a seal of approval for even more far-reaching Western concessions.

Second, though the process by which Congress will vote on a potential deal with Iran is geared towards guaranteeing its passage, there is still a sliver of hope that opponents of a dangerous deal will be able to hold support for the president to lower than one-third of the House and Senate thus preventing a presidential veto. If the Israelis were to take Obama’s bribe, it would be even more difficult to persuade many Democrats to vote against the president’s wishes. It would also give the false impression that the strong arguments they raised against the Iran deal appeasement were insincere.

Third, as important as the planes and anti-missile batteries are, they aren’t a real answer to the strategic threat that Iran poses for Israel. As the Arab states have also realized, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony has gotten a shot in the arm from Obama. Addressing Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region will require more than an arms package.

Last, as weak as their position may be vis-à-vis Obama, the Israelis shouldn’t act as if they are desperate. As desperate as the situation seems, Congress still has Israel’s back and will likely vote in all the arms Israel needs, even if the administration doesn’t request it. Just as important, Obama won’t always be president. In 20 months, someone else will be sitting in the Oval Office. While there are no guarantees, the likelihood is that his successor won’t be making the same mistake and seeking to distance the U.S. from Israel. Anything Obama is offering now will likely still be available for them in the future. Surrendering a principled position on Iran simply isn’t worth the hardware that Obama is offering them. Netanyahu must hang tough and hope for the best, confidant that both Congress and the next president will be someone that he can trust more than Obama.

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Iran Isn’t Budging. Will Obama?

When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

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When the Obama administration trumpeted the conclusion of a framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, it assured skeptics that its terms would be enforced by rigorous inspections. The agreement would, the president and his foreign policy team told us, be verified by a system that would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s acknowledged facilities as well as any “suspicious sites” in the country. At the time, administration officials said that Iranian statements saying the U.S. interpretation of the as yet unwritten accord was incorrect were purely for domestic consumption. But with only a little more than a month remaining before the June 30 deadline for completing the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader is once again reminding the Americans that their hopes for a deal that could be verified are unfounded. In remarks broadcast today on Iranian television, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there be no such inspections. After two years of getting the Americans to concede on virtually all of their demands in order to secure a deal, Khamenei is counting on Obama folding again.

As the New York Times reports:

“The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement but no such permission will be allowed,” Khamenei told military commanders in Tehran Wednesday, in remarks broadcast on state TV. “No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”

Khamenei said interviewing Iranian nuclear scientists would be an affront to Iran’s dignity.

“I will not allow foreigners to interview — which is tantamount to interrogation — the prominent beloved scientists and sons of this nation,” he said.

That flatly contradicts the characterization of the accord that we heard from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Indeed, it is, if anything, a toughening of the Iranian position on inspections. Combined with their insistence that economic sanctions must be lifted immediately and permanently once the terms are finalized, it presents a very different picture of the post-deal world than the one we’ve been getting from the administration.

Is Khamenei bluffing? That’s the position of the administration’s defenders who tell us that this is all posturing for the Iranian public and will be forgotten once the hard work of finishing the negotiations is undertaken. But there are two problems with that argument.

The first is that the pattern of U.S.-Iran diplomacy over the course of the negotiations points in only one direction: an American retreat from its positions about inspections and sanctions.

Remember that it was only 29 months ago during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that President Obama said that any deal with Iran would be predicated on the dismantling of their entire nuclear program. But once re-elected, his negotiators walked that position back step by step to the point where the current deal would allow Iran thousands of nuclear centrifuges and to continue conducting nuclear research. Instead of ending the Iran nuclear threat for all time, the deal will expire within 10-15 years. That leaves Tehran an option for a bomb that would not even require it to cheat but allows them to wait patiently for it to be over before the Islamist regime may do as it likes.

Why shouldn’t the Iranians expect that Obama, who considers the Iran deal the centerpiece of his vision for the future of the Middle East and his foreign policy legacy, to fold again? Why would anyone think the president would risk throwing it all away merely to force Tehran to comply on these points when he has never stood his ground in the talks before?

But even if we think the U.S. will try to budge the Iranians, what Khamenei is doing is setting up the final round of talks in such a manner as to ensure that his representatives are in the strongest possible position. By taking such a public stand, it will mean the Americans will treat even the most minimal concessions on Iran’s part, even if they don’t involve actual transparency as great victories. The result will be a far weaker deal than even the flimsy framework that Obamas presented last month.

Throughout this process, Iran has regularly taken Obama to the cleaners on every key issue. The question remains whether Congress, which has given itself the right to vote on an Iranian deal, albeit in a manner that virtually guarantees its approval, is paying attention to these details. It is not too late for principled Democrats to send a strong signal to the White House that they will abandon the president if he doesn’t get the full inspection regime he has promised them. If they don’t, it will be hard to blame the Grand Ayatollah for thinking that he is on the verge of another astounding and completely undeserved diplomatic triumph at Obama’s expense.

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Will Team Obama Members Profit From the Iran Nuclear Deal?

One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

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One of the calumnies embraced by some on the left with regard to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was that it was a war fought for oil. This was nonsense, of course. Nor was United States military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or Afghanistan (to just name the Muslim majority countries) motivated by oil. Kuwait is no exception to this rule, as every time in recent history when one country has invaded another for the purpose of annexing it in its entirety—North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam, for example—the United States has become involved.

Still, Washington is not the most ethical of towns. Both Bush administration officials and some Democrats who supported the war have sought to translate their support or the contacts they made into a golden parachute. It may not be illegal, even if it is unseemly. Nor is Iraq a special case. Too many U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia have turned around and gone to work for Saudi interests in their retirement from the diplomatic service. Many U.S. ambassadors to Turkey have done likewise. David Welch, a top Bush-era diplomat handling the rapprochement with Libya, upon retirement turned around and used his contacts both to garner business from Libya and, behind the scenes, also worked to advise Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Whether or not the Iran deal comes off—the ball is in Tehran’s court as the U.S. Congress has played into President Obama’s hands and effectively traded its say for the sake of a symbolic vote—only one thing is certain: In January 2017, there will be a new president in the Oval Office. Whether or not there has been rapprochement with Iran, many who have been active on the Iran account among Obama’s staff, Secretary of State John Kerry’s staff, the State Department’s negotiating team and, if she fails to win the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s staff as well will be looking for new jobs. Many will enter the private sector.

