Is Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal Unraveling?

by Benjamin Weinthal

Berlin – President Obama’s nuclear agreement to slow down Iran’s drive to become a nuclear-weapons power faces tough resistance from Senate Republicans and Democrats because of massive loopholes in the deal.

The Hill reported today that “an Iran sanctions bill opposed by the White House continues to gain traction in Congress with 59 senators officially signing on as of Friday morning—just one shy of a filibuster-proof majority.”

The goal of the bill is straightforward, namely, to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism – does not develop a nuclear-weapons device. Senators Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J) drafted the legislation entitled the Nuclear Weapons Free Act.

It is puzzling to observe the Obama administration showing such deference to a rogue regime that from its inception in 1979 has murdered Americans in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Iran continues to defy six U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it cease its illicit enrichment of uranium. Nonetheless, Obama declared that the November 24 agreement in Geneva “halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program.”

The agreement has flopped on two levels. First, Iran announced it plans to build advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium. “The new generation of centrifuges is under development. But all tests should be carried on it before mass production,” said Iran’s nuclear director Ali Akbar Salehi. Put simply, Iran is set to amass huge quantities of weapons-grade uranium.

Second, the sanctions relief outlined by the Obama administration severely underestimated the benefits to Iran’s money-starved economy. According to the White House, the deal will provide $7 billion in relief to Iran. However, the real figure probably hovers around $20 billion.

Moreover, the comprehensive sanctions imposed on Iran are now unraveling because of a mix of avarice, über-appeasement, and Obama’s faulty calculations.  

Consider some examples since the agreement was reached. In a January Der Spiegel article entitled “Chance of a Century: International Investors Flock to Tehran,” Daniel Bernbeck, head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Tehran, said airplanes are now “full of Italians” seeking to jumpstart business deals, including managers from the Italian energy company Eni S.p.A. The article noted that the French “are about to renew their licensing contract for supplying Peugeot components to Iranian carmaker Iran Khodro.” Germany has helped keep Iran’s economy on life support over the years by delivering  “sensitive” engineering technology to Iran.

American oil and gas giants ExxonMobil and the Chevron Corporations rushed to Iran’s energy market, according to Spiegel. Bernbeck, whose Tehran office continues to advance Germany’s multi-billion-euro bilateral trade relationship with Tehran, sparked controversy during the 2009 fraudulent presidential elections in Iran.

There is “no moral question here at all” about conducting business with Iran, said Bernbeck during the 2009 period of violent regime-sponsored repression targeting Iran’s pro-democracy movement. (It is worth recalling that Obama opted to stay on the sidelines of that historic challenge to Iran’s totalitarian regime by ordinary Iranians.)

My Foundation for Defense of Democracies colleague Mark Dubowitz and his co-author Rachel Ziemba from Roubini Global Economics showed in their new study that “Iran’s economy is showing signs of recovery after years of sanctions, due in no small part to the recent sanctions relief offered in Geneva, changing market psychology, and a perception that the Obama administration may no longer be committed to ratcheting up the economic pressure on Iran.”

All of this helps to explain the need for the Senate to pass a veto-proof bill to ensure U.S. security interests and prevent a terror-sponsoring regime from developing nuclear weapons.

 Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @BenWeinthal