Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

Will Money Moderate Iran?

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

Acting State Department Spokesman Marie Harf insists that Iran will use that money, and perhaps the total $100 billion in sanction relief it expects, to rebuild its economy. While risible, Harf’s claim seems to reflect thinking by everyone from Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive national security advisor who initiated the Iran talks in the first place, to John Kerry, to Barack Obama himself. Unfortunately, it also reflects true ignorance of recent Iranian history.

Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union more than doubled its trade with Iran on the philosophy that the “China model” might work. That is, trade and economic liberalization might lead to political liberalization. At the same time, the price of oil—and therefore Iran’s income—nearly quintupled.

That cash infusion, alas, coincided with the collapse of the reform movement under President Mohammad Khatami—reformism more or less ran out of steam by 2000—and it also coincided with a massive infusion of cash into Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the construction of the then-covert enrichment plant at Natanz. Indeed, this is the whole reason why those claiming to be reformists (Hassan Rouhani, for example, who as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council supervised the build-up of the nuclear program) claim credit for advancing the nuclear program.

It is true that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) does profit to some extent off of sanctions; after all, they control most of the black market. But the logic that an end to sanctions would disadvantage the IRGC and regime hardliners is disingenuous. After all, Khatam al-Anbia, the economic wing of the IRGC, alongside the revolutionary foundations control perhaps 40 percent of the Iranian economy. Any oil deal or serious import-export contracts would disproportionately empower the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian regime over ordinary Iranian people or so-called “moderates” or “pragmatists.”

To suggest infusing cash into the Iranian economy will repair that economy rather than enable Iranian hardliners to further support and sponsor terrorism throughout the region is simply ignorant. It is ignorant of Iran’s ideology, ignorant of the outcome of past episodes where similar strategies were tried, and ignorant of the economic and political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To infuse such money into Iran’s economy is, effectively, to sponsor a state sponsor of terrorism.

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Did Corker Give Congress a Fighting Chance on Iran Deal?

Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

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Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

Yet today Corker managed to convince every member of the Foreign Relations Committee to endorse a bill that would give Congress the right to approve any lifting of sanctions as a result of the nuclear deal. So thoroughly did he manage to win over Democrats that Obama, facing a veto-proof majority, had no choice but to concede that he would sign the legislation. How did Corker do it? It’s hard to know exactly from the outside but it sounds as if, in negotiating with committee Democrats, he made some cosmetic changes, such as shortening the congressional review period from 60 to 30 days and not requiring Obama to certify that Iran has gotten out of the business of supporting anti-American terrorism. Such changes will spark criticism from some on the right, but the essential point appears intact—namely, that Obama will have to allow Congress to weigh in, something that he has so far adamantly resisted doing.

Ironically, this legislation could actually strengthen Obama’s hand with the Iranians: Secretary of State John Kerry can now plausibly tell his Iranian interlocutors that, however much he would like to concede their points, Congress won’t stand for it. But the larger message of today’s action should not be comforting to a president who has bet his entire foreign-policy legacy on reaching a deal with Iran regardless of its contents.

The basic message, from Democrats and Republicans alike, is that there is deep unease in Congress, as well as in the country at large, about the terms of the accord that Obama is negotiating. And for good cause: As former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have noted, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” Those concerns were only exacerbated by Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will move ahead with the delivery of a sophisticated S-300 air defense system to Iran that will make its nuclear plants much harder to hit from the air in the future. Now at least there will be a fighting chance for Congress to try to stop a bad deal, even if the odds still favor the president, given his enormous leeway in the conduct of foreign affairs.

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The Only Iran Contradictions Are Obama’s

The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

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The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

If critics of the current Iran deal had their way, we wouldn’t roll the situation back to November 2013. Rather, we’d go back to where we were before the president discarded the enormous economic and political leverage it had over the Islamist regime when he signed off on that pact. The interim deal fundamentally altered the landscape of the negotiations because, as critics repeatedly charged at the time, for the first time the West implicitly granted an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and to hold onto its nuclear infrastructure in a flat contradiction of past United Nations resolutions. It loosened sanctions whose enacting had taken long years of congressional debates over Obama administration objections and foot dragging from allies and frenemies like Russia and China. And it established a model by which Iran would be allowed to hold onto the considerable stockpile of enriched uranium it amassed in a form that could be easily and quickly reconverted for potential use for a bomb.

That result was obtained by a series of breathtaking concessions by the Obama administration that flatly contradicted the president’s 2012 campaign promises about Iran in which he pledged that any deal with the regime would be predicated on the end of its nuclear program. But both the president and Secretary of State Kerry claimed it was the best that could possibly be achieved because the Iranians wouldn’t agree to anything better. More than that, using the president’s trademark straw man style of argument, they asserted the only alternative to bending to the will of the ayatollahs was war. That was, of course, absurd, since the clear alternative was to stick to the tough sanctions that were in place and then tighten them further to squeeze Iran to the point where its failing economy and low oil prices would bring the regime to its knees. Once there it might be expected to be more amenable to restrictions that would actually forestall their efforts to build a bomb.

That was bad, but it was far preferable to the Iranians’ astonishing victory in the negotiations that followed. Building on past concessions extracted from the West, the Iranians are now in a position where they will be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges, their impregnable nuclear plant at Fordow, maintain their pace of nuclear research, and keep their stockpile of uranium in an agreement that will actually expire in 15 years, after which they will be free to do anything they like. Nor does this deal constrain their building of ballistic missiles that could reach the West or force them to stop supporting terrorism, threatening Israel with destruction, or undermining the stability of moderate Arab regimes. On top of that, the Iranians are making it clear they will not allow surprise inspections (the only way the West has a prayer of monitoring compliance) or open up their facilities so the United Nations can assess its progress on military use of nuclear technology, flatly contradicting the assertions about the deal made by Kerry. Compared to this debacle, the November 2013 agreement seems very stout indeed.