It’s time to put Team Obama and Kerry on the spot: Will they eschew any possibility that they will work for companies working in the Iranian market? Such a pledge may not be legally binding, but perhaps it’s time for the chief proponents of the Iran diplomacy and the architects of the collapse in the sanctions regime to assure the public that their motivation does not include a golden parachute based on the contacts with senior Iranian officials that they have made over the course of the Obama administration. If they lie to the press after the fact, then at least they can suffer some embarrassment for their actions and a lesson can be learned for future efforts to bring rogue regimes in from the cold.

It was unseemly and wrong during the Clinton administration when officials traded on their contacts with Saudi Arabia, the PLO, and Turkey, and wrong in the Bush administration when diplomats and military officers did likewise with the Kurds, Iraqis, and Turks. It’s time for assurance that only American national security interests and nothing else now drives diplomacy with Iran.

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Obama’s Not-So-Ironclad Guarantee

This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

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This was supposed to be the week when President Obama put on a show of his desire to reaffirm America’s support for its Arab allies. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have spent the last year in the unusual position of agreeing more with Israel than the United States, as Obama pushes for détente with Iran. Like the Israelis, the Arabs are pondering their future in a region dominated by an Iranian nuclear threshold state that appears to be the lynchpin of the president’s foreign policy legacy. So to demonstrate his good will, Obama invited these nations to a summit at which he would convince them they had nothing to fear. But with the U.S. putting nothing on the table of substance that would allay those concerns about the weak nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran, the Saudi king and other leaders snubbed the event, turning it into a fiasco even before it began. But it turned out King Salman didn’t miss much. Though Obama offered what he called an “ironclad guarantee’ of America’s support for the Arabs, it was phrased in the kind of ambiguous language that rendered it meaningless. The meeting and especially the statement epitomized an Obama administration foreign policy that puts a premium on appeasing foes and alienating friends.

The wording of the president’s “guarantee” is a marvel of lawyerly ambiguity that any connoisseur of diplomatic doubletalk must appreciate:

In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners.

Let’s unpack this carefully so we’re clear about what the United States isn’t promising its Arab allies. As even Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times noted, this “carefully worded pledge that was far less robust than the mutual defense treaty the Gulf nations had sought.” In the event of aggression, the U.S. isn’t going to spring into action to defend them. Instead it will “work” with them to “determine” what they might do. That falls quite a bit short of a hard promise of collective action, let alone the drawing of a line in the sand across which the Iranians may not cross. In other words, if something bad happens, Obama will talk with the threatened parties but he won’t say what he will do in advance or if he will do anything at all. If that is an “ironclad guarantee,” I’d hate to see what a less binding promise might sound like.

To understate the matter, this is not the sort of pledge that will deter an Iran that is emboldened by its diplomatic victory in the negotiations that let them their nuclear infrastructure and continuing working toward a bomb. Iran’s push for regional hegemony has also been boosted by the triumph of their Syrian ally Bashar Assad with the help of Tehran’s Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries. With the Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatening to take over Yemen and Iran also resuming its alliance with Hamas in Gaza, the axis of Iranian allies has Arab states understandably worried about their future. Now that the nuclear deal makes an Iranian bomb only a matter of when rather than if, the Gulf nations were hoping for more than just a carefully worded expression of American indifference.

That’s why the statement at the end of the summit made no mention of America’s chief worry about the Gulf states: the possibility that the Saudis will, either acting alone or in concert with their neighbors, seek to match Iran’s nuclear potential. As critics of the Iran deal foretold, far from saving the Middle East from an Iranian bomb, it has set off an arms race that has will make the world a fare more dangerous place.

This omission will likely make the Iranians even more reluctant to give in to U.S. demands about sanctions, Tehran’s military research and the disposition of its stockpile of enriched uranium in the final stages of the nuclear talks. A better guarantee for the Arabs might have convinced the Islamist state that the president really meant business about strengthening the deal. In its absence, they have no reason to think Obama won’t fold as he has at every other stage of the negotiations.

Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that Bahrain’s King Hamad preferred to go to a horse show London rather than confer with Obama. Just as Israel has learned that the United States is more interested in a new Iran-centric policy than it backing its traditional allies, so, too, must the Arabs come to grips with a new reality in which their Iranian foe is no longer restrained by the United States.

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Snap Back Sanctions on Iran? Nyet!

In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

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In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

As Blomberg News reports, yesterday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin made it clear that any plans for a snap back response was a figment of the president’s imagination:

The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t  elaborate.

Russia’s role in finalizing the terms of the Iran deal will be crucial. The endless string of concessions to Iran in the talks was in no small measure the function of a P5+1 formula that gave Russia an implicit veto on every stand made by the West. When critics of President Obama’s strategy point out that tougher sanctions could still retrieve the situation and get a better deal, we were told that Russia and China will never go along with such a plan so the only thing to do is to make the best of it and take the bad deal that is on the table. Since Russia and China could effectively neuter the impact of sanctions by resuming full business ties with Iran, the administration felt it had no choice but to go along with whatever they wanted.

If that was true before, it’s even more to the point now since the existing sanctions are already crumbling even before a deal has been signed. If Russia says it wont go along with snap back, it is impossible to see how President Obama thinks such a provision can either be inserted into the final terms or implemented if it is not.

Let’s also remember that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also vowed that his country will not sign any agreement that does not lift the sanctions immediately and permanently. So if Iran won’t agree to it and Russia says snap back is off the table, how then is it going to happen?

With the June 30 deadline for finalizing the deal looming, the administration is clearly floundering. It entered into the negotiations determined to cut a deal with Iran at virtually any price and on any terms because the president believes that Iran can be brought back into the community of nations and become the lynchpin of a new U.S. strategy in the Middle East. That’s fine with Russian President Vladimir Putin who wants no part of a confrontation with Iran. He views the Obama approach as part of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East that enables Russia to recapture some of the influence that the old Soviet empire used to have in the region.

