Administration bashed over Iran deal

By Jennifer Rubin

Originally published in The Washington Post – Right Turn, November 11, 2013

When France, Saudi Arabia, Democrats, Republicans and foreign policy gurus of all stripes express varying degrees of outrage over a U.S. president’s foreign policy, you know things have gone badly off track. In the case of the Iran negotiations, the United States, Israel and, really, the entire West escaped, for now, a disastrous misstep, thanks to French resistance. It was widely reported that the French put their foot down, unwilling, the foreign minister said, to be part of a “con job” that would have given Iran access to foreign reserves in exchange for a “freeze” of enrichment but with the Arak plutonium plant in operation.

The Post reports: “After a tumultuous day of bargaining, diplomats emerged after midnight to acknowledge they had fallen short of a deal that would have required Iran to suspend key parts of its nuclear program in exchange for modest relief on economic sanctions. The sides will try again Nov. 20.”

The plan would have undercut multiple United Nations resolutions and, according to the Israelis, representations made to them about the sort of deal in the works. (“The draft plan called for Iran to temporarily freeze key parts of its nuclear program that would enable it to quickly make nuclear weapons in the future if it chose to do so. But the plan reportedly did not require Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, though it did require a full dismantlement of a partially completed nuclear reactor that could, if finished, produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The temporary freeze was to be an interim step to halt Iran’s nuclear progress as a more comprehensive deal was being negotiated.”)

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Right Turn, “France, which has a deep historical understanding of the dangers of appeasement, felt compelled to prevent a bad U.S.-brokered deal that would have left the door open for Iran to make an easy dash for the bomb. France was acting in the interest of international security, unlike Washington’s negotiators, who appeared interested in merely getting a deal done.” He warned, “This was a temporary reprieve and is in no way a guarantee that a bad deal doesn’t get signed in 10 days’ time.”

A bipartisan, full-scale denunciation of the administration’s appeasement might be one way to forestall that. The administration’s near-disastrous attempt to give away the store certainly raised the ire of key foreign policy players Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who all appeared on the Sunday shows. Criticism spanned the political spectrum. On Friday Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) put out a robust statement warning, “To lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for an amorphous promise to pause their immediate efforts to acquire nuclear weapons makes no sense whatsoever. It is almost surely unverifiable, and lifting the sanctions will only encourage Iran to surreptitiously continue to develop nuclear weapons — weapons that, if acquired, pose an existential threat to America and our allies.” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) was similarly incensed. (“We now run the risk of seriously weakening the sanctions structure painstakingly built-up against Iran over years. Once weakened, it will be harder to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran than it will be for the Iranians to ratchet up their nuclear program.”) Echoing that sentiment was Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of House Foreign Relations, who blasted the departure from explicit and frequent administration promises: “If Iran intends to show good faith during these talks, it must at a minimum abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to enrichment — and it is my hope that we achieve much more. In addition, I forcefully reject any notion that Iran has a ‘right’ to enrichment, a view which the Administration has publicly articulated on numerous occasions.”

A Senate Hill Republican predicted that “as senators learn how close we were to giving away the store to Iran, there will be a bipartisan demand for increased sanctions without delay. I think most people are just in a state of shock — even those who suspected we were offering a bad deal didn’t think it was as bad as it was.”

Meanwhile, Josh Block, executive director of the Israel Project, said in an e-mail, “Hearing Chairman Menendez call for moving ahead with sanctions legislation underscores the deep bipartisan understanding that additional financial pressure provides the best chance to peaceably stop Iran. Talk of a deal that would leave Iran enriching, or building centrifuges, or working on their plutonium track will clearly not pass muster on the Hill and [would] intensify support for sanctions. And actually consummating a deal even more so. ”

Congress, pro-Israel groups and our Sunni Arab allies, all of whom appreciate this was a near miss, worry that the president would grant practically any concession for his “peace in our time” moment. A source at a Jewish organization who was not authorized to speak on the record told me on Sunday, “Now that a diplomatic fiasco has been at least temporarily averted in Geneva, the Senate can send a message of congressional strength by moving a solid package of enhanced sanctions this coming week.” Meanwhile, the Orthodox Union released a statement, “The pressure of these sanctions brought Iranian leaders to the negotiating table. In recent weeks, the Obama Administration has sought to delay Congress legislating further sanctions. And, based on reports of the just concluded talks in Geneva, it appears that the U.S. is prepared to relieve the existing sanctions for what appears to be little movement toward the stated goal of ending the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons capability. This state of affairs is at odds with the critical interests of the United States and is at odds with the policy goals and assurances President Obama has repeatedly announced.”

In its effort to claim a foreign policy victory, the administration has confirmed critics’ worst fears about its unwillingness to stand up to Iran. The administration also has deepened the sense domestically and internationally that the president cannot be trusted. As his second term spins out of control, we can only hope that in his weakened state he will be unable to defy allies and bipartisan push-back at home.

UPDATE: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has put out a useful chart depicting the awful deal Kerry was attempting to broker.