We are also told by the administration that the Iranians have abided by the interim deal but given the paucity of Western intelligence about the secret nuclear sites that all the parties openly concede must be there and the lack of real inspections, such assertions are at best conjectures but more likely mere wishful thinking.

Given a choice between maintaining the status quo and agreeing to a new deal that will allow the Iranians to easily cheat their way to a bomb quickly or get one by showing a bit more patience while actually abiding by it, the status quo is far more palatable. But that doesn’t mean that first retreat was wise or serve as a testimonial for a follow-up agreement that doubles down on appeasement in an unprecedented manner.

Having taken us down this road with Iran in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible to stop or even turn back to a situation where the West might regain its leverage over Iran, the administration’s apologists are in no position to claim that their opponents are being inconsistent. The problem here is not a partisan Republican opposition that will disagree with anything the president does but an administration that has piled mistake upon mistake to create a situation that isn’t easily rectified. The baseline established by the interim deal made the concessions of the current agreement inevitable. The United States would be wise to start walking back these mistakes, undeterred by false arguments about war or Iran never agreeing to a better deal. But the president is so committed to the chimera of détente with the Islamist regime he will never admit his initial mistakes. Instead, he claims they were brilliant strokes and press toadies like Milbank applaud such deceptions. The only “Iran Contradictions” here are the ones between Obama’s concessions and his promise to stop them from getting a bomb.

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

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In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, not far from Damascus. The refugees, already struggling through Syria’s civil war, found themselves in an almost Stalingrad-like state this month when ISIS laid siege to the camp. CNN describes what happened next:

Besieged and bombed by Syrian forces for more than two years, the desperate residents of this Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus awoke in early April to a new, even more terrifying reality — ISIS militants seizing Yarmouk after defeating several militia groups operating in the area.

“They slaughtered them in the streets,” one Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “They (caught) three people and killed them in the street, in front of people. The Islamic State is now in control of almost all the camp.”

An estimated 18,000 refugees are now trapped inside Yarmouk, stuck between ISIS and Syrian regime forces in “the deepest circle of hell,” in the words of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. …

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front control about 90% of the camp. The organization also claims that the Syrian government has dropped barrel bombs on the camp in an effort to drive out armed groups.

The plight of the Yarmouk camp isn’t exactly capturing the world’s attention. And a big reason for that, as even Israel’s critics are now acknowledging, mirrors the Kurdish complaint to Goldberg. The Palestinians of Yarmouk are cursed with three barbaric enemies, none of them Jews. And so the world yawns.

Mehdi Hasan, who would never be mistaken for a Zionist shill, takes to the pages of the Guardian, which would never be mistaken for a pro-Israel bullhorn, to call out the hypocrisy. He explains the terrible condition of the camp and the horrors endured by its residents throughout the civil war. Then he (of course) engages in the requisite throat-clearing about Israel’s “crimes” and the “occupation of Palestine.”

But he finally gets around to his point:

Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

That is the first of three lessons of the story of Yarmouk: that the world cares about Palestinian suffering when it can be blamed on the Jews. For the sake of posterity, Hasan even runs down a list of atrocities perpetrated on the Palestinians by other Arabs. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor would anybody in his right mind try to deny it. At least Hasan wants to change it.

The second lesson is that the Palestinians and their advocates often have unexpected allies, and rather than embrace even a temporary alliance they live in denial. Hasan illustrates this as well when he writes:

So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities.

That is an Obama-level false choice hand in hand with a straw man. And it shows just how unwilling Hasan is to make common cause with people he dislikes politically. Neoconservatives are not nearly so pro-intervention in Syria as Hasan suggests (this is a common mistake that virtually every non-neoconservative who talks about the Syria conflict makes). But notice how quickly Hasan seems to change key: it’s a crisis, and has been a burgeoning disaster for years, and yet those who want to intervene are slammed as wanting to “ask questions later.”

Meanwhile, the negotiated track has failed. This is the reality: Assad has the upper hand, and ISIS has had success with their brutality, and neither one is ready to sit down at the table with representatives of Palestinian refugees to shake hands and end the war.

And that brings us to the third lesson, related to the second. Just as the Palestinians’ opponents are sometimes their best allies, the Palestinians’ friends often turn out to be anything but. There is no negotiated solution for the Palestinians of Yarmouk on the horizon because President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have already thrown them to the wolves.

The Obama administration, which happily hammers Israel for every perceived violation of Palestinian rights, has struck a bargain to reorder the Middle East by elevating Iran and its proxies, such as Assad. The plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk does not interest this president and his team in the least. After all, it can’t be blamed on Israel.

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Obama’s the Partisan on Iran, Not the GOP

President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

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President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

The claim of partisanship has been an essential part of the administration’s game plan on Iran. Instead of relying on his less than convincing arguments justifying his indefensible concessions to the Islamist regime, the president made the very smart tactical decision to play offense instead of defense. That worked pretty well when it allowed him to make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the Iran nuclear threat seem more like a Republican initiative rather than a wake-up call on an issue of paramount importance. And it may work again as he fends off complaints about the nuclear deal he has truck with Iran that Tehran keeps telling us won’t constrain their ambitions in the way Kerry and Obama claim it will.

The president is, after all, faced with a difficult dilemma. The agreement with Iran was only achieved after a breathtaking series of retreats on the part of American negotiators. Obama had pledged when running for reelection in 2012 that any Iran deal would involve the end of its nuclear program. Instead, he has signed off on a deal that will leave them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, all of their nuclear plants (including the impregnable mountainside redoubt at Fordow) and in possession of a large stockpile of nuclear material that can easily be re-converted for use in a bomb. The president has acknowledged that the Iranians will continue to work on nuclear research and that the “breakout” time to a bomb will be less at the end of the deal than at the start. He has also agreed to a sunset clause that will end restrictions on Iranian activity in 15 years enabling Iran to get a bomb by adhering to the agreement even if they don’t take advantage of the ample chances to cheat on it.

