Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

The Ayatollah Throws Down Another Challenge to Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Time for Congressional Hardball with the State Department

Perhaps no administration in American history has so consciously and willfully politicized intelligence as the Obama administration. Forget the “Bush lied” nonsense: the Bush administration got some of the Iraq intelligence wrong, but the White House was simply amplifying what not only the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency had told it, but also the British, French, German, and Russian governments and the United Nations.

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Perhaps no administration in American history has so consciously and willfully politicized intelligence as the Obama administration. Forget the “Bush lied” nonsense: the Bush administration got some of the Iraq intelligence wrong, but the White House was simply amplifying what not only the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency had told it, but also the British, French, German, and Russian governments and the United Nations.

But the Obama administration has willfully suppressed and denied incontrovertible intelligence for the sake of increasingly tenuous diplomatic goals. Take Russia: President Obama and the Clinton State Department wanted to win agreement on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (“New START”). Afraid that recognition of Russian cheating on other commitments might undercut the senate’s appetite to trust the Kremlin again, the White House and State Department buried reports about Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Ultimately, Obama got his treaty. By the time senators found out the truth, they were furious. The treaty empowered Russian President Vladimir Putin, but perhaps in President Barack Obama’s twisted worldview, that was the point. And Obama got away with it. The Congress did not extract a price for those in the State Department who suppressed the truth.

Obama sought to suppress the truth with regard to Syrian chemical weapons use. Red lines proved ephemeral. The deals held up as a triumph of diplomacy turned were unfulfilled, though Obama would never accept such a formal finding, even suggesting chlorine was not a chemical weapon. Once again, congressmen did nothing beyond making an occasional angry speech.

The Obama administration has taken its willingness to bury intelligence to privilege diplomacy to a new level with regard to Iran. Whatever the original purpose of the Iran talks has gone out the window as Secretary of State John Kerry not only concedes every single American redline, but also crafts an agreement which simply normalizes Iran’s nuclear quest rather than restrain or prevent a nuclear breakout. The latest revelations about the State Department’s disdain for Congress and the law are that Secretary of State John Kerry and his teamfailed to report Iranian sanctions violations as required by the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). Al-Monitor explained that under INKSNA:

State is supposed to inform Congress every six months of attempts to help the three countries obtain weapons of mass destruction and certain missile technology. The law requires the agency to sanction violators or justify its decision not to. But the department has fallen way behind in recent years, according to a government watchdog report obtained by Al-Monitor. Delays have kept on getting longer, with Congress receiving an update on violations committed in 2011 only in December 2014…. The GAO report is but the latest example of questionable sanctions enforcement that has raised congressional ire in recent months.

Earlier this year, according to Israel, the United States allowed Iran to purchase used airplanes for an airline that the United States has blacklisted for its ties to Hezbollah and the Iranian National Guard. And just this month, a panel of experts for the UN’s Iran sanctions committee said that member states have not been reporting international sanctions violations by Iran. That’s despite widespread evidence of continued arms shipments to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen in addition to Hezbollah and Hamas.

In short, it appears that Kerry and his staff are slow-balling if not defaulting on their reporting requirements so as not to allow Congress or the public which elects it to demand that U.S. policy be calibrated to the reality of Iranian policy.

Enter Senator Ted Cruz, whom The Free Beacon reports will seek to fine the State Department five percent of its budget for every 30 days it postpones release of the report. While that might seem drastic, it’s long past time Congress held the State Department to account for being out-of-control. Diplomats might believe they craft foreign policy, but the reality is they simply carry it out. Chief foreign policy initiatives come from either the White House or Congress. When the White House acts irresponsibly, as with Jimmy Carter’s proposal to withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula or the current capitulation to Iran, Congress can step in to constrain the Executive. More often, Congress must intercede to prevent the State Department from downplaying or ignoring evidence that adversaries aren’t going to abide by agreements or play by the rules. Had it not been for senators like the late Jesse Helms, for example, and his spearheading of the PLO Commitments Compliance Act (PLOCCA), the State Department would have continued working with the PLO regardless of its involvement in terrorism. (In my recent book, I contrasted public statements by Clinton-era peace processors like Dennis Ross with now declassified intelligence that they had at their disposal, and it appears even with Congressional reporting requirements, some officials purposely mislead if not lied outright to Congress). Now, Helms and his colleagues never took as drastic a measure as Cruz proposes, but they were willing to delay confirmation hearings and hold individual ambassadors and Foreign Service officers accountable for individual decisions that showed poor conception of the greater U.S. interest, clientitis, or simply poor judgment.

It’s not easy for individual senators or representatives to hold the State Department to account. Foggy Bottom plays dirty. It will fight Congress directly and indirectly. It has long cultivated specific journalists whom it uses to criticize individual senators and representatives. It will suggest that delayed confirmation or withheld money undercuts critical missions and security. For much of the past two decades, Congress simply hasn’t has the resolve to fight what might be a necessary political war of attrition. Senators might give good speeches, but when in the cross hairs of hostile press for a sustained period, they fold.