But selling a weak Iran deal to Congress and the American people is already hard enough on the terms that President Obama has promised. It will be the United Nations, and not Congress, that will initially lift the international sanctions once the pact is signed. If there are no snap back sanctions put into the deal’s text and a Russian veto forecloses any possibility of them being implemented anyway, then an essential element of the president’s vision for ensuring that Iran will abide by it has just vanished.

No one who has seen this administration negotiate with Iran ever really believed that President Obama would stand his ground on any of the remaining sticking points, whether it involved the sanctions, forcing Tehran to open up its military research facilities to UN inspectors or the future of their stockpile of enriched uranium. He’s backed down at every previous point and with U.S. leverage over Iran reduced to zero the only card left in Obama’s hand is to walk away from the deal. That won’t happen.

It remains to be seen how Congress will react to this development. But chances are President Obama is counting on retaining the votes of at least 34 Senate Democrats who could sustain his veto of a vote rejecting the deal. If, despite his recent brave talk about forcing Iran to accept his demands, he is sure that he has those votes, it won’t matter that his promises about snap back sanctions will be thrown down the memory hole along with his 2012 re-election campaign promise that any deal would require Iran to give up its nuclear program. That’s a sobering thought for those members of Congress celebrating their “victory” in gaining the right to vote on a deal.

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Obama Gives Syria a Pass on Chemical Weapons. Will He Stop Iran’s Nukes?

President Obama would have us believe he would be stalwart in applying “snap back” sanctions on Iran should it violate its nuclear commitments. That would be nice but hardly realistic given the administration’s non-response to growing evidence that Syria’s Bashar Assad has violated the agreement to give up his chemical weapons. Not only has Assad been using chlorine gas (which was not formally covered by the accord negotiated in 2013 between Washington and Moscow) but United Nations inspectors have also found evidence of sarin and VX during to the Scientific Studies and Research Center outside Damascus.

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President Obama would have us believe he would be stalwart in applying “snap back” sanctions on Iran should it violate its nuclear commitments. That would be nice but hardly realistic given the administration’s non-response to growing evidence that Syria’s Bashar Assad has violated the agreement to give up his chemical weapons. Not only has Assad been using chlorine gas (which was not formally covered by the accord negotiated in 2013 between Washington and Moscow) but United Nations inspectors have also found evidence of sarin and VX during to the Scientific Studies and Research Center outside Damascus.

So what is Obama doing to enforce the chemical weapons accord? Bombing Damascus? Stepping up support for the Syrian resistance? He’s not even passing a stiffly worded resolution at the UN, where its friends from Moscow and Beijing protect the Assad regime.

Josh Rogin and Eli Lake of Bloomberg report that the administration was informed months ago by UN inspectors of their findings. Since then the White House has basically been sitting on the issue, no doubt for fear that any action would offend Assad’s patrons in Tehran and disrupt hopes of negotiating a nuclear deal. “The discovery set off a months-long debate inside the administration about how to respond. President Obama is said to have not yet decided,” Rogin and Lake write. “Meanwhile, a coalition of rebel groups on the ground has been attacking the area around the facility, raising the danger that the chemical weapons could fall into the hands of the rebels, many of whom are linked to Islamic extremists.”

If this is how the administration reacts to blatant violations of an arms control agreement by a weak regime such as Assad’s, just imagine how it would react to violations by the much stronger Iranian regime. Unfortunately Iran’s leaders can read the tea leaves as well as anyone else—and they know that they will get a pass, at least while Obama is still in office, no matter how much they cheat on a nuclear deal.

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Iran: We’ll Build Five More Underground Nuclear Plants

There has likely not ever been an administration that has politicized intelligence to the degree that Obama’s has, systematically ignoring any information that would undercut the White House and State Department narrative first on Russia, then on Syria, and now on Iran. As anyone who has ever dealt with intelligence knows, 90 percent if not more is what appears in the open sources every single day. And so, in that spirit, here is an interview with Mohammad Javad Larijani that the Iranian news agency Tasnim just published in Persian. Now, like Rouhani (and, for that matter, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), Larijani spent time in the West. In Larijani’s case, it was to study mathematics at Berkeley. He has had quite a career, mostly in the judiciary, and today, he is among Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s most trusted advisors. So what did Larijani say earlier today with regard to the “historic” agreement that Obama and Kerry have embraced? “…Our facilities will not only remain underground, but will go deeper in the ground,” he said, expressing indignation at Vice President Joseph Biden’s assurances at a recent speech to the Washington Institute that all options remain on the table should Iran cheat on its commitments. He then condemned any slowdown of research and development at the once-covert nuclear enrichment center that Iran built under a mountain at Fordo, and called on Iran to build five new underground facilities.

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There has likely not ever been an administration that has politicized intelligence to the degree that Obama’s has, systematically ignoring any information that would undercut the White House and State Department narrative first on Russia, then on Syria, and now on Iran. As anyone who has ever dealt with intelligence knows, 90 percent if not more is what appears in the open sources every single day. And so, in that spirit, here is an interview with Mohammad Javad Larijani that the Iranian news agency Tasnim just published in Persian. Now, like Rouhani (and, for that matter, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), Larijani spent time in the West. In Larijani’s case, it was to study mathematics at Berkeley. He has had quite a career, mostly in the judiciary, and today, he is among Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s most trusted advisors. So what did Larijani say earlier today with regard to the “historic” agreement that Obama and Kerry have embraced? “…Our facilities will not only remain underground, but will go deeper in the ground,” he said, expressing indignation at Vice President Joseph Biden’s assurances at a recent speech to the Washington Institute that all options remain on the table should Iran cheat on its commitments. He then condemned any slowdown of research and development at the once-covert nuclear enrichment center that Iran built under a mountain at Fordo, and called on Iran to build five new underground facilities.

As talks continue (and sanctions collapse apace), it is important to step back and consider a few broader patterns with regard to Iranian behavior.