So what else can he do but to claim Republicans are just opposing it because they don’t like anything he does? The GOP may be ready to say no to most anything he would try, but the problem for the administration is that if there has been any issue on which there has been a bipartisan consensus these last six years, it is Iran. Large bipartisan majorities were mustered for Iran sanctions that the president opposes, though he now takes credit for those measures bringing Iran to the table. Similarly large majorities existed at the start of the year for more sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen Obama’s hand in the talks and might have given him the ability to resist Iranian pressure to make even more concessions to them. If those majorities have cracks in them today it is only because the White House has worked furiously since January to convince wavering Democrats that opposing sanctions, or even the Corker-Menendez bill that would compel the administration to submit a deal to Congress for approval, would be a betrayal of their party loyalty. The same trick was tried to make Democrats boycott Netanyahu’s speech.

For Obama, Iran has become a test of Democrats’ fealty to his personal rule as an executive who refuses to let his pursuit of détente with Iran be constrained even by the Senate performing its constitutional obligation to ratify foreign treaties.

Can this tactic work? Washington is a city where politics always rules triumphant so there’s no reason to think it won’t. The only problem is that Iran won’t play along, as its supreme leader continues to point out that he will insist on keeping its nuclear secrets, refusing surprise inspections (the only way monitoring of their efforts will have a chance of working) and insisting that sanctions are lifted immediately. Given his track record of folding to Iran at every point in the talks, there’s no reason to believe Obama won’t do it again in order to get the Iranians to sign a written agreement by June. McCain is right about Kerry being “delusional” if he believes the Iranians won’t count on the U.S. backing down again.

But unfortunately, Obama is right about the impact of partisanship. Though he is projecting onto Republicans his own trademark tactic for winning battles, it’s likely that he will be able to use party loyalty to convince enough Democrats to defect from the bipartisan consensus on stopping Iran. Hypocrisy has never stopped him before, even if it means he is, like his secretary of state, being less honest about the deal than the leader of an anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring Islamist regime.

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Does Anyone Think Obama Won’t Fold to Iran Again?

Whether it was theatrics aimed at Congressional critics or the Iranian leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded pretty tough yesterday when discussing what Tehran would be required to do in the final written version of the nuclear deal he struck with the Islamist regime last week. Kerry said Iran would have to open up its facilities to United Nations inspectors so that they could gauge the extent of research that had been conducted on possible military dimensions of their work. What’s more, a State Department spokesperson said today that sanctions on Iran would only be ended in a phased manner as the regime proved itself to be in compliance with the restrictions in the agreement. Yet today we also heard from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who stated clearly that while he was not directly opposed to the deal, sanctions would have to be lifted the day it was signed and that he would never allow the United Nations to inspect the military sites Kerry referenced. Does anyone want to bet on who will prevail in this test of wills?

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Whether it was theatrics aimed at Congressional critics or the Iranian leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded pretty tough yesterday when discussing what Tehran would be required to do in the final written version of the nuclear deal he struck with the Islamist regime last week. Kerry said Iran would have to open up its facilities to United Nations inspectors so that they could gauge the extent of research that had been conducted on possible military dimensions of their work. What’s more, a State Department spokesperson said today that sanctions on Iran would only be ended in a phased manner as the regime proved itself to be in compliance with the restrictions in the agreement. Yet today we also heard from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who stated clearly that while he was not directly opposed to the deal, sanctions would have to be lifted the day it was signed and that he would never allow the United Nations to inspect the military sites Kerry referenced. Does anyone want to bet on who will prevail in this test of wills?

In the best tradition of the perennially over-optimist Kremlin watchers of the Cold War era, some supporters of the Iran deal are claiming that Khamenei’s speech constitutes a victory for President Obama. That argument, an opinion put forward in the guise of analysis in the New York Times news story about the speech, holds that the ayatollah’s remarks constitutes a grudging acceptance of the need to make peace with the West and a signal to the country’s “hardliners” that they will gradually have to get used to the limitations on their nuclear program.

That’s an interesting theory that tells us more about the hopes of supporters of the president’s effort to create a new détente with Iran than it does about Khamenei and his followers. Moreover, it is flatly contradicted by the history of the past two years of nuclear negotiations with the Islamist regime. Every previous time the Iranians have said no to the West on an important issue, the result is always the same: President Obama and his envoys are the ones who gradually get used to not having their way and eventually bow to the demands of Iranian negotiators who are, by the way, the ones that the smart analysts consider to be the “moderates” in the Iranian political universe.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that President Obama was vowing during his re-election campaign that any deal with Iran would involve the end of their nuclear program. Yet last week he boasted of an agreement that would leave it with thousands of centrifuges.

We were also told that Iran would have to submit to rigorous inspections of its facilities anytime and anywhere without prior warning. This week the administration is defending the absence of such inspections and telling us they are unnecessary.

The world was assured that Iran would have to ship its stockpile of nuclear fuel out of the country in the event of an agreement. Now we understand that it will remain on Iranian soil where it can be easily reconverted to use for a bomb.

Indeed, the list of U.S. concessions to Iran is endless. That is why the president is forced to defend a deal with a sunset clause that will, at best, limit Iran’s ability to build a bomb for only 15 years. Thanks to Iran’s tough stands in the talks, it can easily cheat its way to a bomb but it can also get one by complying with the deal’s terms if it is patient enough.

The reason for all these concessions is that the president decided that a deal that imposes even a slight burden on Iran’s ability to construct a weapon is better than no deal at all. When faced with the possibility of Iran walking away from the talks over any of these and other significant points of contention, the U.S. decided that squandering a chance for an agreement on virtually any terms would be a far worse outcome than watering down an already weak deal.