The inmates should never run the asylum, however. Unless Congress wishes to forfeit its oversight completely, it’s time to fight back. Precedent dictates that it should a bipartisan interest, regardless of which report the State Department withholds. Foggy Bottom might scream bloody murder and will insist that any delays or cuts hurt American foreign policy. Certainly, host nations like having ambassador, but they can function with a chargé. And if the State Department plays dirty, their bluff can be called. Congress must craft any cuts to avoid undercutting security or enabling Kerry and his staff to blame security incidents on Congress, but there is a lot of fat among the margins, even as the State Department complains that it is underfunded.

Obama and Secretary Kerry’s willingness to effectively bypass Congress and ram through a bad Iran deal shouldn’t simply about Iran. It’s just the latest manifestation of a corrupted culture that has forgotten whom it represents and for what purpose it serves.

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Kerry’s False Choice on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kerry Dismisses the U.S. Collapse on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Iran Deal Surrender Confirmed

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

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

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

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

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

Woodruff: Because it’s not there now.

Kerry: It will be done.

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

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

Apparently not.

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

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

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

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

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

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Kerry Should Go to Somaliland

With his unannounced trip today, Secretary of State John Kerry has become the first secretary of state to travel to Mogadishu, Somalia. Kerry’s visit will highlight the improvements that Somalia has witnessed in recent years, improvements which are largely the result of the African Union’s military mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Rather than leave a vacuum—which seems to be the Obama administration’s policy of choice in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and perhaps soon Afghanistan—AMISOM has worked to fill it. It hasn’t been easy: Al-Shabaab terrorists—radicals who have since sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda—have targeted AMISOM soldiers in Somalia and launched terrorist attacks in contributing nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.

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With his unannounced trip today, Secretary of State John Kerry has become the first secretary of state to travel to Mogadishu, Somalia. Kerry’s visit will highlight the improvements that Somalia has witnessed in recent years, improvements which are largely the result of the African Union’s military mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Rather than leave a vacuum—which seems to be the Obama administration’s policy of choice in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and perhaps soon Afghanistan—AMISOM has worked to fill it. It hasn’t been easy: Al-Shabaab terrorists—radicals who have since sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda—have targeted AMISOM soldiers in Somalia and launched terrorist attacks in contributing nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.

Let us hope that Kerry’s trip to Somalia actually serves a purpose—highlighting greater American strategic investment in that country, for example—and is not simply motivated by a desire to rack up as many flight miles as possible, the metric unfortunately embraced by most recent secretaries of state in lieu of focused, strategic thought.

But, if Kerry really wants to do some good, he should go to Somaliland. Somalia hugs the horn of Africa. Loosely speaking, it sits like an upside down ‘L’ hugging the horn. The northern segment which sits astride the Gulf of Aden long maintained a separate identity. During the colonial era, the northern part congealed as British Somaliland, a British protectorate—while the Italians occupied the southern, longer segment alongside the Indian Ocean. It was only upon Somalia’s 1960 independence that the two portions united. (Somalia has long been clan-based, and so historians would be hard-pressed to suggest that Somalia was unified before the British and Italian interludes; the best resource to understand how Somalia and its clans work is the Naval Postgraduate School’s Anna Simons).

Even in the darkest days of Somalia’s civil war and its descent into state failure, Somaliland maintained its own identity and coherence. It never collapsed the way the rest of Somalia did. Indeed, Somaliland thrived as the rest of Somalia went through hell. Somaliland authorities built a functioning state, with security, functioning schools, transport, currency, industry, and communications. It has held a credible presidential election. Hargeisa, its capital, is thriving. In many ways, Somaliland has become the Kurdistan of the region—an oasis of relative moderation and success—largely ignored by the outside world, including the United States. Indeed, while U.S. diplomats have visited Somaliland (and the International Republican Institute has long done work in the region), those diplomats have faced reprimand if they so much as get their passports stamped.

Even if the old notion that Africa’s colonial borders are sacrosanct has broken down—the independence of South Sudan, for example—Somaliland independence would be consistent with respect for colonial boundaries, since a separate Somaliland historically has been more rule than exception. Eritrea, too, fell into the same category. And while Eritrea has become an authoritarian regime and largely failed as anything more than a giant prison camp for its citizens, Somaliland’s institutions are considerably stronger.

The idea is not to bless independence for the sake of being able to say “I did that,” even if the ego of statesmen and diplomats does play too often into the decisions of senior policymakers. In the case of Somaliland, however, it is simply a wise move. Somalia could still go either way, but Somaliland has become a bastion of stability and security. It denies space to Al Qaeda or Islamic State-affiliated groups. It seeks a pro-Western orientation and should not be shunned. With the failure of Yemen, putting all strategic eggs into the Djiboutian basket is not wise. There are emotional and historical cases for Somaliland’s independence, but there is also a national security case to be made. Somaliland’s citizens can make the former; let us hope this U.S. administration or next will do the latter. Mr. Kerry, you’ve already become the first secretary of state to visit Somalia. Why not cement your legacy by becoming the first secretary to visit Somaliland as well?