First, what the Iranian government is doing is engaging in an elaborate game of good cop, bad cop. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif might whisper sweet nothings into Secretary of State John Kerry’s ear, and like a naïve schoolgirl on the night of the senior prom, President Barack Obama might believe that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statement that if Obama gives up everything, Rouhani will love him for eternity, but there is ample evidence that Iran simply intends to screw the United States. Sincere partners do not play these games.

Second, it is Diplomacy 101 to only strike deals with those who can enact them. Bill Clinton’s Arab-Israeli negotiating team learned this the hard way in 2000, when they called the president to Camp David after Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agreed to a deal. When Palestinian chairman Yasir Arafat arrived, however, he not only flatly refused to agree to what his negotiators had committed him to, but he also refused to make a counteroffer. It was a lesson some of George W. Bush’s diplomats learned the hard way. When the United States negotiated with Zarif back in 2003, Iranian authorities did not abide by the deal that Zarif had struck. There are two possibilities: Either Zarif lied to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad, or Zarif was sincere but he did not have the influence and ability to guarantee that all of Iran’s myriad power centers would abide by his agreement. And confusing the target with ever shifting power centers—the Iranian equivalent of Three Card Monte—is Iranian strategy 101, whether it comes to revising commercial contracts, undercutting diplomacy, or even negotiating a cultural exchange.

This brings us to the issue of who in Iran has committed themselves to resolving Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations. For a moment, let’s assume that Rouhani and Zarif are sincere (although there is ample evidence that they are not). Has the Supreme Leader really endorsed a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear deal as proponents of the talks have suggested? Take the issue of “heroic flexibility.” That doesn’t mean, as proponents of the deal have suggested, that Khamenei has thrown his weight behind the talks. His own advisors have explained that what Khamenei blessed was a change in tactics, not a change in policy. In other words, so long as Iran gets its nuclear capability, the Supreme Leader doesn’t care if it comes through subterfuge or if he holds his nose and has representatives talk to the Americans. How sad it is that Obama and Kerry have such faith in the Supreme Leader, when he refuses to meet American officials, and yet doesn’t hesitate to find time for Gambians, Belarusians, and Eritreans. What the White House and the news media have not realized, however, is that the term “Heroic Flexibility” also has religious connotations. It’s sad to see the State Department and the media—both bastions of multiculturalism—so myopic on issues of culture. Now, none of this even begins to touch the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that has said no to any deal from the very beginning.

So what to make of Larijani’s interview? His proximity to the Supreme Leader should concern anyone who does not have political blinders on. Whether because of personal ambition (in the case of some diplomats or Kerry’s destructive quest for a Nobel Peace Prize), ideological sympathy, or just naiveté, too many do. Simply put, it’s strange to see the White House and the State Department convince themselves that Khamenei is onboard with a substantive nuclear deal that will end Iran’s military nuclear program and illicit nuclear activities when so many statements that come from his office and his proxies suggest the opposite.

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Iran on Nuclear Inspections: “Depends What Meaning of Is Is”

Even though President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have promised that any Iranian nuclear deal arrived at next month will have unprecedented verification mechanisms, the crux of any verification has yet to be negotiated. Any inspections to verify Iranian compliance, however, will be the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been seeking to negotiate access and preserve what it believes necessary to confirm Iranian compliance against the backdrop of Kerry’s obsessive willingness to undercut the IAEA’s redlines. One of the major stumbling blocks remains the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. While Obama and proponents of the tentative deal reached repeatedly say that Iran has abided by the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, even if this were true, it is the equivalent of saying that a drunk passed a sobriety test by counting to one. Much of the work on PMDs has occurred in military facilities, especially those maintained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that, for what it is worth, has never endorsed or agreed to abide by any nuclear deal reached.

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Even though President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have promised that any Iranian nuclear deal arrived at next month will have unprecedented verification mechanisms, the crux of any verification has yet to be negotiated. Any inspections to verify Iranian compliance, however, will be the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been seeking to negotiate access and preserve what it believes necessary to confirm Iranian compliance against the backdrop of Kerry’s obsessive willingness to undercut the IAEA’s redlines. One of the major stumbling blocks remains the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. While Obama and proponents of the tentative deal reached repeatedly say that Iran has abided by the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, even if this were true, it is the equivalent of saying that a drunk passed a sobriety test by counting to one. Much of the work on PMDs has occurred in military facilities, especially those maintained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that, for what it is worth, has never endorsed or agreed to abide by any nuclear deal reached.

Yukiya Amano, the secretary-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been seeking to guarantee access to nuclear work conducted in Iran’s military restricted zones and bases. Iran’s Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) yesterday reported on his efforts. Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, responded:

Mr. Amano has not set demands for Iran, but instead has offered an interpretation of the Additional Protocol that we have some reservations about… According to the Article 5 of the protocol, access to the sites that the IAEA is seeking to enter requires substantial evidence and arguments. Also, the agency should pay attention to different concerns from member countries, including security concerns.

So, let’s get this straight: Obama and Kerry have celebrated Iran’s concessions and flexibility. They have celebrated Iran’s agreement to be guided by the Additional Protocol, an enhancement to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was created in 1997 in order to fill loopholes that had allowed Saddam Hussein to develop a covert nuclear program all the while receiving clean bills of health by the IAEA. The vast majority of the world—and pretty much every state of concern (minus North Korea and Pakistan which are not NPT members)—has signed onto the Additional Protocol and accept its contents. Not so, Iran. First, they said they would only abide “voluntarily” to the Additional Protocol, which means they could walk away at any time. Now, the Iranian government is putting forward an interpretation that would effectively gut any remaining bite the inspections have by arguing that raising security concerns should be enough to avoid inspections. That reading is the nuclear equivalent of quibbling over what the meaning of “is” is in order to absolve oneself from a lie. Perhaps it’s time for Obama and Kerry simply to replace the Stars and Stripes with a white flag of surrender, because it is increasingly clear that their deal is nothing but capitulation and the verification mechanisms about which they bragged are little more than an illusion. Unprecedented verification, indeed.

