National Security & Defense

Iran Nuclear-Surrender Watch: Thoughts for Congress

John Kerry at Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, July 9, 2015 (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty)
The president seems intent on giving away the store, and only Congress can stop him.

Will there be a nuclear deal with Iran? Maybe, but more delays look likely. The nuclear talks blew through another deadline on Thursday when Secretary of State John Kerry said the talks “will not be rushed” but also said they “are not open-ended.” According to Reuters, the White House said the talks can continue “as long as there is genuine commitment from Iran and the P5+1 partners to resolve issues.”

The question now is not whether a nuclear deal with Iran will be a good deal, but how bad this agreement will be. Based on the multitude of major U.S. concessions that have already been made, including allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium, develop advanced centrifuges during an agreement, and keep a plutonium-producing reactor, a bad deal is assured.

Making a potential agreement worse are reported recent U.S. concessions, such as dropping demands that Iran account for past nuclear-weapons-related work and agreeing to a $30 billion to $50 billion so-called “signing bonus” in sanctions relief. Iran also reportedly will receive advanced nuclear technology as part of a nuclear deal, including light-water reactors. Ironically, light-water reactors were also part of the 1994 Agreed Framework that was supposed to stop North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Center for Security Policy has come up with a list of nine minimum requirements for a good nuclear agreement with Iran that rules out these types of concessions. 

I wrote on NRO on June 15 that in early June, U.S. officials had reportedly offered to give up IAEA inspections of undeclared nuclear sites and military facilities, a concession Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, rejected because it required Iran to agree to token inspections of military facilities. While there were press reports yesterday of a “breakthrough” guaranteeing weapons inspectors access to suspect nuclear sites, including those on military installations, I believe it is very unlikely Tehran will agree to open all military facilities and undeclared nuclear sites to IAEA inspectors, given the hardline stance against this by Khamenei and the Iranian parliament.

The latest Iranian demand is to lift a U.N. conventional-arms embargo and U.N. sanctions on transfers of ballistic-missile technology. Russia, which wants to sell more weapons to Iran, is pushing for an end to the conventional-arms embargo by claiming that Iran “is persistently supporting the fight against ISIS and the elimination of this threat in the region.” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov sent this tweet on why the arms embargo on Iran should be lifted as part of a nuclear deal:

Lavrov’s breathtaking tweet makes it official: The nuclear talks have become a theater of the absurd. U.S and EU officials oppose lifting the arms embargo, fearing that any new weapons sold to Iran would be used to bolster Syria’s Assad regime, given to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, or sent to terrorist groups like Hamas or Hezbollah. Iran may have raised this proposal at the eleventh hour because it sees itself in a strong negotiating position and may hope to use it to extract further concessions.

Think about it: After the U.S. offered a series of exceedingly generous concessions that will allow Iran to keep and improve its nuclear infrastructure without halting its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iranian officials demanded that an arms embargo be dropped, even though Iran continues to destabilize the Middle East and back terrorist groups.

This is why if there is a deal, Congress must be ready to kill it. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle must resist being caught up in spin by U.S. and foreign officials and the press that a nuclear agreement — if one is reached — is a great, historic achievement that will promote world peace. Congress also must not be conned by tough-sounding eleventh-hour statements by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that they held out for a good deal and were prepared to walk away from the talks.

War is obviously not an option for this administration, since there is no chance Obama would ever attack Iran.

President Obama is certain to justify a less-than-perfect agreement with Iran by repeating his claim that the only alternative to a nuclear deal is war. Since this claim has resonance with the public and will be repeated endlessly by the news media, members of Congress should aggressively dispute it with three counterarguments.

First, war is obviously not an option for this administration, since there is no chance Obama would ever attack Iran. The Iranians know this.

Second, the status quo is infinitely better than the nuclear deal the Obama administration is seeking with Iran, since Obama’s bad deal will legitimize the nuclear program of a radical Islamist regime that is a sponsor of terrorism and committed to the destruction of the United States and Israel. This also is a regime that has developed its nuclear program in secret, engaged in nuclear-weapons-related research, and repeatedly violated obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Until there is regime change in Iran, the United States must work with its European allies to keep sanctions on Tehran that will deny it easy access to nuclear technology to slow its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Third, a nuclear deal with Iran that allows it to continue to enrich uranium, develop advanced centrifuges, and keep a plutonium-producing reactor will be destabilizing and will undermine global nuclear-nonproliferation efforts. A deal that blesses Iran’s uranium-enrichment program will lead other states in the region and around the world to start their own uranium-enrichment programs. Legitimizing Iran’s nuclear program will embolden its adventurism in the region and increase the chances of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

President Obama probably does not want to walk away from the nuclear talks because he does not want to be blamed for the failure and still wants a legacy agreement. It is my hope that the president’s legacy achievement with Iran will be walking away from a bad nuclear deal.

Failing this, Congress must hold the president to his word when he said that reaching no nuclear deal with Iran would be better than signing a bad deal. If an agreement is reached, we know it will be a bad deal, a deal that Congress must decisively reject.

Under the Corker-Cardin bill, passed in May, Congress can approve a resolution of disapproval that would prevent the president from lifting sanctions against Iran as agreed to in a nuclear deal. This would probably kill the deal. But as Andrew McCarthy has written, this is a deeply flawed process that turns the Constitution on its head, since agreements of this importance are supposed to be submitted as treaties and ratified by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate. The president refuses to submit an Iran deal as a treaty, and the Corker-Cardin process requires a veto-proof majority to pass a resolution of disapproval, which means that only 34 senators are needed to defeat the resolution.

Getting a veto-proof majority to pass a resolution of disapproval will be a tall order. But the stakes here are very high, since the agreement Obama is seeking with Iran will do so much damage to international security and American interests. Even if the president vetoes a resolution of disapproval, a majority of Congress would have sent a signal to the world that there is strong opposition to the nuclear deal in the United States and, if a Republican is elected president in 2016, he or she is certain to reject this deal on his or her first day in office.

— Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy. He worked in national-security positions for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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