Why then should we believe that now that the president has achieved what his media cheering section is calling a legacy-making diplomatic triumph, he will throw it away just for the sake of closing a few more loopholes through Iran could squeeze through to make a bomb?

As has been the case throughout the negotiations, Iran continues to hold the whip hand over the U.S. because the president and Kerry want a deal a lot more than the Iranians. That’s in spite of the fact that it is an economically distressed Iran that has far more to gain from a deal than the Americans. Yet that didn’t stop Obama from throwing away the vast economic and political leverage that he had over Khamenei throughout the talks. Having already given up so much to get so little, the president is in too deep to pull back now. Nor can the president, who has invested so much scarce political capital in the effort to fend off Congressional or Israeli interference in his rush to an entente with Tehran, suddenly declare that the deal is off because of problems that he has already dismissed as mere details.

That’s why Khamenei is confident that, as he has at every previous impasse in the talks, it will be Obama who blinks first. Given Obama’s track record, it seems as if the Iranians are a safe bet to prevail once again and that it will be Kerry who will be eating his words in June, not the Grand Ayatollah.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal Collapses

Today is National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran, and so a number of senior Iranian officials have given speeches regarding the ongoing negotiations process with the United States and the other members of the P5+1. Long story short: The Framework Agreement, at least that described by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is dead. It was either a figment of Mr. Kerry’s imagination or simply rejected by the Iranian regime despite the promises and charm of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who, alas, has had a history of deceiving American negotiators.

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Today is National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran, and so a number of senior Iranian officials have given speeches regarding the ongoing negotiations process with the United States and the other members of the P5+1. Long story short: The Framework Agreement, at least that described by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is dead. It was either a figment of Mr. Kerry’s imagination or simply rejected by the Iranian regime despite the promises and charm of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who, alas, has had a history of deceiving American negotiators.

Yesterday, the Iranian defense minister ruled out any inspections at military sites, a statement that contradicts Obama’s statements regarding verification. After all, most of the Iranian work on “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program occurred on military bases and, especially, at Parchin.

Today, the supreme leader of Iran, who has hitherto been silent, posted the following statement on his website which the Open Source Center translated:

The Leader of the Revolution, in a meeting with religious eulogists, said: They are asking why has he not taken a position on the nuclear [issue]. There was no need to take a position. The officials are saying that nothing has been done yet and nothing is obligatory. I neither agree nor disagree.

So, what Obama has called a “Framework Agreement” turns out to be nothing at all. Indeed, Khamenei is not optimistic:

Everything is in the details; it is possible that the untrustworthy side wants to restrict our country in the details. Your current congratulations to me and others are meaningless. Whatever has been done so far does not ensure either the principle — and content — or that the talks will reach the end.

Khamenei has thrown down the gauntlet: Either you accept Iran’s positions or Iran walks away. “Not making a deal is more honorable than making a deal that destroys our interests and the nation’s dignity,” Khamenei told an audience of religious eulogists.

And as for Rouhani, whom the Obama administration has consistently misread as a reformist, here’s what he had to say on Iranian television earlier today, with the transcript provided by the Open Source Center:

“The president of America said in those days ‘We have come to this conclusion that the Iranian nation will not surrender to pressure, sanctions and force,” Rouhani said. “Our victory is that the largest military and economic power of the world, that is to say America, and the president of this country, admitted this reality,” he said.

Rouhani then declared, “We will not sign any agreement that does not immediately abolish all economic sanctions from the first day of the implementation of the agreement.”

Completing the troika is Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. Here’s what he had to say with regard to the State Department’s fact sheet: “The fact sheet is of no legal value and it should not be considered important.”

The Iranian behavior should not surprise. For Iran, the negotiations were never about resolving outstanding nuclear questions. Had they been, negotiations would hardly have been necessary; all Iran had to do was comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement with which the International Atomic Energy Agency had, in 2005, found it in breach. Rather, it was about sanctions relief. And, indeed, here Zarif’s behavior has been most telling. Asked on Iranian television about the idea that the sanctions’ architecture would remain in place, in effect allowing sanctions to “snap back” in case of Iranian cheating, as Obama has promised, he reportedly laughed and declared that the international sanctions regime had already collapsed.

President Obama has had his celebration, but it is now time to return to reality and address the farce which he, Secretary of State John Kerry, or their nuclear negotiation team has led the United States. This should not be a partisan football. It is hard to imagine any Democrat or Republican could agree to a plan whose basic principles as described by Obama and Kerry are now no longer valid. Mr. President, Mr. Kerry, please explain what has happened and how this has happened.

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Iran: Military Sites Off-Limits to Inspectors

President Barack Obama called the framework agreement Secretary of State John Kerry and other representatives of the P5+1 reached in Lausanne “historic.” Alas, as time passes and more is learned about the agreement and Iran’s understanding of it, the more it does seem to be “historic,” but for all the wrong reasons.

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President Barack Obama called the framework agreement Secretary of State John Kerry and other representatives of the P5+1 reached in Lausanne “historic.” Alas, as time passes and more is learned about the agreement and Iran’s understanding of it, the more it does seem to be “historic,” but for all the wrong reasons.

One of the key concerns of the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency has been “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program (see the annex to this IAEA report for a listing of these). Much of the work Iran conducted on military dimensions of a nuclear program occurred in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities and on their bases.

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan today said that the Lausanne Framework does not commit Iran to provide international inspectors access to such military facilities. From Fars News:

Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has rejected reports on inspection of the country’s military facilities being included in the recent deal achieved by Iran and the world powers (P5+1) in Switzerland’s Lausanne on April 2, Fars news agency reported on April 8. According to Fars, commenting on “domestic media highlighting such baseless claims by foreign media about the Lausanne agreement,” Dehqan said, “Such actions do not serve national interests, but in fact set the ground for enemy’s excessive demands… The Supreme Leader’s, the government’s approach and the determination of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team together do not allow the other party to impose anything on the Iranian nation.” Referring to “false claims by foreign media outlets such as the Guardian newspaper” on inspection of the country’s military facilities being a part of the Lausanne statement, Dehqan stressed: “There is no such agreement. Basically, inspection of military facilities is a red line and no inspection of any kind from such facilities would be accepted.”