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If Sanctions Have Already Collapsed, We Know the Outcome of the Iran Talks

The deadline is fast approaching for the completion of the draft of the Iran nuclear agreement. When the framework was announced last month, the assumption was that the deal would soon be put on paper. But it soon became clear that there were serious differences on key issues between Iran and the West about the final terms of the pact that had to be hammered out in negotiations. President Obama has insisted that he will not budge on his insistence that Iran agree to sanctions being lifted on a delayed basis and be able to be “snapped back” in the event of Tehran violating the deal, the imposition of intrusive nuclear inspections and that it will be forced to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium. But confidence that he will stand his ground in the talks is being undermined daily by evidence that the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the table are already breaking down. As Eli Lake reports at BloombergView, the delivery of nine used commercial airliners in Iran for use by Mahan Air illustrates that the ground on which Obama is standing is falling apart. If sanctions can’t be kept now, why would Iran give in on any of these issues, let alone fear they would be re-imposed later?

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The deadline is fast approaching for the completion of the draft of the Iran nuclear agreement. When the framework was announced last month, the assumption was that the deal would soon be put on paper. But it soon became clear that there were serious differences on key issues between Iran and the West about the final terms of the pact that had to be hammered out in negotiations. President Obama has insisted that he will not budge on his insistence that Iran agree to sanctions being lifted on a delayed basis and be able to be “snapped back” in the event of Tehran violating the deal, the imposition of intrusive nuclear inspections and that it will be forced to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium. But confidence that he will stand his ground in the talks is being undermined daily by evidence that the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the table are already breaking down. As Eli Lake reports at BloombergView, the delivery of nine used commercial airliners in Iran for use by Mahan Air illustrates that the ground on which Obama is standing is falling apart. If sanctions can’t be kept now, why would Iran give in on any of these issues, let alone fear they would be re-imposed later?

The airliner deal that Lake discusses is important because, as he notes, the U.S. Treasury Department has targeted Mahan Air in the past because of its ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But now apparently, all is forgiven and the company’s efforts to bolster its fleet are not being interfered with by the U.S. or its allies.

The efforts of Russia, which has already announced the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and China to undermine the sanctions to which they have only reluctantly endorsed, are well known. So, too, if the fact that Western Europe has been chomping at the bit to buy Iranian oil as well as do business in the country. As I wrote last month, even American companies are now eagerly preparing to dive back into the Iranian market.

The impact of these efforts will be felt once a deal is signed and create a huge and powerful constituency against any effort to hold Iran accountable for its compliance with the weak nuclear deal or to re-impose sanctions should Tehran chose to cheat on the easily evaded restrictions in the pact. But even if we forget for a moment how the rush to conduct business with Iran after the deal is finally concluded, the key question now is how the efforts of some to jump the gun on Iran trade will impact the last stage of the talks.

The president has insisted he won’t give in to Iran’s demands that the sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the deal is signed. We are also told he won’t give up on inspections or the transfer of the nuclear stockpile of Iran. What’s more Iran has been told that it must allow United Nations inspectors to discover the extent of its progress in military research that it has heretofore kept secret. But, as Lake’s report illustrates, what little is left of America’s economic leverage over the Islamist regime is evaporating with each passing day.

Unfortunately, the president has a poor track record with regards to being tough with Iran. He threw away the enormous advantages that the international economic restrictions has given the West over Iran in 2013 when he agreed to an interim nuclear deal that began the process of dismantling sanctions. The same pattern reappeared in the 16 months of negotiations that led to the framework. At every point America abandoned its previous positions that had called for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Obama eventually presented the country with a deal that let the Iranians keep most of the nuclear infrastructure and which will eventually expire. That already gives Iran two paths to a bomb. One is by violating the easily evaded restrictions on their nuclear activity. The other is by patiently waiting for the deal to expire while legally continuing their research.

All of which leads observers to the inevitable conclusion that unless President Obama has a radical change of heart, he will again bend to Iran’s demands on even these final crucial sticking points. But even if he wanted, for the first time, to insist on getting his way, it’s hard to see how that will happen with the sanctions already disappearing. It’s equally difficult to imagine him walking away from his signature foreign policy “achievement” on which an entire new Iran-centric policy is based. The airliner delivery may turn out to be just one more indication that Iran is right to think that it can keep saying “no” to Obama and get away with it.

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Saudis Show Iran Deal Crackup Has Begun

President Obama is in the position of a high-school student who thinks that the cool kids are going to come to his birthday party and starts bragging about it around school, only to have his prized guests opt out at the last minute, leaving him looking considerably embarrassed. The guests in question are the leaders of America’s closest Gulf allies. They had been invited to a fence-mending summit at Camp David but only two—the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait—have accepted. All the others have suddenly discovered they have something else urgent to do that weekend. (Haircuts scheduled! Barbecues to attend!) Most embarrassing for Obama, as Jonathan Tobin noted earlier today, is that Saudi King Salman had at first accepted the invitation before declining it.

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President Obama is in the position of a high-school student who thinks that the cool kids are going to come to his birthday party and starts bragging about it around school, only to have his prized guests opt out at the last minute, leaving him looking considerably embarrassed. The guests in question are the leaders of America’s closest Gulf allies. They had been invited to a fence-mending summit at Camp David but only two—the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait—have accepted. All the others have suddenly discovered they have something else urgent to do that weekend. (Haircuts scheduled! Barbecues to attend!) Most embarrassing for Obama, as Jonathan Tobin noted earlier today, is that Saudi King Salman had at first accepted the invitation before declining it.

The administration spinmeisters can put a happy face on this all they want by claiming that they can still negotiate with the lower-level leaders the Gulf countries are sending but there is no doubt that this is a rebuke of the administration for putting Iran first. The Gulf leaders see the U.S. increasingly cozy with the rulers in Tehran, whose imperial designs they regard as a mortal danger, and they are not reticent about signaling their displeasure. Refusing to attend the Camp David summit is the least of it. Other actions that the Gulfies are taking are more serious—for example launching bombing campaigns against extremists in both Libya and, on a larger scale, in Yemen without asking for America’s permission or even bothering to notify us more than a few hours in advance.