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Neither Iran Nor the West Intends to Abide by the Nuclear Deal

Very few Iran watchers have tried to argue that the Islamic Republic can be trusted to fully comply with its obligations regarding its nuclear program. But that’s not the most concerning aspect of the emerging nuclear deal. That would be the worry that the West can’t be trusted either–that in its desperate pursuit of a deal at any cost it would overlook Iran’s cheating and even help keep it under wraps, all to protect President Obama’s foreign-policy “ObamaCare” legacy. And now we have confirmation that this will not only happen in the future, but that it’s already taking place.

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Very few Iran watchers have tried to argue that the Islamic Republic can be trusted to fully comply with its obligations regarding its nuclear program. But that’s not the most concerning aspect of the emerging nuclear deal. That would be the worry that the West can’t be trusted either–that in its desperate pursuit of a deal at any cost it would overlook Iran’s cheating and even help keep it under wraps, all to protect President Obama’s foreign-policy “ObamaCare” legacy. And now we have confirmation that this will not only happen in the future, but that it’s already taking place.

Reuters reports that the Iranians have kept up illicit work on their nuclear program. The information was leaked from a secret UN panel report, which stated that the Iranian actions had been noticed by the British. In fact, the Iranian actions were caught by the British soon after the preliminary agreement between the P5+1 and Iran in April. The Iranians, it seems, never even took a break:

“The UK government informed the Panel on 20 April 2015 that it ‘is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network which has been associated with Iran’s Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) and Kalay Electric Company (KEC)’,” the Panel of Experts said in its annual report. The panel monitors Iran’s compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime.

KEC is under U.N. Security Council sanctions while TESA is under U.S. and European Union sanctions due to their suspected links to banned Iranian nuclear activities.

Iran, which is has been under sanctions for years, has a long history of illicit nuclear procurement using front companies and other methods of skirting sanctions.

Indeed it does have such a history. And if the West has anything to say about it, that will be Iran’s future too.

The subject of the West’s untrustworthiness has been a sore subject for the Obama administration, which is trying to ignore violations in order to legitimize Iran as a nuclear power. Although the Obama administration is tetchy and whiney about virtually any criticism, the already cranky president tends to get even moodier when confronted with the fact that congressional oversight is necessary in part because the administration hasn’t been honest about its Iran policy.

Last month, John McCain told Hugh Hewitt: “I think you’re going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had. So in a way, I can’t blame the ayatollah, because I don’t think they ever agreed to it, and I think John Kerry tried to come back and sell a bill of goods, hoping maybe that the Iranians wouldn’t say much about it.”

McCain’s point was a very simple one: since the nuclear deal is primarily a plan governing the actions of Iran, how Iran interprets the agreement is the most important indicator of how they will act in the future.

Although the deal on the whole favors Iran and its terrorist proxies over America’s traditional allies in the region, there are aspects of the deal that could make it even worse than it looks. For example, the inspections regime, the verification of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s past work, and the timetable for lifting sanctions all will have an impact on how easily Iran can obtain nukes under the treaty.

The Obama administration offers vague assurances of thorough inspections, and the Iranians laugh themselves silly. Same with verification and especially sanctions. As Max wrote yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave a speech in New York in which he reiterated his government’s understanding that Obama and Secretary Kerry are full of hot air on the treaty, and that Iran has no intention of pretending to play along with their charade.

In other words, McCain was right. Which is why Obama snapped at him that “It needs to stop.” We wouldn’t want the American people getting the right idea, would we?

Now we have more Iranian misbehavior and a nuclear-inspections regime in which even if violations are found, the Western countries involved don’t want to tattle on the nuclear advancement of the world’s premier terrorist state. Back to Reuters:

“The current situation with reporting could reflect a general reduction of procurement activities by the Iranian side or a political decision by some member states to refrain from reporting to avoid any possible negative impact on ongoing negotiations between … Iran and (major powers),” it said.

Despite the lack of newly confirmed violations the panel said that “some member states informed the panel that according to their assessment, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s procurement trends and (sanctions) circumvention techniques remain basically unchanged.”

It cited an example of an unnamed member state saying that an Iranian entity had recently attempted to acquire compressors, a key component in the uranium enrichment process, using false end-user certificates in an attempt to evade controls.

The truth would be bad for the Kerry-led negotiations, so the truth must be hidden. The West, led by the Obama administration, is not only tacitly conceding Iran’s nuclear quest. They are also enabling that quest by facilitating Iranian cheating.

What this means is that the nuclear deal with Iran is itself a lie. In important ways, there really is no deal, and never will be. That’s because no matter what’s written on a piece of paper, Iran will basically be allowed to act in contravention of the deal, and the Western world will help them cover it up.

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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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