So the Iranian government now contradicts President Obama’s announcement and the State Department fact-sheet with regard to when sanctions will be lifted, centrifuges, enrichment, and even plutonium. Now let’s add inspections and possible military dimensions to the list. Obama is right. The Lausanne agreement is historic. It will be studied by generations of diplomats who will use it to illustrate American naïveté, Iranian duplicity, and the dangers of not actually gaining agreements in writing.

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Iran Announces Film to Celebrate Israel’s Coming Destruction

President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

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President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

It is akin to saying North Korea seeks South Korea’s destruction and it would be too complicated to impede Pyongyang’s murderous intent. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expansionist intent? Well, let’s not let his imperialist ambitions toward the Baltics, Poland, and the rest of Ukraine get in the way of our diplomacy.

The Iranian regime’s character isn’t some inconvenient detail; it is the central problem. And as if to underline the problem, the Islamic Republic has announced a new documentary film which will celebrate the life of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. It’s bad enough lionizing a master terrorist responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the description of the film is even more telling: The film Commander will depict Iran’s and Soleimani’s strategic approach to destroy not only the Islamic State but also “the Zionist regime.” Importantly, the article describing the film was published after agreement on a nuclear framework between the P5+1 and Iran. Let’s hope that with their willful naivete, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t get credit for small but important bit roles.

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Iran Understands Momentum; Obama Does Not

President Barack Obama bases his surrender to Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the notion that his olive branch is reversible. In effect, he believes, it can’t hurt to talk. That’s a notion inculcated into diplomatic culture, and put forward by at various times by accomplished diplomats like Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker. It’s also a notion which is demonstrably wrong.

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President Barack Obama bases his surrender to Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the notion that his olive branch is reversible. In effect, he believes, it can’t hurt to talk. That’s a notion inculcated into diplomatic culture, and put forward by at various times by accomplished diplomats like Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker. It’s also a notion which is demonstrably wrong.

A nuclear deal isn’t like mail ordering a child’s toy with 100-percent guarantee on returns. Once Obama went down the path toward even a framework agreement—never mind that the framework seems increasingly illusionary by the day—he effectively ceded any and all momentum to the Iranians.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif once studied in the States. He speaks English. But spending time in America and speaking English does not make a foreign ideologue sympathetic to America; rather, it simply enables that ideologue to be able to communicate more easily with Americans. Just as after a visit to Damascus as senator, John Kerry became convinced of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s reformist nature, now as secretary of state, Kerry has allowed Zarif to substitute charm for sincerity.

Hence, Zarif’s triumphalist gloating upon his return to Tehran: Bahman Kalbasi, a correspondent for BBC TV Persian Service, tweeted, “State TV host: ‘But the US says the architecture of sanctions stays?’ Zarif laughs: It has already collapsed.” Rouhani, likewise, has been triumphalist as he once again lives up to his reputation as the regime’s “Mr. Fix-It,” getting the financial relief the Iranian leadership so craved at little or no cost to the Islamic Republic itself. The sanctions, Obama promised, would “snap back into place” if Iran didn’t meet its obligations.

But since the death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, through the early days of Critical Dialogue (when, against Europe’s outstretched hand, Iranian hitmen assassinated dissidents in downtown Berlin), and after the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center, the Iranian government understands that the European Union cares more about mercantile issues than human rights or international security. Nor does Russian President Vladimir Putin even bother about the pretense of caring about human rights. Zarif is right; international sanctions crafted and carefully pushed through the Security Council by men like John Bolton (something Obama and partisans forget) have effectively been squandered upon the altar of Obama’s ego and Kerry’s ambition. There is no going back. Deal or no deal on June 30, Iran’s goal in negotiations has always been sanctions relief, not nuclear normalization. Tehran has won; international momentum against it has evaporated. From Iran’s perspective, Zarif has reason to gloat.

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Inability to Free Iran’s American Hostages Shows Deal’s Faulty Logic

With the United States, as part of the P5+1, striking a framework deal with Iran, the issue of the four American hostages seized in and still held by Iran has once again come to the forefront. It’s hard to conceive that the United States would have given the Islamic Republic of Iran $11.9 billion in unfrozen assets and not received a simple gesture of goodwill in return, although it is also true that the United States should not offer concessions to regimes like Iran and North Korea which so often seek to profit from seizing Americans.

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With the United States, as part of the P5+1, striking a framework deal with Iran, the issue of the four American hostages seized in and still held by Iran has once again come to the forefront. It’s hard to conceive that the United States would have given the Islamic Republic of Iran $11.9 billion in unfrozen assets and not received a simple gesture of goodwill in return, although it is also true that the United States should not offer concessions to regimes like Iran and North Korea which so often seek to profit from seizing Americans.

Beyond the fate of the individual hostages, the inability of the Obama administration to release them—despite Secretary of State John Kerry insisting he raises their cases at every opportunity—suggests a greater logical flaw in Obama’s outreach to Iran. In briefings with Congress, former Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan—an initiator of the talks under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—has suggested that Team Obama sees Rouhani as a Deng Xiaoping figure. They believe that by working with Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and giving them a victory of an economy-rescuing deal, they can permanently strengthen the reformist camp against regime hardliners. This represents a fundamental misreading of Rouhani, who is Khamenei’s “Mr. Fix-It,” but even that can be put aside.