As the New York Times notes, the Gulf states and in particular Saudi Arabia are manifesting their independence in other, even more disconcerting ways. For instance the hard-line King Salman is rethinking the opposition displayed by his more liberal predecessor, King Abdullah, toward the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly even toward more extreme and violent Salafists: “In Yemen, King Salman is working with Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood political party, and has warmed relations with Qatar, a backer of the Brotherhood. In March, he received Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Riyadh. The two agreed to work together to support the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, according to Yasin Aktay, the foreign relations chief for Turkey’s governing party. Although Mr. Aktay said that only moderate groups received support, many of Syria’s most effective fighters are staunch Islamists who often fight alongside the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, raising the possibility that aid might also empower extremists.”

Put another way, because the Obama administration is refusing to do anything to oust Bashar Assad, the Saudis are getting together with the Turks and Qataris to back some of the more fundamentalist Islamist fighters working against the Assad regime—including, it is rumored, the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate. This is what happens when the Gulf states lose confidence in America: they start taking matters into their own hands and that means they will increasingly forge a pact with extreme Islamists, possibly even with ISIS, because they see the extremists as the only reliable barrier to the spread of Iranian influence.

This is a catastrophic if wholly predictable development, and it is only the beginning of the fallout from Obama’s decision to align so closely with Tehran. The next step in the Sunni pushback is, as the Saudi leadership has loudly and long signaled, for them to acquire their own nuclear weapons. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Saudi Arabia is conveniently next to Jordan which has vast uranium reserves but no money to exploit them. The Saudis could easily fill that gap and develop their own nuclear capacity within a decade, the timeline of the Iranian nuclear deal. Or the Saudis could get nukes even sooner if their friends in Pakistan agree to provide them.

Nothing that President Obama will do or say at the Camp David summit can remotely offset this parlous trend. What America’s Arab allies are looking for is an American commitment to resist Iranian designs. Instead all they see is America standing aside while Iran threatens to dominate the region.

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Zarif: Why Can’t the U.S. be a Dictatorship like Iran?

Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

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Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

“We consider the US government responsible for implementing the [final nuclear] agreement. In our opinion, the Congress bill does not take the load of the commitments off the US government’s shoulder, and in fact makes it heavier. The US government should show that it will act upon the possible agreement between Iran and the P5+1… In our opinion, the bill by the US Congress does not have any effects, and if it does, then the US government has to nullify it.”

How inconvenient and incomprehensible it must be for Mr. Zarif, who has such a history of lying that his lies have even merited widespread use of a twitter hashtag (#ZarifLies), to realize that American leaders are accountable to the people’s elected representatives. And how arrogant and disrespectful it is of Mr. Zarif to demand that President Obama simply ignore the law, should Congress eventually pass a more stringent and biting review process than Senator Corker’s slight-of-hand solution. How sad it is, meanwhile, that Congress largely stands aside as a representative of an undemocratic and unrepentant terrorist-sponsoring regime lectures Congress on how it does its job. Then again, that’s not nearly as sad as an arrogant chief executive and a legacy-seeking secretary of state who rather consult with Iranian leaders than with their own congress.

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Why the Snub? Saudis Know Obama’s Replaced Them With Iran

If the Obama administration thought it was successful in its half-hearted efforts to make up with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states outraged by its Iran policies, it’s got another thing coming. On Sunday, the Saudis told the White House that King Salman would not be attending meetings there or at Camp David this week. Later, Bahrain said its King Hamad would skip the same meeting. The snubs are as pointed as President Obama’s recent signals that he has no intention of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anytime soon. But while the president has little interest in patching things up with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East, he was quite interested in making nice with the Saudi monarch. But the Saudis and Bahrain, like the Israelis, are deeply concerned by the U.S. effort to create a new détente with Iran. It’s not just that Salman apparently has better things to do than to schmooze with Obama. The president may have thought he could essentially replace the Saudis with Iran as the lynchpin of a new Middle East strategic vision without paying a price. But the Saudis understandably want no part of this. The result will be a region made even more dangerous by the Arabs, as well as the Israelis, coming to the realization that they can’t rely on Washington.

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If the Obama administration thought it was successful in its half-hearted efforts to make up with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states outraged by its Iran policies, it’s got another thing coming. On Sunday, the Saudis told the White House that King Salman would not be attending meetings there or at Camp David this week. Later, Bahrain said its King Hamad would skip the same meeting. The snubs are as pointed as President Obama’s recent signals that he has no intention of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anytime soon. But while the president has little interest in patching things up with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East, he was quite interested in making nice with the Saudi monarch. But the Saudis and Bahrain, like the Israelis, are deeply concerned by the U.S. effort to create a new détente with Iran. It’s not just that Salman apparently has better things to do than to schmooze with Obama. The president may have thought he could essentially replace the Saudis with Iran as the lynchpin of a new Middle East strategic vision without paying a price. But the Saudis understandably want no part of this. The result will be a region made even more dangerous by the Arabs, as well as the Israelis, coming to the realization that they can’t rely on Washington.

The conceit of Obama’s strategy rests on more than a weak deal that he hopes will be enough to postpone the question of an Iranian bomb even as it essentially anoints Tehran as a threshold nuclear power. Rather it is predicated on the notion that once Iran is allowed to, in the president’s phrase, “get right with the world” and reintegrated into the global economy, it can be counted on to keep peace in a region from which Obama wants to withdraw.

That’s why the administration has tacitly allied itself with Iran in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and, bowed to Tehran’s desire to leave its ally Bashar Assad in power in Syria even as they sought to restrain the Islamist regime’s Houthi friends in their effort to take over Yemen. But given Iran’s desire for regional hegemony, it’s reliance on terrorist allies like Hezbollah and Hamas as well as Assad’s criminal regime, the notion that it is a force for stability is as much a delusion as the idea that it is giving up its quest for nuclear weapons.

