National Security & Defense

In Iran Negotiations, the Deadline Extension Signals Disaster

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Zarif (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty)

Today, American red lines exist only in the blood-drenched lung matter of Syria’s forgotten dead, felled by chlorine gas. And American diplomatic deadlines never die.

For the umpteenth time, the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran has lapsed. It’s ludicrous. Now the key concern is what will happen over the second half of 2015, given that Iran and the P5+1 remain likely to strike a deal by July 7 (the new deadline). For President Obama, a deal is an alternative to tougher sanctions or a military showdown: Even if he believes the deal is flawed, he’ll probably sign on the dotted line and spin any failure later. Likewise, Iran will probably sign. After all, while rejecting a deal would mean new sanctions, signing a deal would give Iran months to fracture the P5+ 1 and weaken its sanctions regime. Iran knows that the Europeans and Russians are salivating at the prospect of lucrative Iranian contracts.

That said, this negotiating extension gives a very good idea of what the eventual deal will look like: not good.

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Here’s why. First, Iran is clearly continuing its games. The original framework the parties agreed on in April claimed to address the deal’s fundamental design elements: enrichment caps, staggered sanctions relief, vigorous inspections, etc. In contrast, the now-defunct June 30 deadline was supposed to address only the nuts and bolts of the deal: timelines, protocols, etc. Iran agreed to this. Correspondingly, Ayatollah Khamenei’s repudiation on June 23 of the original framework agreement was telling: It showed that Iran was again shifting the goalposts right before the deadline. It perfectly fit the circular negotiating strategy Iran has employed since 2003: Offer crumbs of compromise, move the diplomatic goalposts, threaten to abandon diplomacy, repeat aforementioned steps. Further proof of Iran’s time-tested negotiating strategy was that Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, arrived in Vienna only yesterday, June 30 — the original deadline day. Put simply, Iran never intended to reach the deadline.

Second, the Obama administration is giving every sign that it will acquiesce to Khamenei’s red lines. Consider Khamenei’s ludicrous statement last week on Twitter that Iran’s military sites are off-limits to inspectors and that the IAEA will have only limited verification authority. The White House should have immediately rejected these demands. Instead, on Monday, an administration official told reporters: “The entry point isn’t ‘We must be able to get into every military site,’ because the United States of America wouldn’t allow anybody to get into every military site, so that’s not appropriate.”

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This is patently absurd. If Iran has military sites that IAEA inspectors can’t access, then Iran can relocate its nuclear activities to those sites. Or redesignate existing nuclear sites as military sites. This isn’t a small issue. It’s a grave concern, particularly in relation to Iran’s research on nuclear weaponization (which Iran has been caught pursuing before). Heaping absurdity upon absurdity, the administration official added that “if in the context of this agreement . . . the IAEA believes that it needs access [to a site] and has a reason for that access, then we have a process to ensure that that is given.”

Read that quote again and listen to the qualifications. “If” the IAEA “believes that it needs access” and “has a reason” — a reason whose legitimacy will be evaluated by President Obama rather than the IAEA. It really says something that IAEA is now tougher than the U.S. government. In the same way, for inspections, there will be “a process,” likely meaning a process that will allows Iran days or weeks to move or hide incriminating material before the IAEA gains access.

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Let’s be clear, this is pure U.N.-speak: impotent diplomacy. That the Obama administration is willing to restrain the IAEA with a bureaucratic minefield proves that President Obama’s overriding priority is to get pen to paper, no matter the cost. Details are secondary. Nevertheless, the equivocation makes Team America’s Hans Blix look like Rambo.

#related#But, as I say, this deal will in all likelihood come to pass. And that means it will be incumbent upon Congress to counter the administration’s weakness. To do so, Congress will have to push President Obama to remind Khamenei that if he cheats, America has the offensive military capacity to attack his nuclear facilities. Congress will also have to pressure Obama to ensure that the U.S. Navy can confidently defend freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. (At present, the U.S. has just one carrier group near Iran.) Finally, Congress will somehow have to reassure U.S. allies in the region — which manifestly doubt President Obama’s leadership — of American resolve.

Regardless, there’s no getting around the fact that we seem to be heading for an extremely bad deal. What’s happened in the last few days shows that President Obama is choosing political pretense over policy realities. Were the stakes not so high, his choice would be comical. What we’re seeing reminds me of the Friends scene in which Joey covers a bunch of boxes with cloth and pretends the concealed mass is a Porsche. For a while, Joey receives kudos from passing pedestrians. Then a man arrives, falls into the mass while trying to catch a ball, and ruins the pretense. Reality bites. Unfortunately, unlike Joey’s boxes, when President Obama’s reality bites, it may unveil a nuclear Iran.

Tom Rogan, based in Washington, D.C., is a writer and a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at The Steamboat Institute and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at


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