Here’s the problem: If Obama and Kerry give Rouhani and Zarif a pass on the hostages because, presumably, Rouhani and Zarif say that they are held by hardline circles to embarrass the United States and cannot easily be sprung, then what does that say about Rouhani and Zarif’s ability to impact the more troubling aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, for example its possible military dimensions. After all, if Rouhani and Zarif cannot overcome hardliners on such a simple matter as the hostages, how can they be expected to overcome the Iranian hardline bureaucracy which controls the nuclear program? Obama may believe he has negotiated a “historic” deal, but all indications are he might have simply bought the Brooklyn Bridge—or perhaps the Karun River Bridge—because if Team Obama’s failure to spring the hostages is any indication, they are negotiating with Iranian figures who lack the power to impact Iranian policy. No wonder Rouhani is already back-peddling.

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Rouhani Throws Down the Gauntlet on Lifting Sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Iran Deal “Framework” Is Bad, But It’ll Probably Get Even Worse

Lost in much of the discussion about why President Obama was so determined to announce a “framework” for an Iran deal this week is that, in addition to delaying sanctions and portraying opponents of the agreement as warmongers, the president was surely aware that before it’s actually signed, this deal is likely to get worse. And there are two ways the already disappointing deal can degenerate further between now and then.

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Lost in much of the discussion about why President Obama was so determined to announce a “framework” for an Iran deal this week is that, in addition to delaying sanctions and portraying opponents of the agreement as warmongers, the president was surely aware that before it’s actually signed, this deal is likely to get worse. And there are two ways the already disappointing deal can degenerate further between now and then.

The first way is obvious: all the vague language in the deal leaves it open to fudging on both sides. And the Obama administration, which has telegraphed its desperation for a deal, will be negotiating from a position of weakness until the June 30 deadline. Will Obama walk away from an imperfect PMD (possible military dimension) verification regime? Almost certainly not. And so that’s precisely the kind of verification regime the Iranians and Russians will demand, making Obama’s “unprecedented” claims look silly. (Throughout his presidency, when Obama says something is “unprecedented” it usually means he must assert it because he can’t demonstrate it or prove it.)

Indeed, the language on PMDs is quite telling: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.” In other words, on this crucial aspect of inspections and verification, we’re still at square one. It’s the kind of detail that could make or break a deal under any sane negotiations, but Obama’s basically saying “we’ll get around to it.” As such, it doesn’t really exist in a meaningful sense right now.

The sanctions relief is also quite vague, and the Iranians are already telegraphing they expect Obama to cave on them too. The sanctions most certainly cannot be “snapped back” into place as soon as the Iranians are accused of cheating, as the president dishonestly claimed yesterday. Any sanctions lifted are likely to stay that way. This will encourage the Iranians to cheat sooner rather than later, because the Obama administration will let them keep their Fordow facility as well, meaning the deal could quite possibly enable Iran to get the bomb soon and free of (most) sanctions. It’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s also quite likely.

The second way the deal could deteriorate between now and June 30 is on the hard numbers already “agreed to.” Remember, as our Abe Greenwald made a point of saying yesterday, there is no deal.

So ask yourself the following question: From what we know of the nuclear diplomacy with Iran thus far, are the Iranians more likely to take the current non-agreement as sincere obligations, or are they more likely to use this list of understandings as a baseline for the next three months of negotiations?

As you consider the question, remember that Obama has already capitulated on various aspects of the deal on which he supposedly stood firm in the past. When you look at the list of details in this framework, what you are seeing is confirmation of the erosion of America’s demands over time.

As Michael Rubin noted yesterday, the baseline trick is a regular feature of rogue regimes’ negotiations with the West. Rubin wrote:

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

We don’t yet know if Iran is willing to get to yes. But we know they’d be willing to walk away. So far, that hasn’t been true of Obama. The president and Secretary Kerry, over the next few months, are going to be presented with more Iranian demands, and each time those demands will be important enough to the Iranians to walk away from the table. That won’t be the case for Obama and Kerry, who have shown a willingness to capitulate on all manner of demands precisely because they can’t stomach the idea that this or that one concession could torpedo everything.

They’ve invested too much in this. This is, as the president’s advisor once said, the ObamaCare of the administration’s second term. It is the central pillar in Obama’s foreign-policy legacy. And it’s why the agreed framework, as weak a deal as it already portends, is likely to get even worse for the West from here on out.

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Russia to Take Iran Deal to the Bank—By Selling Arms

Well, if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to be believed, then the preliminary framework accord that the P5+1 struck with Iran was truly historic, and will usher in a new era of peace.

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Well, if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to be believed, then the preliminary framework accord that the P5+1 struck with Iran was truly historic, and will usher in a new era of peace.

Someone may have forgotten to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that. According to RIA Novosti (and translated by the Open Source Center):

Russia may resume the implementation of the contract to ship S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran if the UN Security Council lifts sanctions against Tehran, head of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade Igor Korotchenko was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti (part of the state-owned International News Agency Rossiya Segodnya) on 3 April. “The lifting of sanctions from Iran, including sanctions on arms trade – would be a perfectly logical development of the current situation. The contract to ship the latest modifications of the S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran is of key importance to Russia. That contract may be renewed on conditions that Moscow and Tehran find suitable,” Korotchenko said.

The S-300, of course, is one of the most sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons. In 2007, Iran agreed to purchase the S-300 for $800 million, but delayed the sale as a result of U.S. and European diplomatic pressure, ultimately suspending it in 2010, citing United Nations sanctions. Thanks to Kerry et al., it seems to be back on. Given Iran’s promise to export such weaponry, perhaps Obama simply hopes to add it as an agenda item at his after-the-fact Camp David consultation with the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and, separately, in his telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Alas, the rest of the Middle East resides in the real world rather than a bubble of rhetoric. They understand that the tremendous infusion of power with which Obama bestowed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will cost lives. Who wins? Alas, only Putin, and of course his bank account.