Just as important, the Obama foreign policy team was convinced that it could afford to ignore the Saudis’ concerns about their intended entente with Iran with as much impunity as it did those of Israel. As one expert quoted in the New York Times said, the Saudis have no alternative to the U.S. as a superpower ally. But it has not failed to escape their attention that “there’s a growing perception at the White House that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are friends but not allies, while the U.S. and Iran are allies but not friends.”

Under the circumstances, the Saudis are now prepared to show the president the extent of their disdain. But it may not stop at that.

The Saudis, like the Israelis, know that America’s promises about both the nuclear deal and the future of the region are not worth much. The Iranians have been granted two paths to a bomb by the United States. One is by cheating via the easily evaded restrictions in the nuclear pact with little fear of sanctions being snapped back. The other is by patiently waiting for it to expire while continuing their nuclear research with little interference from a West that will be far more interested in trade than anything else.

That leaves the Saudis thinking they may need to procure their own nuclear option and to flex their muscles, as they have been doing in Yemen. It also sets up the region for what may be an ongoing series of confrontations between Iranian allies and the Saudis and their friends, a recipe for disaster.

Will Obama get the message and change course? That’s even less likely than him embracing Netanyahu. An administration that came into office determined to create more daylight between itself and Israel has now embarked on a policy designed to alienate all of America’s traditional allies in order to appease a vicious Islamist foe. Anyone who thinks this will turn out well simply isn’t paying attention to the same events that have left the Saudis and other U.S. allies thinking they are more or less being left on their own.

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Obama Gets Iran and North Korea Wrong

According to the Obama administration, they’ve learned their lessons from the disastrous American diplomatic effort that failed to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. According to a feature in today’s New York Times, the administration rejects the notion that their diplomatic initiative with Iran is a repeat of the foolish disastrous efforts of the Clinton and Bush administrations that accomplished nothing but paving the way for the regime in Pyongyang to go nuclear. But the argument that their crafting of a far more specific agreement with much greater incentives built into it to persuade Iran to forebear from violating its restrictions will succeed where past efforts with North Korea failed doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More to the point, and as the Times reports, officials in South Korea say President Obama has compounded the mistakes of his predecessors on North Korea with neglect. Rather than profit from past errors, it appears the administration has blundered on both nuclear fronts.

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According to the Obama administration, they’ve learned their lessons from the disastrous American diplomatic effort that failed to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. According to a feature in today’s New York Times, the administration rejects the notion that their diplomatic initiative with Iran is a repeat of the foolish disastrous efforts of the Clinton and Bush administrations that accomplished nothing but paving the way for the regime in Pyongyang to go nuclear. But the argument that their crafting of a far more specific agreement with much greater incentives built into it to persuade Iran to forebear from violating its restrictions will succeed where past efforts with North Korea failed doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More to the point, and as the Times reports, officials in South Korea say President Obama has compounded the mistakes of his predecessors on North Korea with neglect. Rather than profit from past errors, it appears the administration has blundered on both nuclear fronts.

As the Times reports, while President Obama’s foreign policy team concentrated all of their efforts in recent years on trying to appease Iran, the North Koreans took advantage of the distraction. South Koreans say Pyongyang’s mad rulers have gone “on an atomic spending spree” that Washington can no longer stop:

Satellite photographs of the North’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, released in 2013, have shown a doubling in size of the nuclear enrichment plant there, which the United States did not know about until 2010, and American officials strongly suspect there is a second one. A consensus is emerging that the North most likely possesses a dozen or so nuclear weapons and could be on the way to an arsenal of as many as 20 by the end of 2016.

The administration’s excuse on North Korea is that the cat was out of the bag long before Barack Obama arrived in the White House. That’s actually true as it was the Clinton administration and its chief negotiator Wendy Sherman who paved the way for North Korea to get a bomb with deals that Pyongyang quickly renounced after it received the Western bribes that were intended to entice them to renounce their nuclear ambitions. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the North Koreans have rightly come to the conclusion that Washington won’t do much no matter what they do. But since Obama rightly opposes negotiations that will recognize North Korea as a nuclear power and there is little short of war that the U.S. can do to force it to give up its weapons, some of the criticism of his conduct here is unfair.

But the problem is not so much that Obama hasn’t tried to learn from his predecessors’ folly but that he has asked the wrong questions about them and come to some terribly incorrect conclusions.

As Times Washington correspondent David Sanger notes, attempts to draw exact analogies between the North Korean and Iranian situations are not accurate. The agreements signed with North Korea were not as specific as the framework that has been drawn up with Iran. There have been some inspections of Iranian facilities though not as intrusive as would be necessary to ensure that they are not cheating and without being transparent about past nuclear military research. Moreover, the Iranian economy is sufficiently complex and dependent on foreign trade that the West had some real leverage over Tehran with the enforcement of tough sanctions.

Though the two rogue nuclear programs are different, what was the same was the fact that Sherman took on the same role with Iran that she had with North Korea. It’s true that she has not repeated the same exact mistakes she made before. But the problem is that instead of gaining from the experience, all it has done is to inspire her and her bosses to make different and perhaps even more tragic errors.

But what’s interesting about Obama’s policy toward the two countries is that while he thought getting tough was appropriate with North Korea, he rejected the same idea with Iran. This made no sense since not talking to Pyongyang did nothing to prevent them from rapidly expanding their nuclear arsenal on the president’s watch. Just as foolish was a decision to discard the considerable economic, political and military leverage the United States had over Iran. Instead of getting tough and isolating Iran as he unsuccessfully tried with North Korea, the president embraced favor a negotiating strategy that granted Tehran far reaching concessions that gives them two paths to a bomb: one by cheating easily evaded restrictions and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire.

Just as ridiculous is what Sanger reports about what the administration thinks the impact of the Iran deal will be on North Korea.

Some American officials say they have one last hope: If the deal with Iran works and sanctions are lifted, North Korean officials, who are following the negotiations closely, might conclude that their nuclear program could be traded for economic integration.

This is lunacy since, as even other members of the administration concede according to Sanger, the North Koreans want no part of economic integration with the West.

For all of the contrasts between these two problems, the common denominator is more than the presence of Sherman at the table. In the 1990s just as today, Western diplomats thought they could do business with a dangerous regime. With regard to North Korea, that was a colossal error and one that threatens the security of the Far East. But the implications of appeasing Iran are even more far reaching. In doing so, the administration has not only thrown away the good chance they had to bring Tehran to its knees via even tougher sanctions. It also has endangered the entire Middle East that now rightly fears that Iran’s dreams of regional hegemony have been made more likely by the United States decision to allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

Just as South Koreans now shake their heads at Obama’s misguided policy, so, too, do America’s Middle East allies — the Arab states as well as Israel — have reason to regret the fact that the president got both North Korea and Iran wrong.

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The Iran Deal Bill and the Myth of Bipartisanship

There will be a good deal of self-congratulation in Washington in the coming days over the passage of a Senate bill giving Congress the right to vote on the upcoming nuclear deal with Iran. Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell has pushed the bill sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin through the legislative gauntlet. The leadership tells us the bill is a tribute to their willingness to put aside their differences as it passed by a whopping 98-1 margin. In doing so, they have said that though it is not ideal, it is better than nothing. But they are wrong. Though the principle of forcing a vote on the most important treaty negotiated by the U.S. in a generation is important, the toothless compromise they have accepted is a sham that virtually guarantees the deal’s ratification. The bipartisanship that everyone will celebrate is nothing more than a Republican acknowledgment that President Obama can’t and won’t be stopped.

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There will be a good deal of self-congratulation in Washington in the coming days over the passage of a Senate bill giving Congress the right to vote on the upcoming nuclear deal with Iran. Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell has pushed the bill sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin through the legislative gauntlet. The leadership tells us the bill is a tribute to their willingness to put aside their differences as it passed by a whopping 98-1 margin. In doing so, they have said that though it is not ideal, it is better than nothing. But they are wrong. Though the principle of forcing a vote on the most important treaty negotiated by the U.S. in a generation is important, the toothless compromise they have accepted is a sham that virtually guarantees the deal’s ratification. The bipartisanship that everyone will celebrate is nothing more than a Republican acknowledgment that President Obama can’t and won’t be stopped.

Much of the backslapping about the passage of the bill is rooted in frustration about years of gridlock in which the two parties — or rather President Obama and Congress — have been hopelessly at odds. The 2013 government shutdown over the inclusion of an effort to repeal ObamaCare in the budget stands as a monument to just how far both Republicans and Democrats are willing to go to get their way. Thus, anything that can be portrayed as an effort by the sides to take half a loaf rather than none is seen as a triumph for common sense. There is something to be said for that way of thinking on a lot of issues. But what has happened during the debate about the nuclear threat from Iran illustrates that much of what passes for bipartisanship is merely an effort by which the losers pretend they haven’t been taken to the cleaners while the winners agree to let them engage in such a charade.

That is exactly what has happened on the Iran deal bill.

It should be recalled that coming into 2015, it appeared that there was an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both Houses of Congress for increased sanctions on Iran that would strengthen the administration’s hand in the nuclear negotiations. But President Obama had no interest in getting tough with his negotiating partners and bitterly opposed the idea. Once it became clear that he would make enough concessions to the Iranians to entice them to agree to a framework deal, the focus of those seeking to respond to events was on passing a bill that would force the president to submit any agreement to Congress for ratification. The president was as opposed to that idea as he was to more sanctions arguing that he need not be trammeled by the Constitution’s requirement that any treaty receive a two-thirds positive vote in the Senate.

The White House campaign to thwart critics of the Iran deal at first focused on generating partisan Democratic umbrage at the Republicans for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak against appeasement. Once the deal was done, that effort morphed into a more straight-forward one that aimed at rallying Democrats behind the president’s chief foreign policy goal: détente with Iran. Yet even many Democrats were queasy about the idea of not being able to vote on the Iran deal.

The White House recognized this and instead of heading off a vote altogether it concentrated its efforts on persuading Democrats to prevent the Republicans from drafting the measure in such a way as to make it meaningful. Thus, the final draft to emerge from the committee did not include any provisions that would make the administration accountable for Iranian compliance or altered behavior. When the president saw that a “clean” bill would be passed with a veto-proof majority, he happily signaled that he would sign rather than veto it.

In theory, this should make everyone happy and be a triumph for the ethos of bipartisanship. But the reason why the White House likes the clean bill is precisely because its passage does nothing to interfere with a policy of appeasement of Iran. By excluding any provisions from the bill that would ensure that Iran stop supporting terrorism and threatening Israel’s destruction and ensure a stricter crackdown on their nuclear program, there is no real accountability to the process. Even more than that, by allowing the measure to be framed as a Congressional vote rather than a treaty ratification, it gives the president the ability to veto the eventual vote on the deal and for it survive with only a one-third plus one margin to prevent an override.

As it stands, the Iran deal provides Iran with two paths to a bomb, one by easily evading its restrictions (which may not be enforced with tough inspections that Iran won’t allow) and another by patiently waiting for it to expire all the while continuing its nuclear research. In addition, there is no meaningful provision for snapping back sanctions in the event of Iran violating its word either in the deal or in the Congressional bill. And that’s assuming this or a future Democratic administration would ever admit that Iran was cheating.

Thus, all we are left with here is a charade of accountability that will let members of Congress vote on a deal with little likelihood that this will do anything to stop it. By accepting this as better than nothing all the Republicans are telling us is that they know they can’t beat Obama but want to show they’ve tried.

In 2013, centrists and members of the Republican leadership derided the absolutist stand of Senator Ted Cruz and others who supported the shutdown as being both suicidal and unrealistic. They were probably right in that instance but this time it is Cruz and his fellow presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio who have tried unsuccessfully to strengthen the will are the ones who are correct. In this case, something isn’t better than nothing since it gives the Iran deal the pretense of being ratified by Congress without any real oversight. If the Congressional leadership wanted to provide us with a better example of why bipartisanship isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, they could not have done better than this bill.

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