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First Friday Prayers after Deal: “Death to America”

Well, Mohammad Javad Zarif might know how to charm politicians like Secretary of State John Kerry and his diplomatic team but, increasingly, it seems as if President Obama’s notion of a historic change in Iranian behavior was, well, a bit premature.

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Well, Mohammad Javad Zarif might know how to charm politicians like Secretary of State John Kerry and his diplomatic team but, increasingly, it seems as if President Obama’s notion of a historic change in Iranian behavior was, well, a bit premature.

Every Friday afternoon in Iran, in Tehran and every major provincial capital and town, a senior cleric will give a sermon which outlines the themes and beliefs of the regime. Think of it as a religiously-oriented weekly State of the Union address.

Two weeks ago, chants of “Death to America” against the backdrop of a sermon by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made headlines, although some journalists tried to put a positive spin on the event. Well, fast forward two weeks. As Iran is 8.5 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, Friday afternoon has come and passed in Tehran, so what happened after yesterday’s game-changer?

Crowds chanted “Death to America” and “Death to the al-Sa’ud” according to the Iranian press, not just in one city but across the country. Indeed, here it says that finally, the “Death to America” mantra is being realized.

John Kerry, call your office.

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How Will Iran Celebrate National Nuclear Technology Day?

It says a lot about the Islamic Republic that it annually celebrates a “National Nuclear Technology Day,” a state-directed rally and stage-managed media event to cheerlead for future nuclear breakthroughs. While the state-directed Iranian press has now removed the story from the Internet and blocked its access through archival sites, it’s worth asking why it was that earlier this year the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) declared that on April 9, 2015, the Islamic Republic would announce breakthroughs in laser enrichment:

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It says a lot about the Islamic Republic that it annually celebrates a “National Nuclear Technology Day,” a state-directed rally and stage-managed media event to cheerlead for future nuclear breakthroughs. While the state-directed Iranian press has now removed the story from the Internet and blocked its access through archival sites, it’s worth asking why it was that earlier this year the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) declared that on April 9, 2015, the Islamic Republic would announce breakthroughs in laser enrichment:

The AEOI has acquired the technology for the production of different types of lasers, and there are more successes which will be declared soon,” [Asghar] Zarean said, addressing a number of Iranian officials during a tour of Iran’s nuclear installations in Fordo, Natanz and Isfahan. Stressing that the sanctions couldn’t undermine the country’s determination to make progress in using the civilian nuclear technology, he announced that the Iranian nuclear experts’ new achievements will be unveiled on April 9 (the National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran).

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have blessed a research and development capability at the underground Fordo facility, but it’s unclear what research and development Iran will undertake. When President Obama suggests that Iran has adhered to its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the limited demands of the JPOA make that analogous to a policeman saying a drunk driver passed his sobriety test because he counted to one. Laser enrichment was not included in the JPOA, and yet provides a path to the bomb. Iran can try to sink those stories to the memory hole. The question is whether Obama will let them.

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Obama’s Preemptive Attack on Critics of the Iran “Framework”

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry went to some lengths to head off criticism of today’s framework agreement with Iran. And the president himself indicated just how concerned he was about the reaction among our allies by calling out potential critics–in the case of the Israeli prime minister, doing so by name–before they could fire the first shot.

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President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry went to some lengths to head off criticism of today’s framework agreement with Iran. And the president himself indicated just how concerned he was about the reaction among our allies by calling out potential critics–in the case of the Israeli prime minister, doing so by name–before they could fire the first shot.

Obama’s press conference this afternoon was notable for its tone. Though he was ostensibly announcing what he considers something of a diplomatic victory, he was agitated and defensive. But it was not just the tone. Here is what Obama said about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

It is a remarkably spiteful comment. What the president is saying is not that he and Netanyahu disagree about how to achieve a peaceful resolution. He says they disagree on “whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution” (emphasis added). In other words, Obama is saying publicly that Netanyahu wants war with Iran, and he wants the United States to fight it.

This is significant not just because of what it says about the president’s opinion of Netanyahu. It’s also important because Netanyahu is not just speaking for Israel. As we’ve seen throughout this process, Netanyahu has of late become the public spokesman for a coalition consisting of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies. And he’s voicing concerns that the French clearly possess as well, but won’t risk their seat at the table to say publicly.

Ironically, Obama’s shunning of Netanyahu has made such public criticism more likely, not less. By putting Netanyahu on the outside looking in–as opposed to giving him more of a stake in the discussions, as he’s done with the French–he’s given the Israeli prime minister and other skeptics in Israel’s security establishment more room to rally opposition to any element of a deal that would put them in grave danger.

That’s why Obama wanted to have some kind of agreement to announce this week, well ahead of the June 30 deadline for a more complete deal. Throughout this process the president has insisted that the only two options on the table are the deal or war. It was untrue, and not very convincing. After all, some details kept changing, and others were never set, so what the president really meant was it’s either whatever deal they can scrounge together or war, which was intended to insulate the administration against criticism for some of the inevitable concessions made to Iran.

But critics of the way the administration handled the negotiations could always credibly say that this wasn’t true–that there were other options, namely a better deal. As long as the parameters were theoretical, they had room to maneuver. What Obama wanted to do is box them in by announcing the parameters well ahead of the announcement of a final deal. This would give the administration a three-month head start to say that it really is this deal or war. Either way, it’s a fait accompli: these are the terms, they’ll say, and no other terms are relevant now.

The purpose of Obama declaring a victory of sorts and calling out Netanyahu today, then, was to send the following message: Critics of this framework must, by process of elimination, want war. It’s why Obama felt so confident smearing Netanyahu as being against a “peaceful” resolution. Because the narrative the administration will hammer home now is that there is only one peaceful resolution on offer.

If it was intended to prevent criticism, it didn’t work. The Times of Israel reports that Jerusalem is already reacting:

In Jerusalem, officials slammed the framework as “a capitulation to Iranian dictates.” The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, called it “a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous agreement. If finalized, it would make the world “far more dangerous.”

The agreement constitutes “international legitimization of Iran’s nuclear program” whose “only purpose is to build nuclear weapons.”

That shouldn’t be surprising. Just because these are the terms the administration could get doesn’t mean it’s not a bad deal. If our allies in the region are on the same page, it also means the Saudis will be unconvinced and are likely to continue exploring their own route to nuclear capability, with the Egyptians not far behind. If Obama thinks this is a victory, it’s easy to see why our allies don’t agree.

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Repercussions from Bad Iran Deal Go Beyond Region

It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

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It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

The question is whether that will be a price the United States can afford. After all, Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has been rhetorical only; the U.S. Navy had more ships in the Pacific Ocean under President Jimmy Carter than it has in its entire arsenal today. And, while Iran’s ability to eradicate Israel is today merely theoretically, the South Korean capital Seoul is well within North Korean artillery range.

Secretary of State John Kerry may celebrate an agreement to reach an agreement. And, if that’s the only metric by which he judges international security, then he will have been successful. But if the goal was to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout and to make the world safer, he has failed, and failed miserably.

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Don’t Fall into Ratcheted Negotiation Trap on Iran

My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

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My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

Cases in point: On May 31, 2006, Condoleezza Rice announced the resumption of direct U.S. talks with Iran and the enhancement of the incentive package. It was supposed to be the final, leave-it-or-take-it moment to get Iran to negotiate seriously. Alas, that never happened. But because that had already been put on the table, the next time diplomats wanted to achieve the same aim, there simply was an inflation among incentives. Then, On September 15, 2006, the European Union dropped its demand that Iran comply with IAEA and Security Council demands for enrichment suspension. Some proponents of the current talks, the National Iranian American Council for example, say that diplomacy is the best option because Iran had continued to enrich uranium during periods of coercion. What they omit, however, is that it was actually periods of diplomacy which blessed that Iranian practice. It was during this period of diplomacy that Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 164 to 3,000.

So what will the next round bring? For Secretary of State John Kerry, getting the Iranians to the table might be a sign of progress. But if he had any sense of Iranian negotiating behavior, he would recognize a pattern. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sees him not as a friend, but rather a fiddle to play. Alas, Zarif has proven himself the maestro.

How to counter the problem? Iran must know that every deal on the table is the most generous deal they can ever expect. Every time talks break off, coercion (for example, banking sanctions must snap back to their full application) and the future incentives must lower considerably. With oil half of what it was last year–and, therefore, Iran’s income taking a significant hit–it’s time to let Tehran truly ponder what the road not taken would mean.

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Overtime Iran Talks Make Congressional Action Necessary

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

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A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

It should be recalled that after the West signed an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, President Obama promised that subsequent negotiations for a final accord would be finite in nature and not allow the Islamist regime to spin them out indefinitely. But now as the talks were extended yet again, the pattern of Iranian intransigence followed by American concessions appears ready to repeat itself. Having invested so heavily in the notion that the talks must succeed, the U.S. is unwilling to walk away from them leading the Iranian negotiators to understandably come to the conclusion that all they need to do is to keep saying no in order to compel Kerry to agree to their demands.

From the start of the negotiations earlier in 2013, any “progress” toward an agreement has always been a function of President Obama’s willingness to discard the principles about the Iranian nuclear threat that he articulated during his 2012 campaign for reelection. Instead of sticking to his demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program if it wanted sanctions lifted, the U.S. has, piece by piece, dismantled its initial position that would have permanently blocked any possibility that the Islamist regime could build a bomb.

In order to get the interim accord in 2013, the administration tacitly conceded Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium. In the last year, it has gone further, consenting to the regime retaining thousands of centrifuges and allowing it to stonewall United Nations inspectors seeking to discover the extent of their military research. Then the Americans agreed to include a “sunset” clause that would end restrictions on Iran after a period of as little as ten years, meaning Tehran could pursue a bomb unhindered by Western interference after the agreement expired. At every point, wherever Iran said “no,” Kerry and Obama gave in and defended the concession as inevitable and preferable to breaking off the talks.

In the last weeks as negotiations become more urgent, this pattern also intensified. Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 team agreed to let Iran keep hundreds of centrifuges in its fortified mountainside redoubt at Fordow where it would be immune to attack. And then the Iranians had the bad manners to let slip that, contrary to the impression given by the West, they have never agreed to have their stockpile of enriched uranium shipped out of the country. Instead, they are insisting they must hold onto it, meaning that even if it is reduced to a diluted form, it could be quickly converted back into nuclear fuel anytime the regime chose to do so.

This isn’t the only sticking point left to be resolved before Kerry can emerge waving a piece of paper and proclaiming that he has averted a potential conflict. But it is one that, along with the centrifuges, the lack of transparency about their military efforts, the sunset clause, and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly, makes a mockery of any hope that the deal will fulfill Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon.

We already know that in their lust for détente with an Iranian regime whose sole goal is regional hegemony that is being advanced by their auxiliaries in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, the administration has refused to try and make the deal encompass even empty promises about an end to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its ballistic-missile program that threatens the West as well as moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

But if Kerry agrees to a deal without getting Iran to agree to give up its nuclear fuel, its centrifuges, or reveal the truth about its military research, the deal will be worthless. And if he continues the negotiations indefinitely as Iran continues to sensibly hold out until the West gives in, the situation will be just as bad.

That’s why there are no longer any rational arguments for further delay on the Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of a deal or of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill. The Republican leadership should make their passage a priority once the Senate returns after its holiday recess. And Democrats who claim to be skeptical about Iran as well as friends of Israel must prepare to choose between the security of the West and its allies and defending an administration seeking to divide the country on party lines on these crucial questions. If Kerry can’t stand his ground on these issues or walk away from the talks, the Senate must vote.

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